How to find the perfect leather sofa

A good leather sofa is like:

 

A bad leather sofa is like:

I so don’t mean to pick on New Jersey especially after i spent last weekend in Atlantic City having a blast, but The Situation just has a brand that transcends most description.   

So yes, leather sofas can go either way – either really good or really bad. So here are some tips to help you pick out the best leather sofas out there.  

1. Pick leather with out a TON of shine.

 Obviously a vintage leather sofa is going to solve this problem way faster than a new one, but vintage isn’t always an option so go for leather that is soft and more matte, less shiny.  Less ‘patenty’. Less ‘Snookie’.

This one is shiny, and while the shape is awesome and the sofa itself is great, the shine adds a element of cheese to it. It’s like leather shoes – patent leather work sometimes for sure, but it can lead men into thinking you are hooking.  

Instead go for leather like this:

Its more matte, more understated, softer, less in your face and therefore just looks more luxurious and more expensive.  Keep it soft and supple, not slick and shiny.  

2. Pick an interesting shape.  

Either go for a super straight modern shape or a really low round soft shape.   Confusing i know, but when they get to be oversized and round, but new and shiny they look so 80’s and cheesy.

Look for modern and minimalist, with straight lines and sleek legs:

 

fritz_hansen_leather_danish_modern_sofa_1.JPG

Buy this one HERE. $4980 Arne Vodder for Fritz Hansen. I’m obsessed with it. Somebody best snatch er up.  (they do free shipping if that’s interesting to you). And they are located in Portland if you want to see it in person.  

But for those of you who can’t afford that bad boy (like me) and live where these vintage finds are hard to, well, find, then this is a good  new option.  HERE. 

 

Look for low, soft, 1970’s and totally amazing:

Percival Lafer Sofa

This sofa is on sale at Amsterdam Modern HERE for over $6000 but it is truly begging to be lounged on. The 70’s really knew how to relax and i appreciate that.  

Chelsea Leather Sofas

And Restoration sells a pretty good one HERE. 

3. When in doubt, buy a chesterfield. I know what you are thinking:  ‘Uh, yeah you moron, if i could find a beautifully worn leather chesterfield that i could afford i would ‘if i was in doubt’ buy it’, which is a fair thing to say. But if you are looking to save and splurge on any leather sofa, i’m just saying that my recommendation is to go for a chesterfield. They are so classic and timeless that you simply can’t go wrong.  Men love them. Women love them. Cats love them.  And even baby cats love them.  

Restoration Hardware kinda corners the market on vintage leather sofas. That’s ‘Vintage Leather’ not vintage  sofas, the construction is new but because the leather is old and worn they are just beautiful.  I always prefer to buy vintage over big box, but i can’t deny that they all look good.  (This is so not a sponsored post, but i’m trying to give options to people who aren’t shopaholics like me and have a million vintage resources and honestly Restoration has the best mass market options).  

 

Kensington Leather Sofas

 

Good luck shopping. Every time i find one that i love i usually can’t afford it and now i have these two amazing leather chairs so my leather quota is full:

More random tips:

 – Be more cautious with burgandy leather – it can be styled right, but it can also look 90’s southern den, so just make sure you have the right vision for it.  Ask yourself – would i buy shoes this color and tone and level of shininess? And if the answer is ‘nope’ then don’t go for it, hold out for the right one.  

 – You can dye a lighter leather to look darker but you can’t realy change the tone of a medium or dark leather very  much. I once bought an awesome vintage sofa that was slightly more purple than i wanted it to be but the price was insane ($600 with such a good shape) so I risked it. My leather guy (what? doesn’t everyone have one?) said he could change it to a deep caramel and while the tone changed slightly it was certainly not worth the $900.  

 – Most big box stores have pretty good worn or vintage style leather options.  I know that Room and Board, Crate and Barrel as well as ‘The Sofa Company’ have decent colors and finishes that i was impressed by so if going vintage isn’t an option for you then there is still hope. 

- They last forever, so while it it way more of an investment, leather is so durable that you kinda can’t go wrong.  UNLESS you have a cat that scratches it up because there is nothing you can really do about that.  

 – I prefer brown leather over black leather most of the time, but i also wear only brown leather an generally prefer it. This could be because i hav so many blues and greys in my house that i need the warmth of the brown, but with black there is a slight bigger risk of being cheezy and going ‘bachelor’ pad.  Not the show, the generic space that men in their 20’s live.  Stay tuned for my ’10 pieces that every bachelor needs in order to get laid’ post.  Coming soon to Buzzfeed.  

 

SECRET SHOPPING SOURCES:

Ok. Maybe not totally a secret. But online i go to:

The Good Mod. 

Amsterdam Modern

1st dibs – who am i kidding, i never shop on 1st dibs, but maybe you do because you are rich.  

Retrospective Interiors

Galerie Sommerlath

Empiric , sometimes has good vintage guys. 

