leather vs. fabric upholstery
May 20, 2011 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Leather versus fabric furniture pros and cons. Is it worth the extra cost to get a couch in leather? This is regarding a Room and Board sofa, so if you have an opinion on R&B in general, feel free to join in.

Specifically considering this couch in a light color. The leather options are around 1200 more than fabric. We pretty much eat on the sofa, have a dog, and would use it every day. it would be our main piece of furniture, essentially.
posted by oneirodynia to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I bought my second Italian leather. My first one finally gave up its springs, mostly due to my three children and several pets abuse for fifteen years or so. The leather was still perfect, and the leather of my second one is still perfect after eight years or so of use (no abuse this time around.)

The maintenance is easy: I have used mild soap and water and a rag to wipe it down, followed occasionally (once a year) with leather cream nourishing. I vote for the leather one, especially in a classic style that will age well.
posted by francesca too at 12:14 PM on May 20, 2011

If you are getting a really high quality leather sofa, then maybe, assuming you can afford it. But in my experience fabric is just as comfortable.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:14 PM on May 20, 2011

I think leather is the way to go if you have a dog. I paid extra for leather seats in my car and I have not regretted it. A quick wipe down and you are good to go. I don't like the feel so much myself but it is better than a dog-ified fabric sofa.
posted by InkaLomax at 12:16 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Having had both:

-I feel "safer" on a cloth couch (growing up, my brother and I could roughhouse on the cloth couches--roughhousing on the leather couches meant my mom was three seconds away from crucifying us). Depending on how heavy your dog is, toenails might gouge the leather or leave unattractive scratches. I don't have a dog, but I know that years from now when I've got kids, I will be much more comfortable letting them play around on a cloth couch than a leather couch. Couch danger is a call you'll have to make for yourself.

-Leather couch cushions are generally attached to the couch. Cloth couch cushions are generally detached. Leather = no cushion forts.

-Spill something on a leather couch, and some immediate damp towel action will save the day. Spill something on a cloth couch, and you have to scrub.

-My last roommate was stinky. He ruined my cloth couch. It absorbed his stink. My guess is that a leather couch would have been more resistant to absorbing his stink, but I have no way to prove that.

-Your thighs will stick to the leather couch.
posted by phunniemee at 12:16 PM on May 20, 2011

My husband and I had a similar debate which ended without resolution when we bought a colleague's couch. One of the issues I thought of when we were deciding is that, as renters, we're not really in a position to buy furniture that we're going to keep for the rest of our lives. Similarly my in laws have had leather couches last for years and years through dogs, kids, etc.

That said, if you love the leather couch, get it! I know that's kind of a no brainer but I fell in love with chair and a half and while it's not a practical item at all, I have no regrets about it.
posted by kat518 at 12:20 PM on May 20, 2011

I have a leather couch that is cold in winter and makes me sweat in summer, so it pretty much has a blanket over it year round. I wouldn't get another one.
posted by travertina at 12:21 PM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: Not entirely apples to apples, but I have a leather chaise and a microfiber/microsuede couch. To me, the leather chaise is like a living creature that lets me sit on it, and the couch is just some furniture.

That is, the leather on the chaise has something of a personality that rewards interaction. As travertina points out, the chaise is cold in winter when you first climb into it. But after a few cold minutes, it has a kind of living warmth to it that I think is very pleasant. The couch never gets more than cool even on a cold day, but (as strange as this sounds) it really doesn't reward you for sitting on it. It just kind of is. Hot, cold, it just kind of hangs out, inert.

In the summer, you can stick to the leather, but I think, again, it's a bit more responsive than the couch. When the couch is hot, it's fucking hot. It's like sitting in porridge. It doesn't let you go, and it attacks you with this horrible pervasive humidity.

