What is faux leather? When should an interior designer use it?

English: Leather tanning, Fes, Morocco Françai...
English: Leather tanning, Fes, Morocco Français : Tannage du cuir, Fès, Maroc (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Faux leather looks like leather. It is a fabric made out of materials other than leather. Faux is the French for ‘fake’. So it is fake leather. It is cheaper than natural leather and much easier to work with in many cases. As well as a fabric for interiors it is used in many industries: it could be in your car or could make the case covering your iPAD. In the interior design world you would use it for: upholstery and wall-covering but also to cover, doors, table-tops, bar stools, bars, etc.

Types of Faux Leather

There are two main chemical types of faux leather:  polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). Both types are used in making clothing, upholstery, and product covers; typically KOTHEA use PVC For our faux leathers. We are able to obtain fine faux leathers with amazing properties as a fabric including extremely high Martindale Rub test scores in excess of 200,000 and extremely accurate animal hide pattern copies.

Compared to Real Leather

Sometimes you can’t tell the difference unless you know what to look for. Most obviously natural leather will not have any kind of repeatable pattern. Faux leather will have a degree of ‘repeat’ but might be sufficiently subtle that you do not notice it. Natural leather has visible and irregular pores and rough edges.

Natural leather tends to have a smoother feel whereas some faux leather may well feel like plastic BUT other faux leathers will feel very similar to the natural leather. The ‘smell’ may be chemically but this could be either the chemicals that have been used to treat the natural leather or the chemicals in the faux leather. A VERY chemically smell that sticks to your hand is probably a faux leather – although most faux leathers will not have this property.

Pros and Cons

Faux leather can generally be made to have very good consistency of colour across batches and in theory can be made to any required colour (in sufficient quantity). Similarly texture and pattern can be varied and/or reproduced much more easily than with a natural product.

Care and maintenance of faux leather is greatly superior to natural leather which requires conditioning. Faux leather can be bought by the metre whereas natural leather must necessarily be bought by ‘the hide’ and hence has join, length and width constraints not necessarily found in the faux alternative. Faux leather generally has superior light fastness and durability.

The animal lover will appreciate that faux leather does not require animals to die. But then again many animals die each year to support the meat industry and leather is an abundant by-product that, if used, you might argue avoids waste. KOTHEA do not sell natural leather.

When should I specify FAUX LEATHER for interior design?

There is certainly a kudos surrounding natural leather. It IS viewed a s a more desirable product. However I’m really not sure why; especially when you look at it logically.

Faux leather is much easier to work with; it is much better suited for any kind of long term interior design use – looking at durability and care & maintenance; it can look and feel the same as natural leather. It is made of chemicals but chemicals (often environmentally damaging ones) are used in the natural leather treatment process.

Whilst I might buy natural leather shoes I would only specify faux leather in a contract interior design situation and would probably also specify faux leather in my house with the possible exception of a statement sofa.

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