Sunbeam Vintage  has an awesome black chesterfield for $950 (i can’t tell in the pic if its leather or vinyl)

Anthropologie has a pretty great one. Like these:

 

One Kings Lane ‘Tastemaker Sales’ definitely have some sometimes.  In fact, my sale in September with them boasts 1 beautiful dark leather loveseat, perfect patina, beautiful old nailheads, english style, 1930’s……stay tuned for photos.  It’s a hard one to get sell, i want to hoard it forever. 

 To tease you a bit here are a bunch of beautiful leather sofas in beautifully shot spaces.  

cognac leather vintage sofa

Beautiful leather sofa. Yes, it looks A LOT like my leather chairs.... love.

beautiful leather sofa

Vintage leather sofa

 

A gorgeous olive green vintage leather tufted sofa!

I'm kinda anti-leather, but this sofa looks comfy. Bonus points for vintage suitcases as side tables.

white-ottoman-poof-kilim-rug-leather-chesterfield-sofa-tufted-flea-market-style-decorating-apartment-living-lifestyle-vintage-eclectic-home-.jpg image by makeupandhair_lucygibson - Photobucket

 

vintage chesterfield leather sofa

Dig the old world black leather, vintage sofa, and gilded mirror

 

the vintage leather sofa, the chairs, the windows...I'm drooling.

 

More beach house inspiration: a beat-up leather sofa, a pop of blue, vintage textiles, and those windows...

 

love the mix of the lamp, the paneled & painted walls, the vintage leather chesterfield sofa & the modern striped wingback chair. love.

worn brown leather

 

worn leather couch

 

 

  1. love the sofa analogy. i'm suddenly craving a really good leather sofa.

  2. Sarah

    I love beaten up old leather. We have a vintage Borge Mogensen style sofa that is beautiful but starting to get some cracks in the cushions. Do you have any tips for repairing old leather without making it look too new?

  3. Jessi

    great post! one day i'm going to own an eames leather lounge chair. that is how i'll know i'm finally successful!

  4. Karla

    I've been looking at leather sofas. I've resisted because so many look like a pile of burnt marshmallows or as so tight and mod that they are uncomfortable. Thanks for the inspiration. Now I need to earn a bunch of money so I can afford one.

  5. Just wanted to say thank you. This was a beautifully written post that made me smile and laugh. I happen to be buying a leather sofa today (from Room and Board), so it's particularly timely.

    Jessica
    stayathomeista.com

  6. I'm somewhat obsessed with chesterfields. Love them.

  7. Margaret

    Any suggestions on what to do with a black "The Situation" currently in a boyfriend's bachelor pad?
    It looks exactly like the black one in the bad leather photo, nice and puffy in all the wrong places. Of course it's a hand me down and he's just happy to have a sofa.

    Thanks

  8. Kat

    This is kind of a depressing post, those all look so amazing and I want one. I have good thrifting luck though so who knows!!

  9. Marge

    Love your show on hgtv. Hope it continues as I do watch it. Like your styling techniques.

  10. EMILY i love you.
    i think we should get married.

  11. Ann

    The "bad leather sofa is like" just made me laugh so hard I shot water out my nose onto my desk at work. Love it! Thanks for the laugh. :-)

  12. Ummm, this post seriously made my day. AND has me craving a leather couch. I never knew the feeling of craving furniture until now. Thanks Emily! I will definitely be tucking this post away for safe keeping in the future :)

  13. I love so many things about this post! I'm glad you keep this blog real.

  14. Amy B.

    Hmm, yeah. Thanks for giving me words for the reason I don't really love my Costco leather sofa.

    They last forever unless someone sits on it with a sharp object in their pocket and you put off repairing the small poke hole and your kids jump on it and the crummy vinyl/leather patch solution you found in your small town starts to disintegrate.

    I'm not too sad. Your shoe analogy is awesome.

  15. I'm sold. :)

  16. sg5785

    Emily, you listened! You offered tips about shopping! (If you didn't do it strictly in response to my request, don't destroy the illusion) Even though your post is about leather sofas, it has a lot of tips about how to think about any product when shopping (shine, shape, era, etc…) Helps build up knowledge and confidence – thanks so much! And the online sources are a definite plus!

  17. This is the best roundup of leather couches I've seen. Period. I literally daydream about Restoration Hardware' s sofas. Not kidding. I love your post intro. It perfectly explains the difference between a cheesy leather couch and a gorgeous one.

  18. Dana

    Does anyone else have a cat that would rip these sofas to shreds within a month?

  19. Love this … underlines what I already thought: The Chesterfield is the BOMB! (If only I could afford that lovely green Anthropologie Chesterfield.) Your tips on sheen and distressing of leather were great.

  20. Julia R

    you forgot the people wallpaper (looks sort of like the Fornesetti pattern, has black lines on a white background).
    the one you mentioned that would be fun in a kid's room (kids could color it)

  21. Anja

    Love that men candy leather sofa, even if it doesn't come with these two. But apart from that, I'm not such a big leather fan! Great post, anyways! =)

  22. peggy

    Hi Emily! Please ask HGTV to post more of your shows on its website. Thanks.

