Leather is tanned animal skin or hide, used since centuries. From when mankind was killing animals for food, the leather would be used to cover them.
There are several complex treatments needed, done by skilled workers, to get from raw material to the leather we will use for our sofa, shoes or handbags.
- liming: process of removing the hair from the raw hide through use of chemicals
- splitting: hide is inserted in a machine with sharp running blade to be split to a predetermined thickness
- tanning: operation whereby skin and hide are converted into leather, using tannins.
- sammiering: pressing the water out of the hides
- shaving / trimming
- staking: softening the leather by using a machine that provides a mechanical beating action
- dry milling: to obtain the required softness
- buffing: to remove imperfections
- finishing: to protect, rendre cleanable, create the final look
- quality selection
Leather tanning is one of the oldest human activities. Skins obtained from hunting would be used for clothing or tents. But the skin or hide would become stiff at low temperatures or would start rotting with heat.
The tanning and the other preparations to finish the leather became more and more refined. Skins were used in the ancient world and are still very much in demand in present days.
The Romans were using leather for footwear and clothing. Shields and harnesses would help them to protect them during fights. In the 9th century Spain, under the dominion of the Moors, was developing the "Cordovan" leather, which originated from North Africa. As the tanning process made big progress, this type of leather became famous throughout Europe for centuries till the mid of the 18 the century when wallpaper got more popular and could easily been produced industrial.
Leather got more and more refined over the centuries, the tools for fleshing, scraping, shaving, and trimming are found in every period known to us. Leather which was once a basic material became more and more refined and is these days seen as a luxurious material. The steady hands of well trained artisans are needed to create products for a refined luxury market. Millions of square meters of leather are sold in the world.
Lots of precise handwork, so you need skilled people to turn each piece in a beautiful creation. To create modern furniture with leather the designer needs to work together with a trained artisan. Leather is very flexible and can be molded in shapes, what is not possible with fabrics.
Leather has quite a sportive character, when we think of horse riding we can find some interesting details to be translated in interior design. The old fashioned leather suitcases can find a new destination as night stand in the bedroom. The natural color of the leather matches perfectly with other natural materials and a neutral color palette.
Leather is used as well in the classical style as the more contemporary style. Sofas, armchairs or chairs in leather will have a high price tag. But when you know all the steps which are needed to turn the animal skin in leather, the precise handwork to finish all, and the limited amount of leather, than you can understand that you can't or should not go for a cheap leather sofa. You can find a cheap sofa in leather, but be aware that the quality of the leather will be minor, better to buy in that case a sofa in a beautiful fabric.
These days you can fine exquisite leather tiles for wall covering and even for floors. Works perfectly in a modern, minimalist interior. A contemporary sports club or an office. Will be much more difficult to maintain and you need to be aware that the leather will get a patina over time.
Leather will always be seen as elegant, refined, and luxurious. You don't need a lot of details to the design as the beauty of the material tells it all. It will even be that a lot of details maybe are hiding some imperfections. More cuts in the piece can make it cheaper as than more of the skin can be used. If all should be cut in one big piece than you know that small pieces will have to been thrown away.
Young designers will explore new techniques to turn this very classical material in something really new. You easily cut the material, get it in all the colors you can dream of, use different finishings, it is very durable, and strong. Leather can be used in the classical interior style as well as a minimalist home.
You can still find the Cordova leather in museums, in houses form the beginning of the last century, but maybe leather as wall covering can get back trendy. I love the idea.
Leather production is still not very efficient, due to its origins, the complicated work to turn a animal hide in a soft leather. Spanish designer Jorge Penadés, created a new method of production to revitalize discarded leather waste from factories, to make leather more sustainable. Structural Skin is a capsule collection created from this new material that is made completely of discarded leather waste, including any binder or resin used during production.
Leather is a durable, stylish, and tough. When you take good care of your leather than it will last you a life time. The better you maintain your leather the longer it will last and the better it will look.
- don't put it in the washing maching
- keep it out of the sun, the sun will dry out the leather
- keep it dry, so not in a humid place or a wet basement
- add moisture to the leather when it start to look dried out
- don't use soaps or other cleaners, just stay with water
- if your leather gets wet it dry slowly
- when you are not sure: ask a professional cleaner
so when you invest a certain amount in a leather piece, take than also good care and you will enjoy this for many years.