Before I started Best Leather Couches, I was like everyone else: a confused consumer, baffled with all leather furniture industry jargon.. Even more confusing is that not all leather brands use the same definitions. I'm here to discuss Full Grain Leather, and whether you should consider it for your new leather sofa or not.
Full grain leather is made from the top layer of cowhide. It is known for having imperfections, since the leather is undoctored, meaning that its original colors and any scratches or hide marks are intact. Full grain leather is considered to be the highest quality of all leathers and although it is more expensive than Top Grain leather, it is an excellent choice for anyone buying a new leather sofa.
In this blog post, I'll further examine Full Grain leather more in detail, comparing it to other leathers used for sofas and what you can expect when shopping for new leather furniture.
What Is Full Grain Leather?
When we hear the word 'Full Grain', this typically means that the leather furniture manufacturer is using leather that comes from the top surface of a cowhide. It is also sometimes referred to as 'Full Top Grain'.
As leather manufacturers process a hide, they take the hide and split it horizontally, with one part (the best part) known as the "Top Grain", and the remainder of the hide (or inferior part of the hide) known as the 'Splits'.
The portion of the hide immediately below the hair of the animal is called the 'Full Grain'. This is named as such since it inherits all of the imperfections and 'grains' of the animal’s hide and are completely undoctored. Full Grain aka Full Top Grain leather is considered to be the highest quality leather and is very durable.
This chart below shows the area near the top of the grain as more structurally sound, whereas when you get near the bottom, or near the 'splits', the hide loses a lot of its durability.
Note that Full Grain leathers are only aniline dyed, and not sanded or buffed to remove any of the imperfections of the hide. Full Top Grain leathers are the leathers that will build a patina over time and, in my opinion, are the best leathers in terms of appearance.
You can consider Full Grain (or Full Top Grain) the best overall leather, Top Grain the next best, Genuine Leather (the third best) although not a good option, and then Bonded Leather, which are made from scraps from the leather factory, the worst overall option. I don't really consider faux leather or vegan leather options as real leather.
Is Full Grain Leather Good For Sofas?
In order to make a decision about whether or not full grain leather is good for sofas, it's important to understand what "full grain" means. AS we've already mentioned, full grain leather is made from the top layer of the hide, which contains the most natural markings and surface imperfections.
Since it is the outer most portion of the hide, it is also the most durable of all leathers, making it a fantastic option for anyone looking to purchase a new leather sofa. Plus, as we've noted earlier in this piece, the rich patina that a Full Top Grain develops is the best option for those that want the true feel of a real leather sofa.
How Long Does A Full Grain Leather Sofa Last?
A full grain leather sofa is a great choice for anyone looking for a durable, long-lasting piece of furniture. Leather is known for being tough and resilient, and a full grain hide is the highest quality possible. So how long does a full grain leather sofa actually last? Based on our research, an average real leather sofa lasts 15 to 20 years compared with about five years with fabric.
While I can't quantify the actual difference, a Full Grain leather sofa should last longer than a Top Grain leather sofa due to the fact that the outermost surface of a Top Grain leather sofa has been sanded away, losing an integral part of the structure of the hide.
Top Grain vs. Full Grain Leather Sofas
Many consumers ask me - which leather sofa is better: Top Grain or Full Grain?
Well, it depends on what you want! (and what your budget looks like).
What makes full grain leather so great is this: it has not been buffed or sanded down like top grain leather and retains all of its original characteristics, such as natural markings (e.g., scars, insect bites) and irregularities in color. This makes each piece unique and identifiable by their qualities.
Top grain leather has a thinner and more uniform surface than full grain leather, which means the furniture may be easier to clean and wear less over time.
However, because of this uniformity in texture, top grain can't recreate the beautiful natural markings that make up a piece of full-grain leather.
Full-grain's irregular textured surface makes for more personality and charm, with each scratch or stain adding character. It also feels softer to some people because of its higher collagen content (which is why we recommend using a protective coating).
I will also reiterate that some manufacturers may use the term 'Full Top Grain' to represent full grain leather.
So What Does Full Grain Aniline Leather Mean?
When animal hides are processed to create leather, they are dyed with a liquid called aniline, which helps provide an added softness, enhancing the look and feel of the leather. A full grain leather with aniline dye is among the best leather money can buy.
Notably, according to research, only 6% of leathers are good enough to become full grain aniline leathers. If you come across a leather that is 'semi-aniline', it means that a protectant has been added to the dye and the leather.
What's The Cost Difference Between Top Grain And Full Grain Leather Sofas?
In the United States, an average Top Grain protected imported (China or Southeast Asia) leather sofa from any online retailer with modern design typically starts at around $2000 retail, moving higher based on the brand name and the size, quality construction, and leather sourced.
A US-built leather sofa will typically run higher; a Top Grain leather sofa will normally start in the $3000 price range and move higher.
A Full Grain Aniline real leather will be more expensive and depends on the store purchased from, but I've seen some higher quality full-grain leather sofas sell for upwards of $10,000.
Where To Buy A Full Grain Leather Sofa?
Most of the higher quality brand names that allow customization of their sofas typically provide higher quality leather options and thus you should be able to find your desired style with a Full Top Grain leather.
Notably, most of the online only stores - Poly & Bark, Pottery Barn, Joybird, Article, etc do not allow more specific leather type customizations and tend to use only Top Grain leathers. Some of the lower-end brands are using some combination of genuine leather or bonded leather.
Note as mentioned above, a Full Top Grain is going to run well above the average price point of some of the $2000+ leather sofa online retailers, so if that's out of your budget, I'd say stick with the Top Grain leather.