HIGH POINT — Casual touches that take traditional in a transitional direction and creating clean, contemporary lines without sacrificing comfort are hallmarks of leather upholstery trends these days according to resources in the category.
Those general themes can have ramifications for leather seating in terms both of style and scale. Overall, a move toward simplicity of line crosses style categories from contemporary modern to traditional.
Scales, often both visual and physical, are moderating in many cases, with simpler silhouettes even in more traditional goods.
“Cleaner looks are certainly important, but it’s been the ongoing trend the past several years to incorporate a range of styles in leather upholstery,” said Taylor King President and COO Del Starnes, pointing to a couple of pieces from the high-end manufacturer’s collection with designer Lauren Liess as examples of traditional forms with updated lines and scales.
Take the Philosopher’s chair, a modified take on traditional wing design: “It fits a scale trend with petite arms and thin, tapered legs, but the channeled back gives it more comfort,” Starnes said.
The Paradigm sofa is another modernized traditional form.
“It has slim, flared arms, and the proportions are clean with a tight back, but it features a very distinctive wood base with reeded details between the tapered legs,” Starnes said. “The bench seat cushion has become extremely popular.”
Bradington-Young, where the forte has long been traditional looks, is seeing much more demand for casual and transitional leather seating these days.
“We haven’t been known for transitional, but we’ve gone in that direction the past couple of years,” said Director of Merchandising Cheryl Sigmon. “Even with something we’d call traditional, we’re offering more tapered legs, smaller arms. Baby Boomers, our customers, are downsizing, so it was important to offer pieces with smaller scale but still sits big.”
An example is Bradington-Young’s Zion introduction from the October 2019 market, which Sigmon said got great traction “right out the gate.”
“That showed we aren’t your grandparents’ traditional,” Sigmon said.
At contemporary leather seating manufacturer American Leather, Creative Director Spencer Bass said balancing comfort with streamlined scales is key.
“We’re seeing a move toward a little deeper seat than normal,” he said. “It’s comfortable, but without giving up those clean lines.”
Bass pointed to American Leather’s Metropolis collection as an example.
“We put five frames on a thin deck chassis that allows a 9-inch seat cushion with a lot of style and a very nice ride,” he said. “The look is streamlined, but the comfort is there.”
American Leather also incorporated a more transitional feel with four frames it launched in October at opening price points.
“It’s more transitional, with a softer look, especially in the wider seat cushions,” Bass said. “We used a down/memory foam combination for a really unique seating experience.”
At Chateau d’Ax new contemporary Italian trends are heading towards a modern, contemporary design with high legs and low backs.
“We tend to focus on merging both Italian fashion and American comfort,” said Joe Filloy, director of North American operations via e-mail. “We invested in ‘3D Comfort’ technology, which provides a cushion with foam, memory foam and down; giving the comfort of down cushions with the durability of foam cushions.
“We always use the traditional size, scale and standards that Americans love, because we aim for comfort and functionality,” he continued.
Hooker Furniture’s branded upholstery, a more traditional/transitional line, tends toward larger sofas, but even there, scales — both visual and physical — show some moderation.
“We’re doing well with what for us are smaller scales, not apartment size, but more like 80 inches,” said Joelle Kuhlman, vice president of Hooker Upholstery, adding that best-sellers make a more moderate visual impression. “The bulky leather sofas have moved mostly into the motion arena. Even a 90-plus-inch sofa still has a cleaner look.”
It’s no surprise that modular seating arrangements are gaining speed in leather as well as fabric upholstery. Sectionals and function are hot at Palliser, and those affect scales and visual effect, said Bryan Rach, vice president of product development and innovation. In addition to their clean silhouettes, Palliser’s modular configurations exhibit what he called “smart” upholstery.
“When we talk function in stationary, it’s about things like a storage console with USB charging as a modular piece in a sectional,” Rach said. “Sectionals allow smaller or larger scale not only as a design element, but to let consumers configure the pieces to their lifestyle and space.”
Additional function such as sleep in sectionals as well as modularity can be a bit more stylish, he added.
“We’re making sleeper units where you don’t have to remove the cushions and put them on the floor,” Rach noted. “And if the consumer decides to reconfigure their sectional, the pieces are finished all the way around.”
Sigmon said Bradington-Young anticipates more interest in sectionals for its leather program, which plays into a rising general trend in upholstery. She credits the pandemic’s role in that development.
“You’ve had entire families stuck at home together, and people realized they didn’t have enough seating,” she said, noting sectionals’ flexibility in creating a lot of seating area. “This pandemic has brought more people together in the home.”
Designing SKUs to accommodate sectional configurations is a priority at American Leather.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest in modularity and sofas that can be set up in different formations, whether it’s for a loft, a big, open living room or a game room,” Bass said. “We really play that up at American Leather with a lot of pieces that can be combined in different ways.”
