Newly converted fan of leather interiors Anna Shelswell White talks to the experts on how to make this long-lasting, tough material work in the home
I've been very contradictory when it comes to leather. For the longest time, I believed that it's a finish best confined to my boots, bags, belts and trousers, because of its warmth and longevity. While these are, indeed, two qualities we often look for in interiors, if you showed me a room with a black leather sofa, neither word would have crossed my mind.
But writing about interiors over the years has taught me one thing: that design needs to be curated, sculpted and moulded to the way that we use, look at and enjoy it. While I'll admit, leather was one material I would tend to avoid in interiors, I've learned that there really is so much more to it than the black two-seaters that gave me nightmares years ago.
So, getting started, it's important to note that leather is a material where quality must be insisted on. There are different grades of quality so when investing make sure you take this into account - it will be the difference between having something for 20 years instead of five.
"Anyone considering leather should be aware that it's a natural cover, so it will take on characteristics of its own," says Philip Watkin, design director at DFS. "For me, that's part of its charm. The patina develops over time, the softening and sumptuousness of it. If you want furniture that stays exactly the same as the day you received it, then fabric might be better for you," he continues.
Leather is useful for toughening up a space and avoids a look that's too twee, so when introducing it to the home, don't go down the matchy-matchy route. If you opt for a lot of leather, then play with different types and group these together. A grouping of the same finishes, particularly in leather, won't be half as exciting or inviting as varying textures and shades.
It's also important to spend time discovering the finish that will suit your lifestyle and personal taste. For example, cherish leather has a painted surface to create a more uniform style, while natural finish leather takes on its own characteristics so no two surfaces will be the same.
"For a modern, sleek look, I recommend the cherish leather which has a smoother surface," advises Philip. "This technique still allows the leather to breathe so it's warm and soft, but it has the extra benefit of being even more resilient to everyday wear. For a classic, individual look I recommend the natural finish leather. Every sofa will be slightly different as the exact tone and grain varies from piece to piece. Your sofa will be unique to you and will have a lovely soft, warm finish."
And the benefits? Leather is probably the easiest décor material to look after. Taking its finish in to account, a dabbing (not rubbing!) with a damp cloth should get the job done. Whether you lean toward classic or contemporary designs, there really is so much more to real leather than that faux black leather sofa - you just need to know where, and how, to look for it.
Anna Shelswell White is editor of House and Home magazine