Chesterfield 3 Seater Sofa displayed in Hand-finished Antique Red

One of the most popular upholstery coverings for our sofas, chairs, corner sofas, sofa beds, and footstools is leather. But with so many grains, coatings, and textures available, it can often become confusing as to which type would work best for your sofa.

But fear not, as we dispel much of the confusion about leathers in this comprehensive guide, helping you to choose the best leather sofa for your home.

We'll cover:

•   What is leather?
•   How is upholstery leather made?
•   What leather types are used for your furniture?
•   Are leather sofas comfortable?
•   Are leather sofas durable?
•   Glossary of leather terms


Real leather is a natural product — it’s warm and durable, and has individual characteristics which make each hide unique. Leather will always bear the marks of its natural origin, and these qualities can show as scratches, growth marks, areas of differing fibre density, and hair pore structure. These characteristics in no way detract from the wearing qualities of the leather.

The curing of animal skins — a method commonly referred to as tanning — creates leather. The skins of cattle are known as hides, making up the majority of the leather used in the manufacture of upholstered furniture.

Many retailers classify leather by grade. This can cause some confusion with customers who are encouraged to think that the more expensive, or higher-grade leathers, are of better quality. This is not necessarily the case as different types of leather can have their own merits.

Tanneries only produce one quality of tanned upholstery leather. It’s the cost of the various finishing processes applied after tanning that cause the leathers to have different prices.

As a result, when the time comes to choose a quality leather sofa, there’s an inevitable trade-off between appearance and ease of care.  Leather is a great choice for both modern and traditional sofas, especially classic designs like the Chesterfield.


Claridge 3 Seater Sofa displayed in Rustic Charcoal.

A cattle hide arrives at the tannery having been salted to preserve it. Then, it is soaked in chemicals that dissolve the hair follicles and cause them to swell to approximately 8mm in thickness. It’s then split through its thickness, and the upper layer with the hardwearing grain surface is separated off to be used for upholstery leather. The hide then undergoes a tanning process utilizing chromium-based chemicals.

This technique is now the modern preferred method, replacing the traditional vegetable tanning process which uses plant extracts and urine.

Once tanned and dried, the hide is graded by size and degree of scarring and blemish. The ‘cleaner’ or less-scarred hides tend to be used for full-grain leathers, while hides with a degree of scarring are lightly buffed on their top surface and used to create corrected grains.


Regent 3 Seater Sofa displayed in Essential Style Leaf

There are a few different types of leather that are used for sofas and chairs.  Pigmented leather is the most durable with a consistent surface appearance, while aniline leather is more natural-looking, but less resistant to soiling. The third type, semi-aniline leather, is somewhere between on both counts. Below are more detailed descriptions of each type and its properties.


Pigmented leather is the most durable type and is used in the majority of furniture upholstery. The durability is provided by a polymer surface coating, which contains pigments. With modern technology, the coating can be finished to be embossed, printed, or plain. The surface coating allows greater resistance to soiling, scuffing, and fading.


Aniline leather is the most natural-looking leather, with the unique surface characteristics of the animal hide remaining visible. Pure aniline leather is coloured only with dye, and not with any surface coating of polymer and pigment. A light non-pigment surface coating may be applied to enhance its appearance and offer some protection against spillages and soiling.

A degree of natural marks and shade variation should be expected with aniline leather: while this type of leather can be susceptible to the effects of sunlight and it also absorbs liquids more easily. Aniline leather sofas require special maintenance to keep it in top condition.


Semi-aniline leather is more durable than aniline leather while retaining a natural appearance. The increased durability is provided by the application of a light surface coating, which contains a small amount of pigment. This ensures a more consistent color and imparts an extra degree of protection to semi-aniline leather sofas.


