Leather armchairs - a complete guide (and how to choose the perfect one)
Considering buying a leather armchair? From traditional to contemporary, tub chairs to wingbacks, here's everything you need to know...
'If it's the right chair, it doesn't take too long to get comfortable in it.’ (Robert de Niro)
De Niro probably didn't mean that to be taken literally. Nevertheless, when it comes to chairs, he does have a point. Whether you’ve already decided that your armchair of choice just has to be leather, or whether you’re still thinking about it, we’ve put together some thoughts and suggestions on which leather armchair would be the right chair for you...
Why choose a leather armchair?
In case you’re still undecided, here are four reasons why a leather armchair could be the right choice for you and your home:
- Durability – leather is tough (and, no, we weren’t going to mention old boots) and long lasting; it will withstand the rough and tumble of every day family life.
- Style – modern leather armchairs draw on traditional styles, with a modern twist, and fit comfortably into a wide range of interior design approaches – from streamlined Scandinavian to English country house.
- Easy to clean and maintain – leather armchairs are low maintenance; a regular dust will keep it free of dirt and use a damp cloth to remove light scratches and grime. *
- Leather is hypo-allergenic – which makes it ideal for families with asthma or eczema sufferers, for example, as it won’t absorb pet dander, dust mites and other allergens.
A brief history of leather armchairs
It was not until the middle of the 17th century that it became customary to cushion traditional timber chairs; leather was often the material of choice, and was also used to pad chair backs.
Nevertheless, leather production remained time consuming and costly, ensuring that only the wealthy could afford leather furniture, at least until the Industrial Revolution, when some of the processes involved in curing and tanning hides were taken over by machines. By the middle of the 19th century, leather furniture began to appear in middle class homes, where it became associated with comfort and welcome.
During the 20th century, leather chairs designed by Marcel Breuer, Charles and Ray Eames, Jorge Ferrari Hardoy, Antonio Bonet and Juan Kurchan, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, Mies Van der Rohe and Lily Reich, Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner, and Alvar Aalto were to become style icons. And now, in the 21st century, our love affair with leather armchairs shows no sign of diminishing.
Choosing the perfect leather armchair
At Raft, you’ll find a range of armchair styles, which draw on tradition, but with a modern twist, and a choice of leather finishes, one or more of which will be just right for you and your home – or workplace.
The simple lines of our Leather Sling Back Chair, make it an ideal choice for a minimalist home, while offering comfort and practicality. A sling chair is made from one continuous piece of material, attached to or suspended in a frame. Its origins can be traced back to the hammock; it inspired the campaign chair beloved of 19th century generals, and influenced both the 1928 LC1 Sling chair (Le Corbusier, Jeanneret and Perriand) and the 1938 butterfly chair designed in Argentina by architects, Hardoy, Bonet and Kurchan, who had worked with Le Corbusier. At its most humble, and arguably most popular, it crops up on beaches around the world . . . as the deckchair.
If you like things streamlined, have a passion for design and design history, a leaning towards Scandinavian style, and want an unusual chair to delight and inspire, you won’t go wrong with the Leather Sling Back, available in black or natural leather and sustainably sourced teak wood. It has been created in Indonesia as a collaboration between Raft designers and local designers – a truly unique chair.
Who wouldn’t want to sink into the welcoming arms of the Oscar armchair at the end of a busy day? The Oscar makes a virtue of curves, in homage to 1930s American late art deco and what was known as the Streamline Style, influenced by the Bauhaus and pioneered by industrial designers, such as Paul Frankl. It offered visual simplicity and drew on automotive styling - think skyscrapers. Oscar will bring a touch of luxury and supreme comfort into the home.
If you can’t resist glamorous 1930s Hollywood movies (think Fred and Ginger), are partial to a cocktail, swoon at the thought of New York, New York, and made a point of visiting the V&A’s hugely successful Ocean Liners: Speed and Style exhibition in London or Dundee, we think you’ll love Oscar or, even better, a pair of Oscars. Available in any of our leather finishes as well as fabric, and in different sizes.