The leather on the chaise is pretty good quality. YMMV if you have cheap leather. The couch was middle of the road in cost.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:29 PM on May 20, 2011

I love my leather couch. We also eat on the couch and have animals (one very large dog and two scratchy kittens). I've said it before, but I'll say it again -- the hair comes up with a swipe of a lint roller (the giant one is perfect) and you can cover scratches with shoe polish. It never smells, is easy to clean and (so far) has lasted twice as long as any cloth sofa I have had. You will not regret leather.
posted by mrfuga0 at 12:29 PM on May 20, 2011

We have a Restoration Hardware leather couch that we love. We'd never want to switch it out for cloth. I wouldn't unilaterally say that leather couches are always more comfortable than cloth couches, but we find this one very comfortable and we love the way it looks. We've had it for I think about four years now, and we have no regrets.
posted by sharding at 12:29 PM on May 20, 2011

I have a leather couch from Room and Board, similar to this style. My husband and I bought it about 2 and a half years ago during an end-of-the-year sale. We had intended to get a microfiber couch but it turned out that a floor sample in leather was cheaper than a new cloth one, so we went for it. I have not regretted it at all--the quality is good, and there are a lot of little features that are nice. For example, the seat cushions have a contoured lip on the bottom side (at the back) that fit into the base, so that they aren't always sliding out when you sit down (a problem I've experienced with a lot of cheaper-made cloth and leather couches). And the back cushions have a zipper across the top so that they likewise stay in place.

I have never had issues with sticking to the couch in hot weather or freezing in cold; usually my house is at a pretty decent temperature so that, unlike with leather car seats, you don't have to worry about burning/freezing the backs of your legs. If anything, it is comfortably cool year-round. And phunniemee is right, it has not absorbed any sweat-stink like cloth couches can, nor have spills been an issue (for a lighter colored leather, this might not be the case). We don't have any dogs, but our one cat has caused some minor damage with her sharp, sharp claws--honestly, sometimes I wish that those scratches weren't there, but never enough to regret getting the leather (or the cat!). I love that couch.
posted by Jemstar at 12:44 PM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: I have two leather couches (or sofas as we quaint British types like to call them) and I wouldn't swap them for anything else. Having said that, the climate in our living room is fairly constant (i.e. it never gets very cold, or uncomfortably hot), and we don't tend to sit on them naked. So I can't comment about coldness, sweatiness or thigh-adhesion.

What I'm very pleased about is that (a) they look as good as when we bought them, despite small boys using them as springboards and landing pads for various spacecraft and flying reptiles, and (b) stains aren't something we ever have to consider. Drink all the red wine you like on my sofas; have a chicken korma while you're at it. My sofas don't care.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:50 PM on May 20, 2011

All things being equal, unless you're deeply in love with the leather, I'd say skip it. MrR talked me into getting an overstuffed leather sofa about a decade ago, and I really regret it now. I found it warm in the summer and cool in the winter, and the leather is tearing and wearing out, despite following the care instructions. I suspect that had it been a more tightly fitted style the leather would have lasted longer. After five years of familial use (2 kids, one dog), it looked worse than the previous cheap sofa set had, and after another five years I have had enough of staring at the worn ugly thing and we have ordered a new sofa with fabric upholstery. Leather was never considered.
posted by jlkr at 1:00 PM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: I have this one, in black. My experience is the opposite of travertina's - it warms up nicely in the wintertime and is cool to sit on in the summer. I have had mine about 5 years, and it still looks terrific (I don't have any kids, but we have had as many as three retrievers at a time living here).

I think the choice of leather vs. fabric is really personal. You could never talk me into a fabric sofa: even with stain-guard protection and all that, I've seen what happens to them. If a leather sofa gets scratched up, you just wipe it with warm water and let the scratches fade into the overall patina of the leather.

I also think there's leather... and there's leather. Just as there's a big difference between different grades of upholstery fabric, there's a big difference between different grades of leather. I've seen leather sofas for $2,000 where I could scratch the surface of the leather off with a fingernail; I paid around $2,500 for my Metro sofa, and even with the dogs all over it all the time, the leather still looks great. I think that might account for some of the variations we're seeing in peoples' comments here.

