"When I started out in the interior design business 22 years ago, leather furniture was an upscale purchase only the wealthy could afford," said Judith Sisler Johnston, president of Sisler Johnston Interior Design and ASID allied member. "Leather upholstered furniture can be a lasting investment and complement any fine interior with a dimension of class."
Leather is a product of nature and its price reflects its quality, processing, and finish. Interior designer and leather industry expert Susan Dudics-Dean estimates leather pricing starts at approximately $50 per square yard and ranges to several hundred dollars per square yard. For pricing estimates, keep in mind that a sofa requires a minimum of 15 square yards, while a lounge chair needs about eight square yards. Manufacturers today offer a wide variety of styles in a broad price range. Before purchasing leather, Sisler Johnston advises buyers to consider several factors to ensure a lasting investment.
While the fabric is significant, the furniture frame is equally important. A well-made frame should consist of kiln-dried hardwood for sturdiness to prevent bowing or splitting. The joints should be reinforced with corner blocking as well as with screws and glues for many years of enjoyment. High quality seat construction is also essential. Experts agree that the classic, eight-way hand-tied supports offer the best reinforcement. This method sets springs within the frame and ties them top and bottom and cross-tied at angles so they move together but do not run together. Less expensive methods include drop-in springs or sinuous S-shaped springs that may not last as long as the leather itself.
The steps taken to turn a leather hide into a finished product contribute to its quality and cost. Before leather can be used as upholstery, the hides go through processing where they are split into layers. The upper layer of the hide is the best quality and is called top grain, while the second and third layers are called split grains. They are stiffer, thicker, and of a lower standard than top grain. Texture is another indication of quality. While all leather has natural markings, higher quality leathers have fewer imperfections.
Manufacturers use one of three dying methods to color leather. Leather can be dyed almost any color using modern technologies, but the traditional process of aniline dying is best since the color actually permeates the fabric and the original markings on the leather can be seen. Everyday wear will be less noticeable than with less expensive, surface-dyed methods. Finishes can be hand or machine applied for a glossy or matte effect. They also provide some protection from scratches, stains, and sun fading.
Some manufacturers offer vinyl and leather furniture combinations that mix genuine leather with matched vinyl. While it is less expensive, vinyl will fade and wear differently than leather. To achieve the greatest value from a furniture investment, purchase leather through knowledgeable, licensed interior design establishments.
Judith Sisler Johnston and her team of licensed, highly trained, and gifted designers combine experience, knowledge, and professionalism to help clients develop their vision while analyzing their design requirements. The company celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2004 and has been recognized with more than 75 industry awards, including Aurora, Laurel, Excel, and the National Association of Home Builders Senior Housing awards.
For more information about Sisler Johnston Interior Design, call (904) 288-0908 or visit www.sislerjohnston.com.