Leather Guide: Reconditioning & Refinishing An Icon

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A soft, vintage and patinaed leather sofa - especially one that has been oiled and cared for over the years - is often a piece to display with pride. A sofa with cracked and dry leather that hasn't been given enough TLC (and perhaps has a few small tears)? Not as much. That said, not all hope is lost in the hands of an expert leather artisan, who can apply specific leather reconditioning and refinishing techniques to repair - or completely transform - a beloved piece of leather furniture. Whether your leather piece is scratched from many years of use, or if you're ready for a new color for a beloved leather piece, Revitaliste can help transform leather furniture into that patinaed beauty. 

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One of the easiest ways to breath new life into your leather piece is to have an artisan remove scratches. Whether from many years of kids and pets lounging and playing on the piece, leather - especially if not protected - can very easily scratch. Additionally, if a leather piece has an outdated stain color, it's possible to give it a fully new look with a different color dye or tint! Not feeling that white sofa purchased in the 80s, but still love how soft and comfortable it is? Revitalize your piece with a more up-to-date color. 

The Non-Stop De Sede sofa before leather revitalization.

The Non-Stop De Sede sofa before leather revitalization.

In the Revitaliste workshop recently was one of our all-time favorite leather pieces: the rare 'De Sede Non Stop Sofa.’ Dry, cracked, scratched and its black dye faded, this rare piece was in desperate need of reconditioning. For this piece, our artisans used a series of treatments to recondition and protect the leather.

Leather Types

There are several different types of leather, and each type is treated differently in the refinishing process. For furniture usage in particular, its important that the type of leather chosen is durable. The most common types of leather used for furniture are 'grain' and 'bonded.' The type of leather used to create the De Sede sofa was full grain, as evidenced by the grain patterns and thickness of the leather. 

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The sofa being prepped: sanded gently and primed for staining.

Full grain leather is the most durable type of leather, with several layers of the cowhide. Although quite thick, full grain leather is still breathable, and allows for some absorption of moisture over time (this is the type most likely to patina). Full grain leather often looks the most natural, so variations in color and natural grain patterns are likely to be visible. 

Top grain leather is the thinner, topmost, and softest section of the cowhide. Thinner than full-grain, top grain leather is still durable and more flexible. 

Bonded leather is created when leather scraps are blended with an adhesive and pressed together into one layer. Bonded leather isn't as durable as other types, but its thinner, flexible nature allows for the creation of unique textures and embossing. 

The various stains and pigments used in leather revitalization.

The various stains and pigments used in leather revitalization.

Leather Finishes

Depending on the type of leather used on a piece, there are several different treatments used in the refinishing process. The leather surface must be prepped before a finish is applied, as demonstrated on our De Sede project. Prepping can include gentle sanding of rough areas, as well as cleaning with a leather-safe soap. Additionally, a primer may be applied to the leather to help it absorb the stain. On the De Sede, we used an aniline treatment. 

Aniline, akin to a tint or stain, is a soluble dye that colors full grain leather without producing a uniformly smooth surface. This means that any variations or 'imperfections' will show through. Additionally, aniline alone does not seal the dye or further protect the leather. Aniline can only be used with full grain leather as it essentially soaks into the layers of the leather.

Semi-aniline treatment takes aniline one step further by adding a scratch-resistant layer of sealant to the surface. While this allows for leather furniture to be more durable, it also means that some of those natural  grain patterns in a full grain leather may be masked and smoothed away. 

A stain being applied to the De Sede sofa.

A stain being applied to the De Sede sofa.

Determining the right treatment for your leather furniture

Can - and should - all leather furniture be revitalized? There are several factors to consider when determining whether your piece is worth bringing back to life. Firstly, furniture made with grain leather will far outlast bonded leather, and when cared for, will develop that well-loved look. With the De Sede, we knew that the cracked grain leather needed some deep reconditioning after years of drying out. Because grain leather has several layers, that reconditioning will be absorbed. 

If a leather piece has a tear or a rip, all hope is not lost. Depending on the depth of the cut, as well as how it has been cared for over the years, it can be possible to patch.

Et voila! A section of the De Sede after being cleaned, primed and stained.

Et voila! A section of the De Sede after being cleaned, primed and stained.

Inspired by our revitalized De Sede sofa? Breath new life into your favorite leather furniture with Revitaliste! Request a quote here to get started with your project. Get a quote here, or get design guidance here.

Photo credit: featured image from Elle Decor, interior design by Kelly Wearstler.