Like most products, leather upholstery is available at many price points: however, the variation in price is a reflection of the quality of the product. Corners can be cut in construction such as no-sag springs instead of eight-way hand-tied springs, yet these construction differences do not significantly contribute to the price variations. The price variations lie more in the price of the leather itself than in the construction of the upholstered piece.
The most important factor in determining quality leather upholstery is determining the quality of the leather itself. You will often find that retailers advertise "All Leather" upholstery: however, this is a misleading statement. Leather is a generic term that refers to a tanned animal skin. The actual animal skin can be cow, buffalo, pig, etc., so it is not sufficient to assume all leathers are equal. Likewise, there are many methods of tanning and finishing available, so leathers can be remarkably different even if they are from the same animal species.
You will find that there is a tremendous difference in the appearance and texture of leathers from different animals. Cowhide is preferable for upholstery leather because it has the most desirable appearance and texture or "hand", which is a term often used to describe the feel of the leather. The grain of cowhide tends to be smooth, lending itself to a soft hand. Other animal hides are stiffer and coarser grained and, therefore, are not a desirable upholstery material. Often, inferior leather upholstery will be made of stiffer leathers such as a pig or water buffalo.
Now that you understand differences in leather obtained from different animals, the rest of this article will talk about differences in leather obtained from cows. The term cowhide refers to leather made from cow skins; however, there are variations in the quality of cowhides as well.
When a cowhide is processed, the skin is removed in one layer. Later at the tannery, the outer layer of skin is separated from the layers of skin. It is shaved off and is usually 3/64" thick, about the thickness of a coin. This outer layer of skin is referred to as the "top grain" and the other layers of skin are referred to as "split hides".
The top grain is best suited to upholstery because it is the strongest and most durable part of the hide, yet it is soft and supple. In fact, top grain becomes more supple over the years and obtains a soft patina. If properly cared for, top grain leather upholstery should last indefinitely.
The split hides are coarser and stiffer and tend to crack more easily. The average wearing time of split hides is 5 years. Split hides are better suited to the garment industry to make shoes, handbags, belts, etc., which are not expected to last more than a season or two.
Cheaper leather upholstery is often made of split hides instead of top grain leather. The advantages to a manufacturer to use split hides are the cheaper price of split hides per square foot and the greater yield obtained from a split hide. Top grain leather tends to have more scars and surface blemishes than split hides since it is the outside layer of skin. Since split hides have fewer flaws, there is less waste per hide, thus a greater yield per square foot. An average cowhide is approximately 50 to 55 square feet, but only 70% of this area can be used from a top grain hide. In split hides, 90% or more is suitable for use; thus there is only a 10% or less waste factor.
Obviously, the advantage of using split hides is the substantial savings in the cost of the leather; however, that savings is directly responsible for the poor quality and wearability of the leather.
We are frequently asked this question in the store and like so many things in life the answer is... it depends!
There are five main factors that determine how well the surfaces of your wood furniture from Geitgey's Amish Country Furnishings will wear:
1. What is the hardness or density of the wood? The scientific name for this is specific gravity.
2. What is the grain texture of the wood?
3. What stain color are you choosing for the wood?
4. What is the finish treatment being used?
5. What is the application of the piece of furniture?
Let's examine each of these items in order to help you make your best choice. Here are the domestic species of hardwoods that we offer in descending order of hardness: Hickory, Red Oak, Hard Maple, Walnut, White Elm, Cherry, Brown Maple. The hardness of the wood could matter when you have a surface that might get a repeated amount of physical abuse - like a table or desk top that is exposed to lots of dropped or dragged items that would otherwise dent a softer wood more easily.
But the reality is that almost all woods can be dinged, dented and scratched so we feel it's even more important to consider the grain texture of the wood you are choosing because the texture is what will determine how well the wood can camouflage the inevitable ding, dent or scratch. Coarse grained woods like Oak and Hickory will do a much better job of hiding damage than finer grained woods like Brown Maple or Cherry. Oak and Hickory also tend to have a lot of "movement" or pattern in the wood that can also serve to hide scratches. Many of the fine grained woods can be very glass-like and reflective, especially when placed underneath a pendant light or in front of a bay window as you would with a kitchen table, and while these are certainly beautiful woods they will typically reveal more of the daily wear.
