Strong, supple, and in sync with our body temperature, top grain leather is always the top choice for leather furniture. But anyone shopping for leather furniture quickly learns that there’s more to top grain leather than its location on the hide. A range of lifestyles and budgets have spawned many types of top grain leathers, or grades.
The easiest way to navigate the market’s many choices is to remember that leather’s authenticity, price, performance, texture and even colour all come down to the question of grain. Is it natural, corrected, or somewhere in between?
NATURAL (FULL) LEATHER GRAIN
The top of the top grain selection is uncorrected or natural, full grain leather. These premium hides are the real deal – fully authentic because they retain all the natural textures and markings of the cowhide, with no imperfections changed or corrected. Only five percent of all upholstery hides rank in this elite status.
Full grain leathers are coloured with clear (aniline) or semi-clear (semi-aniline) dyes to highlight, rather than cover, their natural grain and markings. But with little or no opaque pigment in these dyes, each individual cell on the hide will absorb colour in its own way. Similar to the colour variation that occurs when a wood grain is stained, full grained leathers are fully unique, emphasizing leather’s natural, one-of-a-kind quality.
CORRECTED LEATHER GRAIN
Most top grain leather is partly or fully corrected. These hides retain the quality, thickness, strength and supple feel of their top grain, but arrive at tanneries with too many unwanted blemishes. Some hides are gently buffed to even out the grain; others are sanded to remove unwanted markings and then embossed with a uniform grain pattern.
Many levels of corrected leathers exist, from slightly to heavily altered, depending on the original condition of the hide. Partly corrected hides look and feel more natural than fully corrected hides. And like full grain leather, their more natural graining, which is often not uniform in appearance, can make them more costly.
Partly corrected hides can be coloured with semi-clear (semi-aniline) dyes. But fully corrected hides are dyed with opaque pigments to help cover any unwanted natural marking.
Split leather is always fully corrected and dyed with opaque pigments. As the bottom layer of a hide that’s been spliced, split leathers lack the natural graining of top grain leather, so they benefit from grain embossing and solid colour pigments. Split leathers are usually applied to the outside arms and back of leather furniture as a complement to top grain leathers which are located on the seats, inside backs and arms – basically everywhere your body touches.
Leather correction doesn’t affect leather’s durability in any way. Though natural grains are altered for greater uniformity, corrected leathers are extremely durable and can be more suitable to active lifestyles than un-corrected, full grain leathers.