    In the meantime, one comment. You should link to the source of the photos you use. It's respectful to the artist. Otherwise it implies that you designed the room. As an artist you know you wouldn't like for someone to feature one of your designs on their blog and not link to you. Please link. It's the right thing to do. Thanks.

  23. What a perfect explanation of good vs bad leather sofas! Saying Paul Newman vs The Situation totally sums it up. Probably the only leather sofa I'd be tempted to have is the Chesterfield. I hate having leather around but would give in on that one. Seems everyone around here has the big ugly Situation leather sofas. Makes me cringe.

  24. christa

    Emily, you are so funny! And these are great explanations about why some leather sofas work while others don't. I tried for a long time to find a vintage leather sofa, plus I looked at so many at Room and Board, Resto, etc. We finally settled on a 10 ft. Restoration Hardware Fulham, which in my living room looks kinda 70s glam/MCM, though I think in the wrong space (like Snooki's) it could look like an oversized puffy disaster. I don't like the way it is styled in their catalog. Anyhow, it is more comfortable than a bed. At 41" deep, 2 adults (plus pets) can lie on it to watch a movie without any elbows jamming into any ribs. http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod550002&categoryId=cat1537046

  25. Caitlin

    QUESTION: Can you show us how to style pillows on a leather sofa? Pretty please? My pillows slip out of place on my leather sofa. Never stay in place….leather is too slippery or are my pillows to slippery?? Help!

  26. Maggie O

    We have a beautiful brown leather club chair from Room and Board – except it's more square/boxy than curved. We bought it 10 years ago. It's becoming worn in a lovely way by our everyday use. In another 30 years it will be vintage!

  27. Gina

    Good lord I was so relieved to find out that you fully endorse the worn leather chesterfield sofa! I have two of them (his and hers, black and champagne colors) and it was a scary design decision for me. Turns out they are one of the most versatile sofas I've ever owned. They play well with almost anything. Not to mention that they fit our lifestyle so well. They are very low and the rolled tufted back looks amazing even from behind. So even the back can face the rest of the room, look beautiful and not obstruct the view. Unless you pile remotes, keys, pocket change and stray pieces of paper on the backs of them like we tend to do. Then they can look kinda junky. But at least they keep us organized!

  28. Your posts have been killing it lately. Well done. Really enjoyed this post. I'm longing for a vintage leather sofa… we have a non-vintage but slightly worn one at the moment. I'm not sure we can ever go back to non leather mostly because we have two pups who shed like it's their job Leather seems like the best option for life with pups and maybe a kid or two down the road.

  29. Kate

    Great post- really informative and really funny- you in a nutshell!

  30. megan

    EMILY!! I need your adice. I was wondering if it is a bad choice to paint your base boards the same color as the wall becasue I want to paint the doors in my bedroom a different color and paint the door frame the same color as the door. I dont want white base boards and white door frames, peach doors, and a stone white wall. It seems to busy. Help!

  31. Steve Blackman

    There's some utterly gorgeous leather sofas there. Thank you for sharing.

  32. john

    where can i buy these sofas. I like the one at the top under good sofa.

  33. john

    where can i buy these sofas. I like the one at the top under good sofa.

  34. I like the valuable information you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently. I am quite sure I will learn many new stuff right here ! Best of luck.

  35. mark786

    This is kind of a depressing post, those all look so amazing. I have good thrifting luck though so who knows.Tips are very nice thanks for such a nice blog and i have some new designs like the modern world see them

  36. John

    What a worthless dim whitted bunch of dribble…. What about what is really important, like types of leather (Top Grain, Bonder, Split, etc..) and frame construction? All you gave was a bunch of crap about looks and feel ,, you are a total Moron !!!!!!

  37. Thanks for posting this info. I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative. I can't wait to read lots of your post.

  38. Fantastic post, great photos. Cannot beat a good old leather sofa thanks emily!

    Just a quick response to the last post by John?? Leave your bad comments somewhere else, the time and effort that has been put into this post, does not need comments like yours.

    Thankyou again emily for a very useful post!

  39. Thank you for your post Emily! I enjoyed how you compared sofas to actors..and yes…I definitely love what you define a “good leather sofa” (and the men you compared to it) and would never buy what you call a “bad leather sofa”!

    I think that leather is a perfect material for furniture, because it is warmer than other materials, and not as aseptic as many other ones. Moreover, I think that leather is one of those – few – materials that become even better with the passing of time (no wonder that many wonderful vintage sofas – as well as vintage clothes – are made of leather). Of course you must take care of your leather sofa, wash it in the proper way and so on, but I think that a room can really appear much better with some leather furniture.

    In my living room there’s an old leather armchair that previously was in my parents’ house, and everybody claims that it is one of the best pieces of furniture in my place! Now I’m looking for a sofa that can match with it, and your post, Emily, has given me many good ideas!

  40. This brown sofa bed in the 6th picture from the last, looks so adorable. Actually its a good replacement for the bed as a space saver stuff.

    Chesterfield Suites

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