Also contributing to how well scratches and dings can be concealed is the stain color that is chosen for your furniture. Dark colors have been trendy and popular for some time now, but dark stains such as Onyx, Espresso, Rich Brown and Java as well as black paint are bound to show scratches and dings more easily. Think of the analogy that a dark or black colored car is harder to keep clean than a lighter colored car. These colors will also require more frequent dusting and cleaning.
Considering the proper finish treatment is also important when choosing your furniture options. We are not necessarily talking about the type of finish here, as all of our furniture is already finished with a catalyzed conversion varnish which is a very durable finish. More information on this finish can be found in this short video: Conversion Varnish Video. What we really mean by treatment is whether the piece is finished "pristine" or "distressed". Pristine is when a piece is stained or painted and then simply top-coated and left in a more or less flawless or unblemished state. Distressing occurs when we add tooling detail (dings, dents, faux powder-post beetle holes, edge sanding, etc.) that give the furniture the appearance of having some age and use. Distressing can take the anxiety out of the first ding you might inflict upon your furniture yourself and make the piece a more livable and relaxed addition to your home. We also have the option on many of our species to use a "rustic" or "character" grading of the lumber that will allow for more knots, mineral inclusions and imperfections in the wood than a select grade of the same species might allow. In addition, we can also use roughsawn or planking effects to further add to the character of a piece and to make it look like a well-loved part of the household.
Finally, consider the application of your furniture. Just because an interior designer on a television show said that you need a dark pedestal table with a high-gloss finish in your kitchen does not mean your four year old will respect that decision! Oily hand prints and fork marks will win in the end. Know that furniture is fashion, yes, but furniture is also where your family gathers, eats, sleeps, works and relaxes. Considering all of the above factors when making your purchases of hardwood furniture will help to ensure you enjoy your furniture for many years to come.
As always, the staff at Geitgey's Amish Country Furnishings in Dublin is glad to help with questions related to this article or any other matter. Just call, email or stop in anytime.
The arrival of warmer weather here in Dublin, Ohio inspires us all to engage in that annual rite - a little spring cleaning around the house. Your handmade Amish furniture from Geitgey's Amish Country Furnishings will benefit from a little spring TLC as well. Read on for a list of helpful hints on keeping your furniture beautiful and functional for years to come:
Outdoor Furniture - If you have purchased our poly lumber outdoor furniture then you have it pretty easy! We recommend an occasional power washing to remove dirt and build-up, and then just check all hardware (screws, bolts, nuts) and tighten as necessary. If you have wood outdoor furniture we recommend that it be refinished every two years and touched-up every year. Wood outdoor furniture especially needs to have the hardware checked and tightened more frequently as the changes in temperature and humidity cause the wood to expand and contract and this will loosen hardware over time.
Tables - If you use your table everyday you may eventually get a build-up of food and oils that needs to be removed. You can try using a cleaner like our Guardsman Cleaner to remove this build-up or you can try another product. Just remember these tips: test in an inconspicuous area first, always apply product to your rag first rather than directly to the furniture, and wipe with the grain to avoid abrasions. These same tips apply when you polish your furniture as well. We recommend a polish that is free of wax or silicone so it will not build-up on your furniture - please check the label on your product. Guardsman Polish is an excellent choice for polishing all your hardwood furniture and we sell a full line of the Guardsman products at the store. If your table has leaves it's a good time to open up the table and clean the inside edges of the table and any leaves where food or residue from spills may have run into the seams. You'll also want to clean out the expansion mechanism, whether a gear style or telescoping style, to keep it free of food debris - a vacuum cleaner wand may be good for this purpose so you can draw debris out of the grooves. When done, lightly wax the slides with paraffin wax (a bar of soap will also work) to keep the slides lubricated. Finally, check the table for level with a bubble level and adjust the leveling feet on the bottoms of the feet as needed.
Chairs - If your chairs are placed on hardwood and you use a felt or cork pad to protect the floor now is a good time to check and see if any pads need replaced. Kids are especially hard on chairs with spills and residue - follow our advice under tables above regarding how to clean off food residue. Pay particular attention to the top crest rail and side posts of the chair where oils from hands are most likely to accumulate. Check to see if the joints of your chair are coming loose anywhere - if so it may be time to bring them to our service department to be re-glued. This is something that has to be redone periodically on all chairs and is critical for the integrity of the joinery and the longevity of the chair. We can advise if a complete or partial re-glue is necessary.