There’s something solid and reassuring about Raft’s Tub Chair. In terms of chair history, its origins are rooted in the 17th century when chair makers began to think about comfort as well as convenience and started to use expensive upholstery. One of the earliest examples was seen at the court of Louis XV of France. But it was not until this type of chair crossed the Atlantic that, in 1797, it gained the name by which we now know it, thanks to Boston cabinet maker, George Bright. In England, the tub chair was taken up by the wealthier classes and gentlemen’s clubs. Its popularity continued throughout the 20th century, spiking in the Art Deco period and again in the 1950s when Italian designers gave it a colourful and richly textured makeover.
We think its popularity is linked not only to its high comfort values but also to its practicality. The Tub Chair works in any room but especially one where space is limited and it makes an ideal companion for a coffee table.
If you’re short of space but want an eye-catching chair with a touch of history that is also perfect for board games, reading the weekend newspapers, and where you can have that cup of excellent coffee within easy reach, the versatile Tub Chair might be a very good idea.
The Raft Tub Chair is available in all our leather finishes.
There is no denying the bespoke luxury of Raft’s Giles chair – from its high back, scrolled arms and deep seating, to its front castors for ease of movement, and choice of piping or studs . . . you decide. The Giles draws on traditional wingback design, originally seen on wooden settles in manor houses and inns – the upholstered version didn’t appear until the late 17th century. Wingback chairs were sometimes known as fireside chairs, designed to keep the sitter’s back warm and sheltered from draughts. They have the curved lines associated with other Queen Anne furniture and versions created by Chippendale and Hepplewhite became the must-have chairs of the period. By the 19th century, wingback chairs had taken up residence in Victorian homes and feature strongly in paintings in the hearth and home tradition. The basic design evolved throughout the 20th century, especially in Scandinavia, and continues to this day, although the traditional version remains as popular as ever.
If you love Restoration comedy and films like The Favourite, if you’re on a quest for a statement chair, a deep reading chair, a chair that will evoke a profound sense of satisfaction as you ease yourself into its comfort, a chair that will see you through every stage of your life, the Giles is for you. It is made to order, in all our leather finishes, in various sizes and with a choice of piping or studs.
In terms of shape, the Regis combines the solidity and lower back of the tub chair with a hint of wingback, brought together with the flair of modern design. What marks it out is its distinctive deep buttoned back that complements its exceptionally deep hollow fibre seat interior. Button-backed chairs became popular in the late 18th century. Buttons were used to maximise discomfort and deter wealthy men’s many visitors from staying too long. The 21st century version is, reassuringly, designed for maximum comfort.
The leather used for Raft’s Regis chairs is carefully chosen for its natural beauty that improves with age.
If you are drawn to quality and tradition, coupled with the comfort offered by modern design, and if your home is unquestionably your castle, Raft’s Regis would make a very fine addition.
Raft’s Havana wingback chair shares a history with our Giles chair (see above). Its high back and scrolled arms ensure maximum comfort and support for your neck and back, so it will see you through many stages of life.
It’s available in all our leather finishes, in different sizes and, like the Giles, gives you a choice of piping or studs.
If you like to blend traditional with modern, if you like your home comforts but don’t want to compromise on style, if you want a chair that’s capacious and versatile and can cope with bouncing children and grandchildren on your knee but will also provide a deeply comforting sanctuary for quiet reading, not to mention snoozing by the fire, then we recommend the Raft Havana.
Not forgetting the footnote
If you’ve chosen your leather armchair, why not think about the ideal companion? A Raft Loft footstool offers ultimate relaxation (or an extra seat). Like our armchairs, the Loft footstool is available in all our leather finishes, so will complement your armchair wonderfully.
Raft’s leather is selected as it improves with age, lasts for years and is easily cleanable. It’s a great choice for homes with pets and children. Our hides are sourced only in North Europe, where the cattle are reared to high ethical standards. These cold climate hides are also thicker and therefore of superior quality to leathers from other parts of the world.
*Caring for your leather armchair. If you’d like to know just how easy it is to look after your Raft leather armchair, take a look at our leather care guide.