As for Room and Board, I can't recommend them highly enough. I have a house full of their stuff - living room, dining room, bedroom, office. If you like that clean, simple aesthetic, it's a reasonably priced way to get great quality and flexibility in finish and fabrics. Their after sale support is great, too. They are also open to customizations, if you are willing to pay for them (we have a customized version of a console table that's between two standard sizes, and we paid the dollar amount about in the middle between the two stock sized tables prices).
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 1:13 PM on May 20, 2011

We're big devotees of leather furniture as well. Spills aren't a problem, hair and lint brushes off, and nothing soaks through to the inner cushion. The quality of the leather matters a great deal, though. The surfaces on our relatively inexpensive (in the $1000-1500 range) leather sofas are damn near indestructible, but we have to keep the dog off the Eames lounge chair because his nails scratch the leather.
posted by DrGail at 1:41 PM on May 20, 2011

I think it depends on the type of leather, as OneMonkeysUncle said. We lived with a dark green sofa and 2 light colored dogs for years and we spent gobs of time trying to vacuum the damn dog hair out of the sofa. We finally splurged for a uniformly dark brown leather sofa after hearing how wonderful it was for folks who eat on the sofa and have pets. Now, 5 years later, the dogs' nails have really badly distressed the cushions they jump on multiple times throughout the day to look out the window. I'm not thrilled with the condition of that cushion, and I can't just flip it over, like I did with the cloth cushion. However, I think I would still trade that for the ease of not vacuuming a sofa with embedded dog hair. If you have a choice of pre-distressed/variegated leather, I'd advise choosing that option.
posted by sarajane at 2:14 PM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: According to the product description, that sofa is covered in semi-aniline leather, which mean's it's been drum-dyed, then coated with a thin protective surface (sometimes wax). In terms of stain-resistance, this means it's more resistant than fully aniline leather (which is drum dyed and oiled, with no surface protectant but a very soft, natural, porous grain) and less resistant than pigmented leather (which is processed to give it a uniform, artificial, "corrected" grain, painted with a pigment, and sealed with a poly-urethane surface protectant).

Because aniline leather is porous, it's susceptible to staining (e.g. a spilled glass of water can permanently stain fully-aniline leather) and tends to absorb oils from the body (i.e. the leather where your arms and neck rest tend to turn darker than the rest of the furniture with use).

As you have a dog and plan on eating on the sofa, it's worth considering pigmented leather rather than fully or semi-aniline. Pigmented leather has a less lush appearance, but terrific durability—it maintains a uniform appearance over time, and spills wipe off nicely. Pigmented leather is also less expensive than fully or semi-aniline leather: though it seems counter-intuitive, there's an inverse relationship between cost and stain-resistance.
posted by hot soup girl at 6:15 PM on May 20, 2011

Make sure the couch is good quality construction (sprung front) before considering the cover. :) No point having a cover that will last the ages if the couch quality isn't great.
posted by titanium_geek at 7:59 PM on May 20, 2011

Spend the extra money and get the leather couch. Granted, we're buying moderately priced furniture that is seeing a lot of use but cloth never held up for us. We spent the extra to get leather and this couch is lasting much longer and looking better than any other couch I've ever owned. I've never noticed a difference in comfort, plus or minus.

WARNING: If you have a cat you will see scratches on a leather couch! If you have two cats that chase each other around you will have lots of scratches! Cats can be worse than kids sometimes.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 7:15 AM on May 21, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all very much! Every answer has been helpful. I marked as best answers the ones that brought up something I hadn't thought of or seemed to encapsulate the views of several other comments. It seems like leather is a good option to spend money on if we think we're going to be using/be able to use the couch for a long time. Quality of leather and construction seem to be issues we need to investigate a little further. Thanks again!
posted by oneirodynia at 8:10 AM on May 21, 2011

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