Case Goods (Dressers, Chests, TV Stands, Cabinets, etc.) - Check that these pieces are sitting level with a bubble level and adjust the leveling feet on the bottoms of the feet as needed. If no leveling feet are present then use wood or plastic shims that can be purchased at home improvement stores and cut or snapped to the appropriate length needed. It is important for pieces with doors or drawers to sit level so that the doors will hang evenly and the drawers will track properly. Allowing a piece to sit out of level for an extended period of time can rack the frame permanently and compromise the integrity of how the piece functions and appears.
Beds - Check to make sure that your bed is square (i.e. that the rails or frame are at a right angle to the headboard and or footboard). The number one cause of a squeaky bed is a bed that has been knocked out of square by dragging it to one side when cleaning or moving it. This places the connecting hardware and end of rail in a bind where it can rub and make for an annoying squeak. Also check to make sure that all connecting hardware is tight - tighten with a wrench or socket as necessary. Make sure that all slats are in place and laying flat so they can provide support and that any "center feet" that run from the underside of slat to the floor are at a right angle to the slat and not turned askew from the bed being dragged sideways.
Mattresses and Box Springs - We recommend that if you have a flippable mattress (sleep deck on both sides of mattress) that you flip it every three months. The mattress should be alternated between flipping it both "end-for-end" and "side-over-side" to maintain the most even wear. If you have a "no flip" mattress (sleep deck on just one side) then you should just be rotating it "side-over-side" every three months. Box springs are usually built as "no flip" so just rotate them "side-over-side" as well. Inspect all tickings for any loose threads or seams or signs of a spring or edge wire coming through. By the way - the average person probably keeps their mattress much longer than they should. If your mattress is older than 7-10 years - it may be time for a new one. Mattresses increase an average of 5-10 lbs. in weight with retained sweat, dust mites, etc. and while the spring systems will probably last as long as the warranty states there will be a degradation of support prior to that. Got a back ache or unexplained skin irritation? It just might be your mattress!
Upholstered Furniture (Sofas, Chairs, Ottomans, etc.) - Give your upholstered furniture a thorough vacuuming every month as well as an aggressive fluffing of the pillows and cushions. Back cushions may occasionally need to be taken out of their zippered cases to be fluffed and then reinserted and re-positioned within the casing. Check the undersides of the furniture periodically to see that the cambric cloth (usually black) or other lining material is intact and has not been pulled off by pets or roughhousing. Also check that any feet are solid and screwed into place as they can become dislodged or backed out with movement of the piece across the floor. Treat any stains with a fabric spot cleaner and condition leather periodically with a leather conditioner/cleaner - always test in an inconspicuous area first.
General cabinetry and furniture parts (doors, drawers, etc.) - Check doors and drawers to see if they are hanging level. If not, make sure the piece is level as indicated above. If piece is level (or cabinet is a fixed built-in) then check the door hinges to make sure all screws are tight. Most hinge styles also feature adjustment options that allow for a hinge position to be shifted slightly so that a door will close or hang better. Depending on the type of hinge this may manifest itself in the form of a slotted screw hole or an actual adjustment screw. Drawers should also be checked to see if they are level. Most drawer slides will have slotted holes that allow for small changes in position of the drawer slide. If you have a drawer that drifts opens mysteriously it is most likely caused by a cabinet that is not level and lists forward , an obstruction that has fallen behind the drawer or a drawer slide that needs adjusted. Also check all functional hardware (knobs, pulls) periodically and re-tighten as necessary.
Your busy household gives you no shortage of tasks to keep up with but taking the time to perform some of the above maintenance will keep your quality Amish crafted hardwood and upholstered furniture from Geitgey's Amish Country Furnishings in Dublin looking and performing its best.
