How to Specify Leather Part 1: Ordering the Right Amount of Leather

Interior designers often specify hundreds of items, if not more, on a single project, from furniture and lighting to fabrics, wallcovering, carpeting, and leather. While they can’t possibly be experts on all the items and materials they choose, mastering a few basics can help them avoid costly mistakes.

In this article, we tackle one of two of the biggest issues confronting interior designers when they specify leather: are they ordering the right amount?  After you read this article, you will never make a leather-ordering mistake again when specifying leather!

What Is a COL?

Often interior designers are not satisfied with the leather choices offered by a manufacturer. 

Sometimes, the manufacturer doesn’t even offer its own leather or fabric, instead requiring clients to supply their own. 

This practice is known in the interior design industry as a COM (customer’s own merchandise, which usually refers to fabric) or COL (customer’s own leather). 

It is common for interior designers to select seating from one manufacturer while specifying leather from a different supplier. 

One of the biggest challenges of a COL is ordering the right amount of leather. Under-ordering results in not having enough leather to complete the job, leaving the designer with the uncomfortable job of asking the client for more money. 

If the dye lot the original shipment was from is no longer available, it is more than likely that hides from a different dye lot will not be an exact match. 

This can be even more of a problem if the leather is made to order: it is nearly impossible for a tannery to produce a small batch of hides.

On the other hand, over-ordering when specifying leather can result in unnecessary expenditure, especially since leather is usually more expensive than fabric. Often a seating manufacturer who receives more leather than needed for the job will simply keep the “overage.”     

Designer tip when specifying leather: If you are providing your own leather as a COL, ask the manufacturer to return any uncut, leftover hides. They are good to have on hand in the event any of the leather used on the furniture needs replacement down the road.  

How to Order the Right Amount of Leather

In determining how many hides or square footage is needed when specifying leather, the best possible scenario is when the manufacturer tells you how much is required for a particular piece. 

They have the experience and expertise to know how much leather they need, taking hides with defects into consideration. The specification information for the chair or sofa will include the exact amount of leather you need to send for each chair in square feet.

But what if there is no one to tell you how much leather to send? For example, what if the project involves custom-made furniture? Or suppose your client is reupholstering antique chairs purchased from a flea market in Paris? Even more difficult is calculating how much leather to specify for vertical surfaces such as wall panels and headboards. 

Here is how you can figure out how much leather you need for your project: 

Use the “18 Square Feet in One Linear Yard of Fabric” Formula 

You might assume that 1 yard of fabric equals 9 square feet (3’ x 3’). However, that is not correct, because the fabric is typically supplied on bolts with a width of 54”. 

One running yard of fabric equals 1944 square inches (54” x 36”). When you divide that amount by 144 (the number of inches in a square foot), you will see that physically, a linear yard of fabric contains 13.5 square feet.  

So why use 18 s.f. instead of 13.5? Because leather hides are irregularly shaped, waste is factored into the formula. The industry adds an extra 4.5 square feet to account for the waste factor, since not every square inch of a leather hide is usable.

You can’t go wrong if you simply take the fabric yardage and multiply it by 18. For example, if a chair requires 3 yards of fabric, you need to order 54 s.f. 

How to Calculate How Much Leather You Need for Vertical Surfaces

When specifying leather for vertical surfaces such as wall panels and headboards, it’s easy to miscalculate. 

Let’s use an example to explain why: if a headboard requires a leather panel that measures 40” x 70”, you might think you need to order 20 s.f. (40 x 70 = 2800 divided by 144 = 19.44). 

But, unlike fabric, leather is not supplied by the linear yard; it is typically sold by the square foot and supplied as whole hides.

Your 40” x 70” panel will therefore require that you purchase an entire hide, which usually averages around 50 s.f. That may seem like a lot of extra leather. This can be avoided by figuring out a way to get two equal cuts from a single hide. If your panel were only 28” – 30” wide, you could in fact get two panels from one hide, cutting what you need to order in half. 

However, because of variations in hide sizes, your safest bet is to calculate 50% waste for vertical surfaces when specifying leather. If your wall measures 8’ x 10’, instead of ordering 80 s.f. of leather, you should order 160 s.f., or three large hides. 

Designer tip when specifying leather: When shipping leather to a manufacturer on a COL basis, provide as much information about the application as possible. 

You could include this on the packing list, or make a call to customer service. A good example is if the leather is embossed with a pattern, you want to make sure the upholstered piece has the design running in the direction you intended.

Keep an eye out for our next blog on specifying leather. We will address the other major issue that presents challenges for interior designers: how to make sure you are ordering the appropriate leather for its intended use.

For wall panels, you will double your yield if each individual panel does not exceed 26”. That way, you can get two cuts per hide. Once you go over the center line, at 30” to 40”, you will get only one cut per hide, resulting in the greatest about of waste.

Specifying Leather 101

The bottom line is to count on ordering double the amount you think you need, meaning that the waste factor can be as high as 50%.

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