Leather pushes decorative envelope

  • Article by: MARY BETH BRECKENRIDGE , Akron Beacon Journal
  • Updated: February 20, 2013 - 8:26 AM

No longer hide-bound to furniture, genuine and recycled leathers are now being used to cover walls, floors, doors and ceilings.

hide

Recycled leather from EcoDomo, embossed in a crocodile design, is used to cover a door.

Love the look of leather?

Saddle up.

Leather is charging into home decor well beyond couches, chairs and tabletops. It’s upholstering walls and covering floors. And manufactured materials made from recycled leather are broadening the design possibilities even further.

Imagine a door covered in faux crocodile, a bathroom vanity with a cowhide insert or a closet with leather-wrapped shelves.

Leather produces a sophisticated look suitable for contemporary, rustic or club-like settings, “but not your traditional Colonial home,” said Christian Nadeau, president of EcoDomo, a Quebec manufacturer of leather surfacing materials. He said he often sees leather flooring used in media rooms to give a feel of richness and intimacy, but some types of hide can be tough enough for a kitchen or a well-traveled staircase.

Nadeau said leather surfaces have become more popular as interest in natural materials has grown.

“Leather is just one more product that goes in that direction to put nature back in homes,” he said.

Using leather on surfaces is hardly mainstream, and the price of genuine leather makes it a home-decorating luxury. But technology is bringing prices down and making this high-end look accessible to customers with bigger design aspirations than budgets.

That’s true even with real leather, an option that until now has been prohibitively pricey for most consumers.

Kaleen Leathers in Westchester, Ill., for example, is developing genuine-leather panels that will reduce the cost of leather walls and floors by making them easier and cheaper to install, said company manager Frank Mullen.

The die-cut panels are applied to a rubber backing, then adhered to a wall or floor with a releasable adhesive, much like carpet squares, Mullen explained. A 12-by-12-inch panel in an average-range leather might cost $25 to $30, not exactly bargain-basement stuff, but reasonable when compared with leather-tile prices that can approach $100 a square foot.

Where design inroads really are being made, though, is in surfacing products using recycled or bonded leather, a manufactured product made from leather scraps.

Remnants from the manufacture of leather goods are pulverized, and the resulting fibers are mixed with other materials and pressed into sheets that are colored and textured to look like genuine leather. A coating protects the product.

Bonded leather can go wherever wood can — even below grade, in some instances, though it’s not recommended for wet environments such as full bathrooms. Maintenance is the same as a wood floor — vacuum without a beater bar to remove dust and damp mop using a floor cleaner.

And while manufacturers say it can last for 25 to 30 years, “people don’t buy it for its wear, honestly,” said E.C. “Bill” Dearing, national manager of market development for Torlys of Ontario. More often, consumers fall in love first with the look, he said, then durability becomes the deciding factor.

Torlys’ bonded leather flooring sells for $10 to $13 a square foot; EcoDomo’s, for about $12 to $14. Those prices don’t include installation.

EcoDomo also makes 4-by-8-foot sheets of bonded leather for the wood industry, for applications such as a veneer on kitchen cabinets, Nadeau said.

One of his favorite uses for bonded leather is in stitched walls, custom fitted to a room. Leather panels are cut to fit around doors, switches and other features, and panels are top-stitched for a finished look.

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