Upholstery can be like a big black box when it comes to determining how well it's made. Sure it looks great on the outside because it may have an appealing fabric and it seems to look OK, but what's on the inside? Here at Geitgey's Amish Country Furnishings we work hard on education and helping clients be aware of what constitutes a quality piece of upholstered furniture. Whether it's comparing one of our new sofas or chairs to something else that is in the marketplace or trying to make a decision about whether it's worth reupholstering an older piece, let us walk you through the process to identifying quality -
Frame - This is the "bones" or skeleton of the piece and what you want to know here is if the frame is made from kiln-dried hardwood lumber. Much of today's value furniture is made with plywood framing and this simply will not hold up. Hardwood frames will typically be made out of maple, oak, poplar or birch. Ask the salesperson if the frame is hardwood, what species are used, and if it has been kiln-dried to help reduce expansion and contraction due to moisture and temperature changes. Better yet, ask them if there is a cutaway sample available so you can see the construction for yourself. Furthermore, ask about the joinery used to connect the framework. You want to know that the frame is screwed and glued and includes corner blocking - if the frame is stapled or pin-nailed it should probably be avoided. Sit in the furniture and exert some pressure on the back and arms by bracing your feet against the floor and pushing back with your back. Hear an excessive amount of cracking or feel too much give? Also lift one end of the piece and try to flex it a little. A well-built frame should not flex or creak excessively during this test. Finally, check the exposed wood details such as the feet. Where possible, it's best if they are integrated into the frame of the piece and glued and screwed. If it's a smaller detail, like a bun or spool foot for example, make sure it is held in with a lag screw of the appropriate size, or several smaller screws and that it is made from a hardwood.. The ability to remove and reattach the feet may be handy when trying to get through a narrow door someday.
Springs and Support System - Think of these as the "muscles and tendons" of the furniture - just how strong are they? Check that the spring and support system is sufficient by performing these tests. Let yourself drop somewhat heavily into the sofa. Do you hear any excessive noise or a "thunk"? When you stay seated and bounce on the cushion do the springs return you to an elevated position each time or do they bottom out? When you place your hand under the cushion and press down are the springs adequately padded so that you cannot feel the metal? We recommend eight-way hand-tied coil springs for the main deck as they offer the best weight distribution over the entire frame. Pieces that feature sinuous (also know as zig-zag) coil units for the main deck are more than likely not going to last as long. Sinuous coils are acceptable and common for the backs of most chairs, sofas and loveseats however. Ask the salesperson about the type of spring system used or ask to read the manufacturer's literature. Finally, check to make sure that the cushions are of a high-density foam and that they are wrapped with a separate fabric layer to avoid direct contact between the foam and the main fabric which will accelerate the deterioration of the foam.
Fabrics and Leathers - And now for the "skin" of the furniture! Many clients ask us about leather vs. fabric and our answer is that leather is wonderful but will be more expensive for full-grain or top grain leathers, which we would recommend. Less expensive leather furniture features leather that is know as "split", "recast" or "vinyl added" and will break down more quickly. A quality leather on a loveseat, sofa or chair can possibly provide a lifetime of wear. If fabric is more to your liking, just make sure that you are choosing a fabric that fits your lifestyle. Most better upholstery fabrics will be wear-rated for durability - ask the salesperson to show you the wear-rating for the fabric. This is based on the blend of fabrics used, i.e. cotton, rayon, polyster, linen, etc. Also pay attention to the cleaning requirements for the fabric - whether a solvent or water should be used. For example, while cotton is great for that favorite worn pair of jeans, it may not be the best choice for a hard-used sofa due to it's tendency to wrinkle and hold stains. A final word about the fit and finish of your upholstery covering - pay special attention to the tailoring that is represented on the pieces you are considering ordering. Is care taken to make sure that pattern matching is done throughout the piece (i.e. arm panels match, pattern continues over the backside of the piece and vertically spanning cushions, decks, backs, etc.). Is there any excessive puckering at corners, seams and welts that is not otherwise part of the design or fabric? Do the cushions feature sippers that allow you to remove the cores cores for easier cleaning and fluffing?
If you would like to know more, please feel free to call or visit our store. At our store we sell Clayton Marcus upholstery, as well as our Amish-made line of standard upholstery and finally our line of completely custom upholstered furniture that allows us to custom build frames to your specification. All are proudly made here in the US. Additionally, we offer reupholstering on select pieces and we would be glad to discuss the feasibility and cost of your project with you.