The two biggest mistakes Interior designer make with Leather and how to avoid them

Interior designers often specify hundreds of items, if not more, on a single project, from furniture and lighting to fabrics, wallcovering, carpeting, and leather. While they can’t possibly be experts on all the items and materials they choose, mastering a few basics can help them avoid costly mistakes.

In this article, we address the two biggest issues confronting interior designers when they specify leather: are they ordering the right amount and is the leather appropriate for its intended use.
After you read this article, you will never make a leather-ordering mistake again when specifying leather!

Ordering the Right Amount of Leather

One of the biggest challenges of a COL (Customer’s Own Leather) is ordering the right amount of leather. Ordering too little results in having to order more, leaving the designer with the uncomfortable job of asking the client for more money. If the dyelot the original shipment was from is no longer available, it is more than likely that hides from a different dyelot will not be an exact match. On the other hand, over-ordering will result in an unnecessary expenditure, especially since leather is expensive.

How to Order the Right Amount of Leather

In determining how many hides or square footage are needed for a specific job, the best case scenario is when the manufacturer tells you how much to send. But what if there is no one to tell you how much leather you need? This can occur with custom-made furniture or when you are reupholstering existing pieces.
Here is a simple way to figure out how much leather you need for your project:

Use the “18 Square Feet in One Linear Yard of Fabric” Formula

You might assume that 1 yard of fabric equals 9 square feet (3’ x 3’). However, that is not correct, because fabric is typically supplied on bolts with a width of 54”. One running yard of fabric equals 1944 square inches (54” x 36”). When you divide that amount by 144 (the amount of inches in a square foot), you will see that a linear yard of fabric physically contains 13.5 square feet.

So why use 18 s.f. instead of 13.5? Because leather hides are irregularly shaped, waste is factored into the formula. The industry adds an extra 4.5 square feet to account for the waste factor, since not every square inch of a leather hide is usable.

You can’t go wrong if you simply take the fabric yardage and multiply by 18. For example, if a chair requires 3 yards of fabric, you need to order 54 s.f. , or approximately one hide.

How to Calculate How Much Leather You Need for Vertical Surfaces

When specifying leather for vertical surfaces such as wall panels and headboards, it’s easy to miscalculate. For example, if a headboard requires a leather panel that measures 40” x 70”, you might think you need to order 20 s.f. (40 x 70 = 2800 divided by 144 = 19.44). But, unlike fabric, leather is not supplied by the linear yard; it is typically sold by the square foot and supplied as whole hides.

Your 40” x 70” panel will therefore require that you purchase an entire hide, which usually averages around 50 s.f. That may seem like a lot of extra leather. This can be avoided by figuring out a way to get two equal cuts from a single hide. If your panel were only 28” – 30” wide, you could get two panels from one hide, doubling your yield and cutting the waste factor in half.

However, because of variations in hide sizes, your safest bet is to calculate 50% waste for vertical surfaces when specifying leather. If your wall measures 8’ x 10’, instead of ordering 80 s.f. of leather, you should order 160 s.f., or three large hides.

Choosing the best for your clients: Protected vs. Unprotected Leather

The first question interiors designers should ask themselves when specifying leather is what the leather will be used for. They may choose a leather because it’s the perfect color they are looking for, or fall in love with a particular leather’s silky feel.

The designer should find out how much protection the leather has by asking whether it easy to clean and maintain, and whether it will stain easily or fade in direct sunlight.

You might find it surprising that the most expensive leathers usually have the least amount of protection.

Less expensive leathers tend to have the most amount of protection because pigment, an opaque, oil-based dye, is often sprayed onto the surface of the hides to mask defects. A major advantage of pigment is that it is super-durable and gives the leather the kind of protection that makes it suitable for use in high-traffic settings. On the other hand, pure leathers with a minimum amount of defects don’t require pigmentation, and therefore receive an aniline topcoat. While aniline, a transparent, water-based dye, gives depth to the hide and allows its natural beauty to be visible, it affords very little or no protection to the leather. As a result, nappy leathers such as nubuck and suede, and “naked” leathers such as distressed leathers, have the tendency to stain as well as fade in direct sunlight.

Interior design for businesses: choosing an easy-care leather

For high-traffic installations, such as restaurants, hotel lobbies, and dining areas in homes, you should make sure the leather is easy to clean. It must have protective agents added to the topcoat, so it can be cleaned with soap and water or a mild detergent. You should be able to wipe spills right off. Unprotected leather will stain easily; even water can stain some naked leathers.

Hide Size

COL requirements are usually based on a full-size cowhide, which averages 54 s.f., the equivalent of 3 yards of fabric. However, certain leathers are supplied on smaller hides. Here are a few examples:
Calf hide: Average 28 – 34 s.f.
Suede: Average 18 s.f.
Embossed Leather: Supplied on half hides averaging 27 s.f. Width does not exceed 36.”

When specifying leather, make sure you know its average hide size, keeping in mind that the smaller the hide, the greater the waste factor. Especially if you are upholstering a large piece, such as a sectional sofa, check with the manufacturer to determine whether the hides you are supplying are the appropriate size. If you are using calf leather, for example, additional hides might be required.

Leather That’s Too Thick or Thin

When specifying leather, make sure it is the right thickness for the job. The thickness of upholstery leather is measured by millimeters, with the average thickness of upholstery leather ranging from .9 to 1.4 mm. If the leather is too thin, there is a risk that it may rip; too thick, and it won’t drape or stitch well. Leather that is embossed with a pattern such as crocodile or ostrich tends to be stiffer and therefore may not upholster as well as other leathers.

Designers are often drawn to vegetable-tanned leather because of its unique hand, smell and beautiful aesthetics. But be aware that vegetable tanned leather is particularly dense and thick, and is therefore not suitable for upholstery, except for use as inserts or strapping leather.

How to Judge the Leather’s Performance

Your best option is to ask the supplier questions about how the leather will perform, how easy it is to clean and whether it will fade in sunlight. You can also do your own superficial testing by requesting a cutting for approval (CFA), which will be cut from the actual dyelot the hides you are purchasing come from. When you receive it, run a few tests on the leather yourself. For example, if the leather is to be used in a food area, pour on two drops of olive oil, butter or carbonated soda. Leave one on for an hour, the other for 24 hours and see whether the leather stains, and, if so, whether you can remove the with a damp cloth.

In conclusion, when specifying leather you should arm yourself with as much information as possible to make sure you are choosing the right leather for the right setting to avoid costly and time-consuming mistakes.

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