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How to Choose Leather Furniture

By July 7, 2020January 23rd, 2023Furniture

leather furniture

Leather will forever be a staple in interior design, no matter the style. Although the designs that use leather materials will vary, there is no denying that leather furniture will always look timeless. Unfortunately, buying modern leather furniture isn’t as easy as it seems. Take a quick walk through a furniture store, and you might even get overwhelmed with the endless leather options.

As you probably know, leather is made of cured and tanned hides of cattle. But the process after that is what provides the industry with hundreds of options. If you have ever shopped for leather furniture, you probably encountered some new vocabulary—grain, genuine leather, aniline, and more. It can be an all-consuming project.

That’s why the experts at San Francisco Design are here with a few tips to get you off to the races on your leather furniture quest. Here is what you should know.

A Guide to Leather Furniture

Genuine Over Faux

Genuine leather looks good, feels amazing, and has a laundry list of benefits compared to its faux offspring. When it comes to leather furniture, it is best to keep it in the authentic leather section. If you can get anything right for our advice, you should look for real leather furniture. The best tools for spotting genuine leather includes the following:

  • Check the back of the furniture. Real leather furniture only comes in sizes of 3’ by 6’. If you don’t see any stitching of multiple pieces together on a large leather couch, then that is a tell-tale sign, it is fake.
  • Use price as a decent indication. Higher prices typically signify genuine leather, but there is no guarantee. You can speak with a professional for additional help spotting a real piece.
  • Check the tag. Most furniture tags include a detailed description of the type of leather used in the item.
  • Note texture and smell. You can also tell if the leather is real or not by looking at the texture and smell of it. The leather should be soft, warm to the touch, and have a rich and appealing aroma. Faux leather usually has an unpleasant chemical smell.
  • Look at the grain. The next way you can spot faux and real leather is by assessing the grain. If it is all uniform, then the leather is probably fake. Genuine leather always has grain variations.
  • Look on the inside. If possible, check the reverse side. Genuine leather is unfinished on the backside, has no color, and includes a rougher feel.

leather sofa modern home furniture

Determine the Type of Leather You Like

Along with only having an interest in genuine leather, you will need to decide which type of leather suits your interior styling. Each different type of leather has a series of determining factors. You will need to understand why some leathers last longer, cost more, and if cheaper options are worthwhile.

The leather highest in quality will depend on these important factors, including:

  • Type of animal and breed
  • Physical location and climate where the animal lived
  • The portion of the hide the leather was cut from (see diagram below)
  • The layer of the hide that is used (top-grain, full-grain, split)
  • Quality and skill of the processing and tanning

Different types of cattle will produce different qualities of leather. Other factors, such as body area, tanning, finishing, and other factors, will determine the type of leather available. The most notable leathers used in furniture include the following.

modern red leather chair and ottoman

Types of Leather

Corrected Leather

This type of leather undergoes a sanding process that buffs out many natural variations. This process still holds its strength and variability but with less variety than top-grain leather. Corrected leather will also have less or none of the natural markings that full-grain leather has, which allows for a more uniform look. It is a great choice for homeowners that want a streamlined, modern interior style.

Top Grain Leather

While top-grain is the most authentic, it doesn’t mean it is superior to others. Usually, it includes natural grain, markings, and texture. The best way to remember top grain leather is that it like the top layer of your body so that it will have the most personality and imperfections.  Top grain leather sofas are durable as well as stain-resistant.


Similar to top-grain, full-grain leather does not undergo any correction. It is the most natural-looking leather of them all. The furniture using full-grain — including full-grain leather sofas, chairs, & more — will have beautiful variations and unique markings. It is a great choice for contemporary furniture. However, be aware that full-grain leather will absorb body oil, water, dirt, and moisture more than any other leather. If that bugs you, then opt for a different leather instead.


Aniline leather uses no pigment or corrections. You can see the beauty and natural characteristics of the leather in any furniture piece using aniline. It’s typically buttery soft, supple, and develops a unique vintage patina over time. You will need to take care of this leather for it to age gracefully.


Semi-aniline leathers have a thin layer of wax applied after the dying process. This second application of wax results in a higher color uniformity that other leathers. Some prefer semi-aniline to the full monty because it ages beautifully and is less likely to fade over time.

Leather Tufted Brown Bed Frame & Headboard Modern Design

Pick Leather Furniture that Matches Your Style

Now that you know the basics of leather furniture, you can find a type that will work well with your interior design style, whether modern, contemporary, transitional, or something else. Just remember that leather doesn’t always make a piece rustic. There are plenty of options that will look good in your home and fit your lifestyle.


Find the Right Leather Furniture for Your Home at San Francisco Design

While our leather sofa buying guide is foolproof, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when shopping for the perfect leather furniture for your home. If you need help finding leather furniture for your modern or contemporary space, trust San Francisco Design. Our interior design team can outfit you with furniture items that look beautiful and will fit your budget. You can also visit our online store for design inspiration and a look at our quality leather furniture collection. Get in touch with us today to get started.