Leather Furniture vs. Fabric: True Cost Comparison of Over Time
When trying to decide whether to buy leather or fabric upholstered furniture, the cost is always one of the first things people consider.
That’s only natural.
However, determining the true cost of upholstered furniture is a bit trickier than you might think. Anyone can compare purchase prices. However, there are also maintenance costs, repair costs, and replacement costs that need to be factored in.
It ends up that the seemingly “common sense” answer might not be so “common sense” afterall.
At Wellington’s, we sell leather furniture because we know it is the best. So, we don’t mind admitting that we are biased.
Still, if you continue reading, you’ll find an honest comparison of the lifetime costs of leather furniture and furniture upholstered in fabric.
First though, we have to make one absolutely essential designation:
Consider High Quality Leather Furniture Only
It’s all we deal in.
Low quality leather furniture isn’t even worth mentioning here —or ever really. If you don’t understand the difference, our Definitive Guide to Buying Leather Furniture will teach you everything you need to know.
Likewise, we only reference high quality fabric furniture in order to ensure a level playing field.
Anytime you hunt for bargain basement prices, you’re asking for weak frames, a terrible ride, and awful upholstery. Plus, the “leather” used on most cheap leather furniture doesn’t even deserve the title.
When you buy furniture, don’t be too scared to pony up. It’s just the truth of this industry:
You get exactly what you pay for.
Paying Once: Purchase
Generally speaking, fabric sofas are going to be anywhere from 5% to 25% cheaper than a leather sofa of the same size.
So for high quality, you’re looking at $800-$5000 for fabric upholstered pieces and sets, then $1200-$7000 for leather. You’ll also find a few $10,000 outliers in the leather category.
The main reason for the disparity in pricing is the cost of the upholstery material itself. However, there are a few other factors involved.
Leather furniture is considered “timeless” because it is extremely versatile and stylish in just about any situation. Also, most of the companies that make the best leather furniture help to set the bar across the industry in terms of quality, styling and construction.
There is a lot to be said for pedigree when it comes to furniture.
More often than not, manufacturers that use leather upholstery have higher standards than those who use fabric upholstery. Better, stronger materials from the inside out. After all, the inside of the furniture must be made to last as long as the leather itself.
Paying Twice: Maintenance
One of the major advantages of leather is its staying power.
Leather stands up to wear and tear better than fabric any day of the week. It is virtually impossible to rip and retains its color well over time. In fact, top quality aniline-dyed leathers tend to look better with age and use, as they develop the richness we call ‘patina’.
However, all genuine leather needs to be taken care of. As long as you protect and clean your leather couch, it has the potential to look great for years to come. If you do that, expect a family heirloom.
The only real expenses associated with leather maintenance are the purchase of a distilled bottled water, a colorfast cotton cloth, and a mild soap like Neutrogena.
On the other hand, fabric upholstery is inevitably doomed to fade, stretch, and eventually tear altogether.
Plus, most upholstery fabric sucks stains and odors right in and keep them locked there for all eternity. This is exactly what keeps many upholstery cleaners in business. While that might be good for local economies, it’s never good for your family’s economy. Leather is also the perfect furniture for people with allergies.
You can also go the do-it-yourself route, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to achieve anything close the original look of the upholstery. Not to mention, it will require quite a bit more elbow grease.
When it comes to maintenance costs, leather furniture gets a big win.
Paying Three Times: Repair
So you’ve made your purchase, you’ve taken good care of your loveseat, sofa, or sectional.
But now, disaster strikes. Or perhaps, your couch has just seen a few tough years of heavy traffic. Either way, it’s time to look into repairs.
Oh wait, you bought a leather couch? Well then, you probably don’t need any repairs for your upholstery. That’s because leather is simply the strongest upholstery. Think about it. They used to use it for armor!
Now, if you didn’t choose leather, you might be in for a rude awakening.
Again, you’ll find a range of rates depending on the size, type, and style of your furniture. You can take a look at what real people paid at ApartmentTherapy.com or on Angie’s List. But it isn’t pretty. You’d be very lucky to find a $600 pricetag for a full piece.
Oftentimes, it is cheaper to just buy new furniture altogether if you need the whole piece done. A piece of furniture that needs to be reupholstered is similar to a “totaled” car: you might be able to save it, but it probably isn’t worth it.
Think about it like this: leather is the only upholstery material that just might last as long as your furniture’s hard wood frame.
When it comes to repair costs, leather furniture gets another easy victory—simply because you’ll probably never have to pay any.
Paying Four Times: Replacement
Hopefully, you’re going to outlive your couch.
But when you choose leather, there’s a chance your couch will outlive you.. That’s because leather stands up to the test of time extremely well.
You should know that if you go with fabric, you’re probably looking at reupholstering your piece of furniture three or four times throughout the life of the frame. For what that will cost you, you might as well replace it altogether.
This might land you back on the market in less than five years, whereas you’d probably be able to stick with a leather couch for decades.
In many cases, the “true cost” of a fabric-upholstered couch should factor in a new, leather couch in a few years. That’s because the “honeymoon phase” of owning an upholstered piece ends as soon as the first real stain appears and talk of divorce comes shortly after the first upholstery cleaning or replacement estimate.
The other issue with early replacement is the disconnect between the furniture industry and the greater economy as a whole. Replacing larger items like furniture more often might put you in the position of having to make a purchase when prices are at their worst.
Conversely, choosing larger items that last gives you a huge timeframe in which to find a replacement so that you can find a great value.
Which, in the end, is what this really comes down to.
A leather couch will be more expensive to replace than one upholstered in fabric. But that leather couch will probably last through 2 or 3 upholstered couches of “the same quality”. So we say, another easy win for leather furniture.
If you want to get the highest value for your investment, choose leather furniture. It’s really just that simple.
Not only are you likely to get a more stylish sofa, sectional, or loveseat, but you’ll also end up paying $1000s less over the course of your lifetime.
If you always choose leather furniture, you’ll probably only ever need to buy furniture for your home once or twice throughout the course of your life. So not only can you rest assured that you will save money in the long term, but you also save the shopping headache in short term.
And that is exactly why almost everyone who purchases high quality leather furniture will tell you that it is worth every cent.