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Fabric vs. Leather Sofa: Know the Differences

By The Inside

With so many different sofa materials to choose from, starting your sofa search from scratch can feel initially overwhelming. But as the centerpiece of your living room, we’re here to help you land on the sofa of your dreams – one that will end up feeling like the obvious choice all along.

Shop the look: Modern Sectional in Sand Velvet | Sand Melio Cocktail Ottoman | Throw Pillows in Aqua Velvet

Leather vs. Fabric Sofa: Aesthetic

Leather Sofas

Many people think that leather sofas represent a more specific, narrow look than fabric sofas, but depending on the surrounding décor and the style of frame you choose, leather sofas can actually fit into a number of different style buckets. For one, a leather sofa can edge in the direction of sleek, minimalist bachelor pad. But with a more classic frame, it could also have a library den vibe – worn and familiar like your favorite leather jacket. Leather sofas are also popular to use in modern and mid-century furnishings, as they can exude an earthy, organic look and feel. So whether you’re a modernist or a traditionalist – or somewhere in between – leather could play a role in your sofa choice.

Fabric Sofas

The same thing goes for fabric sofas (think: linen, velvet, printed cotton). Given the broad meaning of the term “fabric,” a fabric sofa can fit into just about any style aesthetic, and again, really comes down to the shape of your sofa that represents the look you’re going for. For example, a neutral linen fabric could feel starkly modern on one sofa frame, but have a completely different and much more traditional appeal when upholstered on a slipcover sofa. The aesthetic is captured in the shape of the sofa, and not necessarily the material. One important caveat – if you are set on incorporating a pattern (subtle or dramatic), or even just a color that falls outside the traditional leather offerings – fabric is definitely your best bet.

But aesthetic aside – especially given the important of your sofa frame choice (vs. the fabric selection) – there a number of other considerations that can help narrow down your decision between leather and fabric.

Shop the look: Modern Sectional in Classic Saddle Leather | Cocktail Ottoman in Husk Linen | Cocktail Chairs in Moss Velvet

Leather vs. Fabric Sofa: Comfort

Leather Sofas

One reason people love leather on sofas is because it tends to stay cool in hotter months, more so than fabric. So if you’re someone who lives in a hotter climate, or just prefers that element of temperature regulation, leather may be a better choice for you. However, given its smooth and sleek texture, a leather sofa isn’t necessarily going to feel as cozy as a fabric sofa. If the cozy factor is important to you, layer in other textiles – for instance, a faux fur or chunky knit throw blanket, and plush throw pillows in different textures – to achieve that same effect.

Fabric Sofas       

When it comes to fabric sofas, you really can’t beat a velvet in terms of softness on the skin. But if that isn’t your preferred feeling, linen and printed cotton offer a bit of a crisper texture (think: the age-old sateen vs. percale sheets debate). The great thing is that fabric sofas truly have something for everyone when it comes to comfort preference. Our Co-Founder / Creative Director (and former interior designer), Danielle, even had clients who would order swatches to do a “shorts test” – putting the swatches on bare skin to see how they feel upon contact.

Shop the look: Modern Sectional in Jade Stripe | Cocktail Ottoman in Sand Velvet | Throw Pillows in Jade Stripe

Leather vs. Fabric Sofa: Durability (Kids/Pets/Stains)

Leather Sofas

Leather is great if you have pets, for a number of reasons. For one, they don’t collect dog hair and pet dander in the same way that a fabric sofa may. Same goes for dust mites and other potential allergens. So if you’re looking for a hypoallergenic option, leather furniture could be your match. However, leather couches for kids are a bit of a trickier choice. While leather is relatively stain resistant and easy to wipe clean, a child wielding a pen or pencil poses a significant risk to the leather through deep scrapes or holes. But if you are the type of person who loves an aged look, a leather sofa gets better with casual wear-and-tear.

Fabric Sofas

While fabric couches are more likely to trap pet dander and dust mites within the pile, they are also expert concealers. Our top choice for kid-friendly furniture is our performance linen. Made of hospitality-grade fabric, it is specially engineered to stand up to high-traffic use. A neutral mid-toned solid is great at hiding wear-and-tear. If you’re looking for a patterned sofa, keep one rule in mind: the more intricate the pattern, the better it will hide stains. Danielle advises going with something that has a lot of variation in terms of both color and scale, like our leopard print or a chintz, banana palm, or ikat print.

Shop the look: Modern Sofa in Steamboat Oxblood Leather | Midcentury Bench in Sand Velvet | Tuxedo Chairs in Port Cabana Stripe

Leather vs. Fabric Sofa: Maintenance

Leather Sofas

Leather couches are a bit easier to maintain on a regular basis, assuming they don’t come into accidental contact with any sharp objects (see: artistic children or cat claws). Leather can typically be wiped clean with a damp cloth, or with an approved leather cleaner. Every year or so, it’s also worth investing in a good leather conditioning. Just be sure to first understand what type of leather you’re working with (high-quality real leather vs. faux leather; aniline leather vs. semi-aniline leather), to determine the best maintenance protocol.

Fabric Sofas

If you opt for fabric, you should consider making the sofa a part of your regular vacuuming schedule – something a lot of people overlook! And, as black car-owners can attest when it comes to mud on the paint, darker fabrics tend to show more dust. However, fabric sofas are relatively easy to clean as well. You can spot treat with a mild detergent (such as small amounts of dish soap & water), or take the cushion covers (or slipcover, if you’ve opted for a slipcover sofa) off and drop them at the dry cleaners for the more stubborn stains.

Shop the look: Midcentury Sofa in Ink Cabana Stripe | Cocktail Ottoman in Nero Velvet | Peel & Stick Wallpaper in Yellow Zebra

Now you’re armed with the details to help you decide between the perfect leather vs. fabric sofa. And we’re eager to know: which way are you leaning?

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