Question:

I am shopping online for a leather sofa and narrowed it down to the Article Sven or the Poly and Bark Nappa sofas. Which one is better? Is it OK to buy these sofas online?

May 2, 2021

Answer:

Are you shopping online for leather sofas? You will find a huge assortment at a wide range of prices.

Most leather sofas sold online are at the lower end of the price scale.

One big advantage of shopping online for leather sofas is that trial period, refund and repair policies are often more generous than brick and mortar stores.

The Poly and Bark Nappa and the Article Sven sofas appear to be almost identical. It is possible they come from the same Asian (or Mexican) factory and sold under multiple brand names.

These sofas are a textbook case for furniture designed by marketing specialists, rather than upholstery craftspeople.

From a purely marketing perspective, these sofas include many features that sound great to consumers with a minimal education about furniture and leather.

Some of these features include:
  • Full-grain pure-aniline Italian tanned leather upholstery
  • Corner blocked kiln-dried solid wood frame
  • High-density foam with polyester filling. Feather down topper on seating surfaces
  • Feather down and fiber blend seat-back cushions and bolsters
  • Loose, non-reversible seat and back cushions
  • Pirelli webbing
  • Solid wood legs in a walnut finish

Many home furnishing blogs and interior design magazines recommend similar features to their readers. But there are ways to cheat on these specifications, and these sofas include just about every type of cheating possible.

Here is the list of features again – this time with my notes italicized in Red:

  • Full-grain pure-aniline (cognac tan) or semi-aniline (all other colors) dyed Italian tanned leather upholstery – Full grain pure aniline leather is touted by many interior design professionals as being the “best of the best.” Some articles will state that only 2% of leather furniture is made with this quality of leather. It is the most expensive type of leather available. The largest full grain leather hides with the fewest imperfections cost the most.

The full grain leather used on these sofas is different.

This “full grain” leather starts off with low quality (full grain) hides with massive imperfections. Cutters cut out and remove the most obvious flaws, slicing and dicing the the small remaining portion of the hide into multiple pieces. Low cost workers sew the small pieces together.

44 separate small leather pieces make up the sofa. Each seam is a potential weak point where the leather can begin to pull apart after a few years of use. Only the front side of the back cushions feature a single piece of leather.

Shoppers, with a minimal knowledge of leather associate the words “full grain”  with “best quality.”  

  • Corner blocked kiln-dried solid wood frame – There is one critical word missing from this description that is necessary for a high quality frame, “Hardwoods.”

High quality furniture is made with hardwoods. These frames are almost certainly made using softwoods, far more likely to break or warp.

  • High-density foam with polyester filling. Feather down topper on seating surfaces – Most mass produced seat cushions are made with 5″ “high density” foam cores.  They typically last about 5 years before losing their resilience and comfort.

A cushion with a 5″ foam core typically has a sheet of polyester wrapped around it, resulting in an overall height of 8″.  The cushions on this sofa appear to be about 6″ thick overall. Since that overall thickness also includes polyester filling and a feather/down topper, this seat cushion could wear out much sooner than 5 years.

  • Loose, non-reversible seat and back cushions – Usually, loose cushions are reversible. These cushions can’t be reversed because the leather is only on one side or they are missing the labor intensive tufting.
  • Pirelli webbing – This type of foundation can be good or bad. If not enough webbing is used or it is not fastened tightly enough, the seats can sag. When a softwood frame is used, the staples that hold the webbing are more likely to pull out over time.

Also, there are many different types and grades of webbing. For lower priced furniture, the webbing is usually highly “stretchable.” This makes it far easier and faster to install than the more expensive “non-stretchable” webbings. Also, it does not put as much pressure on the frames. The problem is that low cost “stretchable” webbing has a tendency to “loosen up” and sag after a few years.

Other significant construction details:

  • The legs have an 8″ height. Once legs get above 6″ they lose stability and more likely to break, especially thin legs.
  • The overall weight of this sofa is 116 lbs. A high end 88″ leather sofa typically weighs at least 180 lbs.

Rule #1 if you are shopping for a leather sofa: Avoid bonded leather! There have been thousands of complaints about this “partially real leather material” since it was first introduced a decade ago.

 

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Jeff Frank

Jeff Frank

Furniture Insider

Jeff Frank is a 45 year veteran of the furniture industry. He’s worked directly with buyers, retailers, and manufacturers at every level of the industry. In every position throughout his career, his focus has always been customer service.

Shopping for furniture can be complex and frustrating. Salespeople often do not have enough knowledge to answer your questions or give advice based on limited experience. If you’re looking for real information and advice before spending hundreds or thousands of dollars, take a look at our furniture buyer consulting.

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