What to Buy: Leather vs. Fabric Furniture | Articulate

What to Buy: Leather vs. Fabric Furniture

Picking a sofa material is a bit like choosing a breed of dog. Considerations include your lifestyle, your budget, and the time invested into this couch. A fabric vs. a leather sofa will be determined by how you live now, and how your life is going to change over the next few years. While you can’t know everything about the future, you can prepare yourself by educating yourself… about your optimal sofa-materials choice.

The Sven Sofa in Birch Ivory

Alex of Ave Styles likes the soft, light palette that the fabric Sven Sofa in Ivory brings to her space.

General Maintenance

First things first: the higher the quality of your materials, the longer they will last. It is so tempting to dive in after something cheap and trendy, but without the foundation of great materials, you’re looking at a sunk cost (editor’s note: I’ve bought $40 sunglasses off Instagram… they did not live up to the photos). Regardless of a fabric vs. leather sofa, look for durable materials.

The Mello modular set.

The Yellow Brick Home family love their low-key leather Mello modular sofa.

For fabric: linen, cotton, and wool are great options. When mixed with some synthetics, these fabrics offer a one-two punch of being breathable and easier to clean. Maintaining your couch is as easy as vacuuming the fabric regularly. By lifting excess debris from the weave, you prolong the even coloring of your sofa. Fabric couches can pill and wear thin with high use, but choosing a high-quality model can mitigate that risk. Look for couches with a Martindale rub-test of 25,000 rubs or more (humblebrag: Article sofas are typically Martindale tested to withstand up to 100,000 rubs — something our friends at Masion de Pax were grateful for when choosing their Cube sectional).

For leather: the type of leather determines the long-term look of your couch. Article deals in a number of different types of leather. Each treatment lends a particular “finish” and wear to the leather (we actually wrote a seriously in-depth post about our different leather types), and that treatment dictates how the leather needs to be treated once in couch-form. While leather doesn’t pill like a fabric sofa does, the quality dictates how a leather will wear long term. Cheaper or imitation leathers are likely to crack or fade — even with excellent care. To mitigate the risk of this happening, look for leathers that are marked full-grain, aniline, or semi-aniline. Avoid “genuine leather,” which is typically just layers of cheap leather bonded together with glue.

Kim and Scott of Yellow Brick Home recently incorporated the Mello sofa series into their Michigan cottage. With two dogs, a baby, and a large-scale renovation on their hands, the couple needed a piece that was easy to maintain in a busy area.

Treating Spills

Spills are the inevitable nemeses of couches. You’re enjoying a nice pasta bolognese when all the sudden your mid-century sofa is too. Treating stains on fabric vs. leather sofas have different procedural steps, but both start the same way: soak it up. Regardless of your spill-type, blotting the spill with a soft cloth is the first step towards rehabbing your couch.

The Sven Charme Tan Sectional in situ in the BevCooks' home.

The BevCooks family snuggles up on their Sven Charme Tan Sectional.

Once you’ve blotted, the divergence begins. For fabric, you’ll need to check the manufacturer’s instructions. Depending on your sofa’s fabric makeup and post-manufacturing treatment, certain cleaning methods will work better than others. Some might even further stain or discolor your couch. As with anything, quality determines longevity.

Leather is slightly more forgiving. Because leather is considerably less porous than open-weave fabrics, gently mopping the spill goes a long way towards treating it. Taking good pre-emptive care of your leather will also go a long way towards ease of treating spills. When your leather is buffed, spills are less likely to get soaked into the pores. Additionally, different kinds of leather will take on different patinas over time. Casey and Bridget of the DIY playbook appreciate that the full aniline leather on the Sven sofa is meant to wear in and give a vintage look. Such flexibility makes it easy to introduce to a decor scheme… and a toddler.

Comfort is Key

Arguably, the most important quality in a couch. The fabric vs. leather sofa question doesn’t determine whether a couch is sinkable, lounge-worthy, or for straight-sitters only. The comfort factor here is more subjective, and therefore a little easier: which one feels better on your body? Boom. That’s what wins this category. Comfort tends to be tied to appearance as well. No matter how cushy your couch, if you don’t like the style you’re not going to feel good on it. Our friend Nicole over at Visual Heart asked the Article team for fabric swatches so she could see how the colors on her shortlist looked in different light. She eventually went for the Ceni in Pyrite Grey because it looks lighter in her light-washed apartment.

The Ceni in Volcanic Grey.

GlitterGuide’s feature of Sarah Lit and her family-home included our Ceni Sofa.

Keen to get some fabric swatches of your own? We can help.

Life Factors

When it comes to fabric vs. leather sofas, you need to consider your long-term lifestyle. Here are a few helpful questions:

  • When Spring comes, do your sinuses besiege you? If yes, consider leather. Fabric couches accumulate dust mites and other allergens more easily than leather does, and can extend your allergy season. Leather sofas are hypoallergenic.
  • Do you have pets? Secondary question: are your pets your babies? Bring easier to clean, harder to stain, and more adaptive to a “lived in” look, we generally recommend leather for pet-owners. However, if you’re a diligent trainer and have your heart set on fabric, we trust you.
  • Young children. This one doesn’t offer a clear Y/N, but asks you to consider your particular child: do they have a penchant for Sharpies? Choose a couch with flippable cushions. Are they prone to accidents of all stripes? Leather may serve you longer. Do they oft-inhabit the room the piece you’re considering is destined for? If yes, please see questions one and two. While there’s no fool proof way to protect your furniture from the tyranny of toddlers, a damage-control plan is useful.
The Nova Sectional in Bard Grey.

Kitty, her husband Joel, and their kitty cat June all love the Nova sectional.

Your modern living room furniture will be a long-term companion that needs to reflect your changing style and manage your relaxation needs. Though choosing a fabric vs. a leather sofa (or vice versa) may seem an aesthetic choice, it will influence the longevity of a piece in your home. Good thing we have so much choice on hand.

Shop Fabric & Leather Sofas

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