A classic vintage leather sofa is much more than a simple piece of furniture – it’s a style statement, a comfort blanket and a future heirloom all in one.
'A slightly battered, well-loved, butter-soft leather sofa has that sense of nostalgia and familiarity, like putting on your favourite jeans or an old cashmere sweater,' says interior designer Henry Prideaux, who specialises in classic contemporary schemes.
The insider trick is to buy second-hand. A good leather piece not only improves with age, but pre-loved rather than brand-new will save you money.
Luckily, there’s now a thriving niche interiors industry devoted to sourcing, restoring and retailing vintage leather sofas – but where to find one and what to look for?
Here’s the lowdown on hunting down your perfect leather treasure.
How much could you save?
For a second-hand three-seater vintage sofa, expect to pay, on average, between £350 and £750, depending on whether you buy from a private seller or a furniture dealer. This could represent a saving of between £500- £1,000 on a brand-new version.
'A new sofa is like a new car,' says Joshua Taylor, who owns The Old Vintage Sofa Company in Rotherham, South Yorkshire and has sold more than 1,000 vintage leather sofas in recent years. 'As soon as you take delivery, it starts losing value. But a vintage sofa only improves with age, and actually may become more valuable over time.'
'Feet should be solid and low to the ground and not too contrasting in colour to the leather'
Where to find one
Online sites such as eBay and Gumtree are a good place to start. The best bargains come from private sellers, but factor in the cost of collection or delivery. If you find a dealer with sofas for sale, but can’t see one that’s just right for you, check out their ‘other items’. This will usually redirect to their website or Facebook page where you can see a wider range.
You may need to wait, however. Often, if you tell a dealer directly what you are looking for, they will contact you when they have a particular piece in stock.
Also, keep an eye on charity shops which stock furniture, such as the British Heart Foundation, and if you spot a furniture auction at a local sale room, check it out – it’s where the trade buy their stock.
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What to look for
For a timeless look – and to save space – avoid arms which curve out too much. 'Instead, look for arms which are straight and more upright, with the curve at the top,' says Henry. 'Feet should be solid and low to the ground and not too contrasting in colour to the leather.' As well as the traditional button-backed Chesterfield, leading high-quality ‘names’ to look out for include Tetrad and Barker and Stonehouse.
Choose your colour
A vintage leather sofa is definitely a statement piece, so don’t compromise on the shade you want. Joshua says his biggest seller is quintessential caramel-tan, which reflects light well and can lift a gloomy room.
However, Henry advises thinking across the spectrum: 'Leather colours often change in popularity and although chocolate-brown, red and black can seem too heavy at first, once they are worn and knocked back, they take on a new lease of life, so shouldn’t be completely ruled out.'
Care and maintenance
One of the great things about leather upholstery is that over time it softens and becomes more comfortable. Even if the surface is scratched or worn through everyday use, this adds to the character. 'To preserve the leather and keep it supple, every week I’d recommend using a leather balm from an equestrian centre, the same balm used on saddles,' says Joshua. 'Whatever you do, avoid using anything which contains harsh chemicals as this can cause damage.'
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The older, the better?
An older piece that has had some life but is still intact and where the leather hasn’t cracked will be a good option for families with children and pets as it can be wiped clean easily. Spills and stains won’t look good on a new sofa but will blend into the patina of an older one and add extra character!
A few words of warning
Watch out for structural defects such as a sagging frame or faux leather, which tends to wear and rip more easily than the real thing. Henry also cautions against furnishing a room with an entire leather suite. 'This would feel heavy and overbearing,' he says. 'Instead, invest in a good quality piece in a classic shape that suits the proportions of the space, IT will stand the test of time and be suitable for your evolving lifestyle.'