A leather sofa can add sophistication and comfort to any living space, as long as you choose it wisely. The options may not be as diverse as for fabric sofas, but there can still be big differences between leather sofas that will make some options a better fit for your needs.
A luxury sofa made from quality materials can be a big investment and will last for many years, so it's important to make the right decision. Whether you prefer the look of a modern leather sofa or classic sofa designs, read this guide to find out what to look for when choosing a designer sofa to suit you and your home.
Why choose a leather sofa?
There are many good reasons to consider a leather sofa for your home, but they're not for everyone. Some of the chief advantages of leather sofas over fabric sofas and other options are:
Leather is a natural material that's never gone out of style. Whether you have a period home or a modern apartment, there are leather sofa designs to suit every living space – from the classic Chesterfield to minimalist modern sofas.
With a range of colours to choose from, you also won't have trouble finding furniture to match your living room design. People who know leather will be able to tell the quality of your sofa at a glance, so it can be worth investing in a designer sofa if you want to make the right impression.
Comfort and support
Fabric sofas may be softer, but a firm leather sofa uniquely balances comfort and bodily support. Leather sofa cushions are available in a range of firmness levels – whether you prefer to sink into the seat or sit up straight – so it's important to try out your new sofa before you buy. Comfort can be adjusted for different occupants by adding plush cushions or throws.
One of the main advantages of leather over fabric sofas is their greater strength and resistance to wear and tear. Your sofa will still be vulnerable to pets' claws or accidental damage, but the average lifespan of a modern leather sofa is around three times that of fabric sofas. Also unlike fabric, leather upholstery gets more comfortable over time as it adjusts to your posture, and high quality leather will look better as it ages.
As well as being resistant to damage, leather upholstery is also very resistant to stains and other marks, and easier to keep clean than other materials. All it needs is regular dusting and occasional conditioning to prevent cracking and keep it looking good as new. If you don't have a lot of time for housework, or a busy house with kids, leather living room furniture is a time-saving solution.
Another good reason to consider leather furniture is if you or someone in your home has asthma or allergies. Leather is hypoallergenic, which means it doesn't attract or harbour dust mites, pollen and other allergens like fabric can. Regular wiping of the surface is all that's needed to keep it free from dust and pests.
What size sofa do you need?
Before you start thinking about your preferences, you first need to consider the practical issues of how much space you have in your living room and how many people you want your sofa to seat. There's also the matter of getting your new leather sofa through the doors.
Carefully measure the area you want your sofa to occupy, as well as the size of your front door and any internal doors it will pass through. These will help your furniture store to recommend suitably sized sofas for you. You can then think about the size (and shape) of sofa that will be the best fit for your living space.
What are the different types of leather sofas?
Leather is a diverse material that can be prepared and treated in many different ways. While some types of leather may be easier on the budget, high quality leather can be a worthwhile investment for its longevity and performance. The main types of leather for sofas are:
Full grain leather
Full grain leather originates on the outer surface of the hide, which gives it greater strength and a more desirable appearance for many compared to cheaper leather sourced from the inner hide. Full grain leather can be distinguished by the natural marks of the hide. It will develop an attractive patina over the years.
There are types of finishes for full grain leather sofas: pure aniline and semi aniline.
Pure aniline leather sofas use high quality, full grain leather that's soaked in transparent aniline dye. No pigments or finishes are added to the product, which retains the distinctive markings of the hide and has a luxuriously soft and smooth finish. The downside is that, without protective coatings, this leather can be more prone to damage, so it may not be suitable for homes with kids or pets.
Semi aniline leather
Semi aniline leather sofas have a small protective coating applied. While this can reduce their appeal to some buyers, the natural look of the leather still shows through. This top coat strengthens the sofa against damage and stains and reduces maintenance requirements. Colours may also be more vibrant and less prone to fading.
Corrected grain leather
If you need more protection for your leather sofa, corrected grain leather has extra coatings applied that make it more resistant to damage than full grain leather. Made using leather from slightly further down the grain, this hide won't feature any natural blemishes and has an artificial grain embossed for a smoother finish and uniform colour. It will also not develop a patina over time.
If you want a more vibrant leather sofa, pigmented leather dispenses with the natural look for different coloured finishes. The leather used is from further down the hide and is likely to be stiffer, but this also makes it resilient and easy to care for, as well as more affordable.
The cheapest full-leather option, split leather is made from the lower layers of the hide. As this is weaker and less durable than the top grain, split leather is rarely used for sofas, but it may be present in sofa backs, sides and other areas that aren't subject to force. This leather may be finished to look like full grain leather, but it will involve higher maintenance.
A more budget-friendly option, bonded leather furniture is made from offcuts that are combined and embossed to look like full grain leather. While a bonded leather sofa lacks the authenticity of a full leather sofa, it's still close enough for less discriminating buyers. Protective coatings make the surface easy to care for.
If you don't like natural leather, synthetic substitutes are available for sofas and other furniture. These are usually upholstered in PVC or polyurethane made to look like leather, but without the convincing finish or odour of the real thing. Faux leather is not as strong as natural leather and these sofas usually don't last as long before they need to be replaced.
Choosing your sofa style
When you've decided what type of leather you want for your sofa, you can compare different sofa designs. This should be informed by the number of people you need to seat and the style that suits your living room. Some of the most popular sofa options are:
- Loveseat – the smallest type of sofa, these are typically only large enough for two people.
- Sectional sofa – a sectional or modular sofa comes in pieces that may be arranged in several ways, depending on your changing seating requirements at different times.
- Sofa bed – also known as futons, these sofas fold out to offer a spare bed for guests. However, they don't offer the same level of comfort and support as a real mattress.
You may be able to select different arm options for your sofa if you have a preference, including round, square, sloped and rolling arms as well as armless sofas.
The back of your sofa can also be customised for different aesthetic finishes. Some of these options include:
- High-backed – the back of the sofa is raised above the level of the armrests.
- Tuxedo back – the arms are raised to be flush with the back of the sofa.
- Camel back – a traditional sofa style with two raised humps rather than a straight back.
- Barrel back – a sofa that curves between the arms to enclose its occupants.
Take your sofa for a test drive
After comparing leather sofas online, it's important to get a look at the real thing before you make your decision. Visit your local designer furniture store and ask to see the sofas you're interested in. Sitting and lying down on the sofa will give you an idea of its comfort and support – bearing in mind that a leather sofa will adapt to your body over time.
You should also take the opportunity to inspect the quality of the leather upholstery, the stitching, the padding and the joinery of the underlying frame to be fully confident that you've found the perfect leather sofa for you.