Quality Leather Furniture: Bonded Leather Vs. Top Grain Leather

Jaymar uses top grain, quality leather on their furniture.

I may be a member of the home furnishings industry but like many of you, I am also a consumer. Like most consumers, there was a time when I did not understand the difference between bonded leather as it compares to the quality leather that I sell on a daily basis.

Up until a few years ago I had no clue that bonded leather was not leather at all. Bonded leather is vinyl with leather dust (picked up off the tanning factory floors) glued to the back of it. It passes as leather to many an untrained eye because when you unzip a furniture cushion, the inside feels like real leather. When I discovered this, I was flabbergasted — everyone was selling it at that point and the consumer was being duped!

bonded leather
As seen on the Today Show: example of extreme wear on  1 year old bonded leather furniture.

Soon enough we had scorned consumers coming in looking to replace bonded leather furniture that they had bought elsewhere, from big name stores that were thought to carry quality merchandise. We heard many a horror story about how well (or not well, we should say) their bonded leather furniture held up in as little as 6 months after purchase.

Think of it this way: Vinyl stretches. Sit in the same place every night, watching t.v.,  if the finish doesn’t start peeling, I guarantee your “tush” imprint will be there soon enough.

Here’s the Wikipedia definition:

“Bonded leather, also called reconstituted leather or blended leather, is a term used for a man-made upholstery material made as a layered structure of a fiber or paper backer, a pulp made from shredded leather, and a polyurethane coating which is embossed with a leather-like texture. Related products, bicast leather or coated leather, are made by splitting, shaving, or grinding leather to reduce its thickness, and then laminating it.”

When I opened my first store in 1977 Leather was only 15% of furniture sales, upholstered furniture claimed 85% of the sales back then. Fast forward to  1993 and you see that leather represented 25% of the market. Since then, leather sales have continued to grow at a breakneck pace. Today, 85% of the furniture customers come in to our retail store are looking for Leather — that’s a total reversal compared to 1977.

We refuse to carry Bonded leather at Design Center West. We keep only a few samples around for educational purposes. We sell only top grain leather.


The diagram at left shows the layers of a hide. The best layer for quality leather furniture is top grain. Full grain is sometimes used but it shows more of the scars, barbs and imperfections that became etched onto the animal’s skin during it’s lifetime. More often than not, scarred leather is not preferable to the consumer. Full grain is a tougher cut to work with on furniture but it is well suited for the highest quality saddle bags and messenger bags. Top grain leather is basically full grain leather with the imperfections scraped off. Because it is not the outermost layer of skin, it is more pliable and easier to work with when making furniture. Top grain leather tends to give you a feeling while seated.

The rumors we hear in the industry are that of  lawsuits. Suits filed by customers who were never told they were buying anything but quality leather are in the millions of dollars. It is disposable furniture. I built Design Center West on quality (another story for another day).  I love selling quality furniture. Don’t be duped. Remember that you always get what you pay for and furniture that looks worn, misshapen, stained, and cracked within a short amount of time is simply not cost effective.

See our current leather furniture offerings at our Showroom in Framingham, MA as well as on our webstore: www.DirectFurnitureCenter.com

Happy shopping!,

Robin Boyce, owner
Design Center West & DirectFurnitureCenter.com

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