Leather has been used for clothing, protection, furniture and rugs since prehistoric times, and for good reasons: It's readily available, durable and flexible. But leather has come a long way since the cave ages, thanks to modern science. Today both natural and faux leather can be dyed any color, stamped with designs and treated to be stain resistant. And in today’s design-oriented world, leather has some truly unique uses. Let’s explore some modern and traditional ways this old material is being used now.
Walls. This creative application usually ends up being pretty expensive, since one hide costs around $200 (on the lower end of the price scale), and the average hide is approximately 50 to 52 square feet.
Floors. Leather floor tiles can be glued to a plywood floor using contact cement. Although these one-of-a-kind applications are stunning, they can be difficult to care for. Leather floors need to be vacuumed with a soft bristle brush and mopped monthly with distilled water. You also have to clean up spills quickly so they don't stain.
Upholstery. Leather couches have become a classic furniture staple. While they look stunning and wear well, leather is cool to the touch in the winter and clings to the skin in warm weather (think of leather car seats and bare legs), meaning it's not the most comfortable upholstery choice for extreme environments. Stains, including pen ink, can be difficult to remove, too.
You'll want to keep leather at least 2 feet from a heat source to prevent it from drying out, and keep it out of direct sunlight to prevent fading. And do not use caustic household cleaners to clean leather. Instead, use a mild, nonacidic soap mixed with water and apply with an up-and-down or side-to-side motion (not in a circle). Clean an area larger than the spot, rinse with a damp cloth and allow it to dry for 24 hours.
There is no guarantee that a spot can be removed from leather. When in doubt, call a professional before using any chemicals.
Tabletop. When leather is selected for a tabletop or other oft-used surface, it needs to be protected and maintained to reduce spots, stains and scratches. Dust it regularly with a soft, damp cloth.
To condition the leather, use professional leather products to ensure a good result. Products like mink oil can darken the leather, so it is always a good idea to test any product on a small area first. Stain protection can be added during the tanning process; look for leather with Scotchguard or another protective coating. Or you can apply surface protection against oil, water and dirt stains later.
Faux leather. Like leather, faux leather can be stamped to create a detailed pattern that adds style and interest. Although faux leather is less expensive than genuine leather, it doesn't last as long or wear as well.
Often, to save on cost, faux leather is applied on the sides and back of a chair or sofa while genuine leather is used on the front. The faux leather is dyed to match the real deal.
Woven. When woven, leather is strong, durable and lasting. However, woven leather will stretch with time and use.
If it becomes scratched and scuffed, woven or unwoven leather can be polished, like you would polish a pair of shoes, to restore and renew the look.
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Houzz is the leading online platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish -- online or from a mobile device. From decorating a room to building a custom home, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals around the world. Lee Anne Culpepper is a contributor to Houzz.