Color talk: Browns soften up
Blues and greens remain trending colors for leather covers — albeit sometimes more muted than in recent seasons — but brown hues are showing promise these days, particularly in softer tones. Sigmon at Bradington-Young, for example, said that while color stories have been trending with leather, neutrals and chocolates are making a comeback, albeit in modified tones.
“Chocolate was always our best-seller, but a year ago it seemed chocolate wasn’t selling,” she said. “We’re seeing more demand there now, but it’s more of a cognac-toned chocolate, with orange or yellow influences.”
Those tones, as well as more muted colors, will feature in Bradington-Young’s leather introductions this fall in a casual, smaller scale stationary program.
Brown hues are evolving at American Leather as well.
“Lately were playing up taupes and champagne tones, particularly with bison leathers,” Bass said. “Greens also have picked up; we have a Mont Blanc natural pull-up leather that really blossoms when it’s upholstered,” he said, adding that blue and navy tones have “become a new neutral.”
Speaking of blue, Starnes at Taylor King sees resurgence in navy leather colors.
“However, the new navy is a color that has more blue and less black” for a softer sense, he said. “This color popularity mirrors the fact that navy is our third best-selling fabric color behind the various shades of beige and gray.”
As an import program, Hooker Upholstery looks to where the volume is color wise, which means a lot of brown, but again in lighter, more casual tones.
“We might show a sea foam color in a club chair, but not on a sofa,” Kuhlman said. “We’re doing very well with variations on brown, not dark brown, but maybe a saddle brown or caramel color.”
Gray remains an important color, according to Palliser’s Rach.
“Believe it or not, as much as people say gray is going away, it’s not,” he said, adding that “earth tones, caramels on pure anilines are strong. Speaking of real color, dark blues and true evergreens work well for us.”
Palliser also uses color, along with accent elements, to allow the same leather piece to take on different style atmospheres, for example, transitional vs. contemporary.
“If you use natural pull-up leather in brown, it takes it transitional or traditional,” Rach said. “Take a blue and add a metal leg, and you have contemporary. … If you use a wood plinth, it’s more transitional, but with metal it goes contemporary. It’s also the same way you treat the legs for a differing look. That, in combination with colors is the biggest way” to be flexible in style.
Chateau d’Ax also sees positive results with mid- to dark gray tones for its contemporary line.
“Also we have a blue gray color that has been very good for us,” Filloy said. “In more traditional styles, whiskey has been a growing color.”
Touch and feel
Texturally speaking, leather covers in many cases are toning down the ‘polish’ with more casual look and feel.
Bison is among richer textures coming on strong at American Leather.
“This bison leather has a great, pebbled look and feel,” Bass noted. “The Italian tannery making it has amazing technology that creates an incredible textural experience.”
Bass also noted a “huge movement” toward nubuck, which he said is a big emphasis these days for Italian tanneries but agreed with Sigmon at Bradington-Young that nubuck requires special care.
“It has a velvety, suede hand to it, but it’s a bit of an undertaking deciding where to put it in the home,” Bass said. “You have to make sure you’re careful with pets and kids because spills can be a big problem.”
Bradington-Young’s Sigmon, also said that nubuck’s sanded, napped texture is gaining interest, but he agreed that it needs extra attention in the home.
“Nubuck has sometimes been a scary word because people sometimes didn’t know how to take care of it, but it’s important no, because nubuck is casual,” she said.
Palliser, another contemporary leaning manufacturer, also has more action in leathers with a casual touch. “We’re seeing popularity in more natural leathers, anilines and heavy weight leathers with pebbling, and definitely less sheen,” Rach said.
Hooker Upholstery also sees more demand for leathers without high-gloss finishes or feels.
“Whether it’s a waxed leather or natural, it’s not heavily protected,” Kuhlman said. “We do better with leathers that have the natural features like scratch marks on cow hides. It’s not embossing, it’s natural textures.”
Those sorts of leathers take even more formal product in a casual direction, she added. “We have a tufted tuxedo-style sofa, and because it’s in a natural, waxed leather, it goes more casual, even with a formal element like tufting. And with a metal leg, it takes on a more modern feel.”
Starnes does see a sheen story developing, even as he noted textures in Taylor King’s more popular leathers are those with low to no sheen and a soft, inviting hand.
“However, we are seeing a return to leathers with a higher sheen and a waxy hand with minimal color migration,” he added.
Color’s textural story has added a bit of sheen, as well, at Bradington-Young.
“We’re adding colors to existing leather with a semi-analine that offers protection, but with a more grabby, talc-like feel,” Sigmon said. “It’s a ‘wetter’ look, but it has more grab to it. Colors also are lighter, more neutral.”