Why does the leather on your sofa look different than the swatch at my retail store? This is one of the most common concerns but the most obvious outcome on a natural product like leather. The inherent beauty in leather lies in that each hide is unique, from head-to-heel.

There are three major areas to expect variations – one is completely natural and the other two are a combination of natural and chemical processes.

First, the surface grain will vary. Our hides come from cows, that have been slaughtered for food. Unless the original cell structure has been altered, there will be areas of tight, smooth grain and areas of looser, more pebbly grain. Each hide carries unique range markings, like healed scars, sores, bug and tick bites; it is affected by its surrounding climate and its own size and body structure. Our samples are a snapshot of only one portion. Our “Leather Descriptions” document within our “Leathers” subsection shows the intended overall effect of each of our leather patterns as it should appear on your leather furniture, once upholstered. This information should help you when making a leather selection. On the other hand, you should expect the unexpected, leather variations guarantee its authenticity.

You will also find variations in color. Leather is dyed by either using top-coating pigment dyes or penetrating aniline dyes. Individual pigment dyes can vary as they are mixed, but tanners and leather finishers also try to achieve more natural effects by combining and/or layering two to three contrasting colorations. Similar to a faux painting treatment, the artisan rubbing the color will get a slightly different color each time. With the penetrating aniline dyes, the color absorption will be affected by each hide’s cell structure. The center of a hide is its backbone; it has been subjected to the most sun, wind and temperature changes which make it thicker and tougher – it will not absorb as much color. The outer perimeter comes from the belly of the cow; it tends to be thinner, softer and stretchier which allows it to absorb more color. McKinley Leather’s craftspeople try to balance the color variations throughout your furniture for the most visually pleasing final effect.

The amount of sheen on your leather’s surface is the final variable. Sheen levels can vary due to the many processes that hides undergo to achieve the final intended fashion look but also due to their individual cell structure. A small viscosity variation from the chemical supplier can be greatly magnified by a heavier application. Further, a heavier surface grain will allow more of the lacquer to hang up on the surface and to reflect back the shine. You will also notice that a leather’s sheen changes (the shine usually dulls out) when you pull a leather swatch taut. This change is greatly pronounced when the leather is upholstered. If a leather swatch has been handled a lot at a retail store, then your leather furniture will appear more shiny and pristine. Keep in mind that over the years your leather furniture will soften and change, building up a rich patina that can only be achieved with use.

So, how are you supposed to pick a leather from a swatch that is only 5″ x 7″ – especially with so many possible variations? First, we recommend that you read our “Leather Descriptions” posted within the “Leathers” tab. This document can also be found within our Catalog Binder, at your local retailer’s showroom. We also recommend that you request a current cutting for approval. We will gladly hand select hides for your furniture, put it on reserve for 15 days, and send you a cutting of this leather for your approval prior to beginning production. Since all of McKinley Leather’s furniture is produced right here in North Carolina, our lead times are a quick two to three weeks from your confirmed purchase order.