Understanding Leather

By Adam Scot Thu 08 Dec 2022
Understanding Leather

Leather is a natural material which is both beautiful and durable, making it the natural choice for a sofa – particularly something as elegant as our chesterfield sofas. And, as a natural byproduct of the meat industry, leather is also more sustainable and environmentally friendly than most materials or faux-leathers.

But, leather can also be very confusing as there are many different terms and buzzwords used to describe its unique qualities. In this post, I will outline the main different types of leather along with what you should be looking for in a good quality leather sofa.

How do I know that a piece of leather is real leather?

First of all, you should always ask for a sample of the leather. Only by touching it can you get a feel for its quality.

Real leather will always have a back which feels like suede, whereas a piece of faux leather will generally have a material backing.

Some manufacturers will send leather samples which aren’t uniform in shape. As leather hides themselves are not uniform in shape, a curve or a hole in swatch will generally be a good indicator that the leather is genuine.

As leather comes from an animal, and animals don't have perfectly unblemished skin, a real leather will have some slight blemishes or inconsistencies.

And finally, use your nose!

Real leather will always have that distinctive leather smell. This is a result of the tanning process and even after many years, you will still be able to detect it.

How do I know the leather is good quality?

Not all real leather is good quality, but if you can find out which animal the leather is from, which country it's from and how it's been finished, you will be best placed to make an informed decision about the leather's quality.


If the leather comes a cows, bull or bison, that's generally a good indicator of quality. Bull's leather is more consistent in texture and the animal hasn't developed any stretch marks during pregnancy.

Pig leather is quite cheap and strong, however it doesn't finish very well.

There are also slightly more exotic leather such as alligator, crocodile or zebra. It's difficult to imagine a way which these kinds of leathers could possibly come from a sustainable and responsible source, which is why we do not use them.


It's no secret that Italians make the best leather, but other European leathers along with North American leathers can be of a high quality. In these climates, pests are less likely to bite the animals leading to scars, scratches and marks.

There are also some very good Brazilian hides, but equally some very poor ones. If you plan on buying a sofa made with Brazilian leather, you should try and identify the tannery and learn more about the quality of the leather. This is true across most of South America.

Leathers from Asia are generally of a poorer quality.


Antique leather

Antique leather is the quintessential Chesterfield leather, which you probably think of when you think of a Chesterfield. This leather is finished with a top coat which can be rubbed away in the workshop, or left to slowly rub away as you use it naturally throughout its lifespan.

This top coat can be applied to aniline, semi-analine and grain corrected leathers.

Aniline leather

Aniline or full grain leather is minimally finished. This showcases the unique qualities of the animal skin. Because this finishing is so minimal, only flawless hides can be used which makes this leather more expensive.

Aniline leather uses soluble dies and is not finished with a protective coating. As different parts of the leather absorb the dye at different rates, the finish is uneven and a little bit rustic. It is also easily stained as it has no protective coating.

This leather does however age beautifully, softening over time and developing its own unique patina.

Semi Aniline Leather

Semi aniline leather is the same as above, but it has a protective coat which makes it suitable for families with pets and children.

Corrected grain leather

Corrected grain leather has a smooth and consistent texture throughout. This is achieved by buffing the leather to remove any inconsistencies. Corrected grain leather offers excellent value for money as is extremely durable with a modern and consistent finish. As cow hides with slight scars and marks can be used for this leather (because they're buffed away), it offers excellent value for money.

Bonded leather

Bonded leather is made from scraps, which are glued together. This leather will wear away over time. We do not use bonded leather on any of our products and it is extremely unlikely that any of our competitors will do so either.














Semi analine






Corrected grain







Further questions about leather

Reversible cushions on leather sofas

We are often asked why our leather Chesterfields do not have reversible cushions.

This is because when you sit your seat cushion, the air in the foam, fibre or feather is released to accommodate you. As leather is airtight, a reversible leather cushion would not depress when sat upon. It’s for this reason that the undersides of our leather Chesterfield sofas are finished in a black, breathable linen.

What leather is used in production?

We are often asked whether we use the same leather throughout the entire piece of furniture, as some customers have reported cheaper alternatives which use a faux leather or lower quality leather for the sides and back. At Portabello, we will always use the same leather throughout your entire piece of furniture.

Looking after leather

As long as you keep your piece of furniture away from sources of heat and out of direct sunlight - it will age beautifully. We also recommend a weekly dusting - but beyond that, little maintenance is required. Learn more about cleaning a leather sofa.

More questions?

If you have more questions about leather - please let us know, we would be delighted to help you out.