If you were to walk up to an upholsterer and say, “Hey, can you change my fabric sofa to leather?” they would say, “Well, probably, but…” and then proceed to tell you why it’s not as straightforward as it sounds.
First off, you’ll find that while leather is really really durable, it’s also going to feel firmer than the fabric did, even if nothing about the padding or cushioning is changed. Upholstery leather has been treated to have very little stretch (unlike garment leather), so it’s going to have little to no give to it. It also isn’t porous like fabrics, so it’s necessary to change the style or tailoring of some elements of your furniture to allow air to move in and out of the foam padding in your cushions. Seat cushions, for example, are built with a partial fabric panel on the underside or zipper to allow the foam to breath.
Another challenge to consider is that a lot of adhesives, plygrip and hand stitching don’t work on upholstery leather. Ever wonder why so many leather pieces have decorative nails? In a lot of cases, it’s because that’s the only way the leather can be attractively attached to the frame. Got a curvy piece of furniture that you want to be leatherized? You’ll have to discuss a lot of changes with your upholstery shop before the project can be completed. Fun fact: you’ll have a snowball’s chance of talking a shop into doing one of these in leather.
Many shops will be able to demonstrate the difference the added bulk of leather makes on seams and edges, making welted cushions look stiff and lumpy. Typically you’ll find most leather furniture has weltless cushions and topstitched details to eliminate the excess material in the seams and control their shape and location.
Lastly, keep in mind that real cowhide leather was once, in fact, a cow. These critters have been known to rub up against barbed wire, have brands and even urine stains. Large attractive expanses of leather are few and far between. Not only does your upholsterer have to have eagle eyes to spot imperfections, but also spend a lot more time laying out square pieces on a not-so-square shape. Be prepared to have extra seams on the larger parts of the frame that weren’t present when it was covered in fabric.
One thing for certain, despite the extra work, leather upholstery is an excellent investment when the right product is selected and cared for properly. Choose your color well, as that leather is going to be with you for a long time.