Is leather a smart choice for your sofa or sectional in Mexico? This question is frequently asked at our furniture showroom in Old Town Vallarta. Before I share my answer, here is a little background on the different types of leather manufacturers use as covers on upholstered pieces.

There are four generally accepted types of leathers used for furniture covers. These are full grain, top grain, genuine and bonded.

When a cowhide is put into a splitting machine, it is sliced into long layers. The cutting blade separates the top (full grain and top grain) from the bottom (genuine or split leather).

Full-grain leather is the most expensive leather available. It is the outer layer of the hide and has the most variations in both markings and color. In full-grain leather, you can see the life of the cow. You see the marks if the cow pressed up against a barbed-wire fence was bitten by horseflies or injured. You can even see veins of the cow in most full-grain leathers, giving it loads of character. Full-grain leather does not go through a lot of post-processing at the tannery. Although beautiful, full-grain leather sofas or sectionals are more prone to stains since liquids and oils are easily absorbed. They also stretch. If you like the look of a well-worn pair of jeans, this is how your leather sofa will appear in time. It is perfect for a home with a Santa Fe or hacienda style of décor.The other top layer of the cowhide is referred to as top grain leather. This grade is much more uniform since it is the split of hide under the top layer of skin. Top grain leather is strong and more consistent in coloring than the full-grain. It has fewer imperfections because it is buffed, sanded and stained to create a uniform look. The pigmentation that is added to the top grain also serves as a water repellant to the leather. Liquid tends to bead on the surface and roll-off. This layer of leather will not stretch as much as the full-grain leather. For those reasons, we suggest the top grain over the full-grain for most homeowners in Mexico, especially in our beachside homes with humid climates.

The remaining two layers are split from the bottom or inside of the hide. These leathers are put through more manufacturing processes to make them ready for use as furniture covers. It is correct to say that genuine leather is real leather since it does come from the cow. However, it is not considered decadent as the two top grains (full grain and top grain) since it is more processed.

Bonded leather is a great way to get a leather sofa or sectional at a very reasonable price. If it is correctly manufactured, bonded leather is an excellent solution for your home in Mexico. Scraps of leather are fused with glue and pressure to create bonded leather.

Be cautious of any bonded leather imported from offshore and items made with "tacto piel." These are poorly manufactured replicas that crack and peel. It is difficult to tell whether a piece of furniture in bonded leather is well made. Many big box stores offer these items, imported from offshore.

That is why we recommend you only buy leather sofas, sectionals and sofa beds from brand names you know and trust. The best brand for leather sofas, sectionals and sofabeds in Mexico is Palliser. They have manufacturing plants in Saltillo, Mexico and have been in business since the 1950s. We have sold hundreds of pieces of furniture over the past ten years, without issue. Should a problem arise, the manufacturer has an outstanding warranty.

Whether you should opt for leather, fabric or performance fabric comes down to a personal preference. To some, leather feels sticky or cold. To others, it is comfortable and less maintenance. If you plan to rent out your home when not using it yourself, I recommend a performance fabric that looks and feels like leather, repels liquid and looks new for twenty years.

Pop into our store at 363A Constitucion just off Basilio Badillo (where the buses are). We are happy to show you the different leathers, fabrics and the new performance fabrics!