Sloane 3 Seater Sofa in Rustic Brown Tail

Quality leather sofas have the attributes to be incredibly comfortable, especially when combined with supportive frames and soft cushioning. Here at Sofas by Saxon, our team puts a lot of care and effort into making sure each one of our sofas lives up to our high standards for comfort. You can look forward to many happy hours spent relaxing on your new sofa once it has been delivered. Take a look at our guide to choosing a comfortable sofa here for detailed advice.

Historically speaking, leather furniture has been used for hundreds of years in a great variety of situations where comfort is at a premium. There is a reason they are such a big favorite among therapists and psychologists, who want to make their patients feel safe and comfortable during their sessions.


Belgravia 3 Seater Sofa in Vogue Brilliant White

Yes, real leather sofas are some of the most durable around, and with the right care and treatment, they can last for a lifetime. Leather has an inherent water resistance, making it much easier to clean than fabric if you accidentally spill something. They also don’t accumulate much dust, so you won’t have to go to the effort of hoovering or dusting them as much as you would with other types of sofa upholstery.

Leather really comes into its own in its resistance against wear and tear. It is a naturally tough material that will hold up well to everyday use, but what’s more, any scuffs that it does pick up will add character.

Please be aware that dye from none colorfast clothing and garments can transfer onto leather/fabric and is usually more noticeable on light leather/fabric colors such as whites, creams, and ivory. We also recommend always checking the labels on your clothing and garments for further information.


Grosvenor 3 Seater Sofa displayed in Heritage Saddle


The wood grain is taken to mean the upper layer of the leather, though it is also used to describe the design of fine embossed lines which cover the surface of most finished leathers.


Full-grain leather — sometimes known as top-grain leather — is a type of leather where the topmost layer has been left untouched. In retaining its natural smooth surface, any natural scars or blemishes will remain as evidence of the hide’s origin.


This is leather where the topmost surface has received a very fine buffing to reduce the appearance of any raised scars. It’s quite common for such leather to then receive a fine embossed effect after finishing, which will help further mask the appearance of any scars.

Aniline leathers tend to use full-grain hides while pigmented leathers tend to use corrected grains. Semi anilines can use either.


After a hide is chemically treated, it is then put through a splitting machine, which slices it through its thickness. The topmost section, which contains the hardwearing outer skin or grain, is then used to make upholstery leather.

The under section or ‘split’ has no hard-wearing grain surface and has the appearance of having suede on both sides. This is used to make suede items. Some cheaper methods of leather production have been known to coat one side of a split with a heavy pigment coating to create an artificial grain surface. Whilst an acceptable appearance can sometimes result, the product will quickly fail under use and such material should be avoided.

Here at Sofas by Saxon, we do not use split leather on any of our furniture.


When it comes to ordering your quality leather sofa with us, it is important that you know we use only premium materials for its upholstery. These materials can be applied to any of our furniture, including our signature leather Chesterfield sofas, chairs, corner sofas, and sofa beds.

Our team have an incredibly keen eye for quality when it comes to all things leather, and they have inspected hundreds of different kinds from around the world before selecting the ones to offer to our customers.  With a variety of pigmented, semi-aniline, and aniline leathers on offer, you're bound to find the ideal type for your home.

The Sofas by Saxon leather collection contains over 70 types for you to choose from. We believe they are some of the finest and most on-trend materials on the market, with a variety of colors and textures available. Whether you're looking for a black, blue, or grey Chesterfield sofa, or even something else, we will be able to create a leather piece to match your home's décor.  We are confident that they will look fantastic when upholstered on your furniture. You can order swatches of our leather through our sample service, to help you order the best leather sofa for your home.

If you would like more information about how to maintain your leather furniture, you should take a look at our leather care guide, which contains helpful instructions on how to keep your leather in great shape.

If you have any questions about any of the leathers that will be used for your leather furniture, please feel free to get in touch with a member of the Sofas by Saxon team – we’re always happy to help.  Be sure to browse our sofa, chair, corner sofa, sofa bed, and footstool ranges to find your ideal design today. Be sure to browse our sofa, chair, corner sofa, sofa bed, and footstool ranges to find your ideal design today.

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