Guide to buying an antique leather chair

The enduring popularity of vintage and antique leather chairs shows no sign of waning. Indeed, demand for the characterful and unusual items remains strong. Equally at home in a modern-day man cave, airy Scandinavian-inspired living room or cosy corner of the bedroom, leather chairs are the go-to item for interior designers. However, prices, like styles, can vary enormously, so we asked three experts to take a seat and reveal what to look out for when buying an antique leather chair.

James Gooch of Doe & Hope.

What are the key things to consider when buying an antique leather chair?
“Originality is more important with leather chairs than anything else, that and the condition which needs to be somewhere between worn in and useable, there are fine lines!

A leather armchair from Doe & Hope
A late 19th century leather armchair with either English or French origin – Doe & Hope

What should buyers look out for?
Tears, patches and old repairs. There are usually one or two on all antique examples (think 1920s club or earlier) and so some level of acceptance of this is needed. But too many and the chair may be ‘too far gone’.

What styles and eras  are currently popular?
Pairs are always valued highly, club armchairs generally French ones or for an English example, an 1880s button backed example is sought-after.

Why do antique leather chairs remain so popular?
They can be used in modern or country house interiors, they have a decorative appeal and also hark back to the days of whiskey and cigarettes, so there is nostalgia there. They are also good masculine anchor points in what may be a more feminine room setting. Use Neatsfoot oil to maintain the suppleness every six months or so.

How much should you expect to pay?
It really does depend on the condition here so from £400 to £1500 for a single and £1200 – £2500 for pairs generally.

What types of leather is used in these chairs and which is best?  
They were usually vegetable-tanned sheep’s leather and those in France were valued higher than over here in the UK.

Any other advice?
If you just can’t afford leather look out for those covered in rexine which is a budget period option but does retain some of the look of leather chairs.

AD&PS Antiques at Lorfords Antiques.

What should be considered when buying an antique leather chair?
One of the first things to consider when buying an antique leather chair is it’s use and environment. A  lovely old, distressed club looks wonderful and is often an ideal choice for a room, but if it is a high traffic area or there is a risk of rough handling by children or pets then best to steer clear and choose one that is fit for purpose. Is it for comfort or purely for decorative purposes? If you can’t try sitting in the chair, ask about comfort and buy from reputable dealers… All very well having a chair that looks fabulous, but not much fun if there is a stray spring, for example!

A pair of 1950’s French leather armchairs in excellent condition.
A pair of 1950’s French leather armchairs in excellent condition.

What should buyers look out for?
As well as classic styles, look out for unusual models. Decorative studding, buttoning,  shaped backs, carved elements are details that can make an enormous difference. The condition of the leather is also important. Depending on your taste, signs of a long life, wear and tear  and, even, old repairs can be very attractive, but if the skin is so dried out that it can tear like parchment, best to walk away. As with all antique furniture, it is common to find signs of old wood worm, so check and ask if it has been treated.

What styles and eras are currently popular?
Currently, bridge chairs are a highly popular and versatile choice. A chic pair of bridge chairs look fabulous in a sitting room and, equally, at home in an office or boutique hotel. Big, comfy leather library chairs are also sought-after. What could be better than sinking into a large, beautiful, wing chair with a book and a glass of your favourite tipple? Club chairs are still a la mode. Small, quirky models from the 1920s are highly prized, as well as big generous mid-century styles. A good old chesterfield sofa, with character & warmth, still attracts a discerning buyer. The trend towards good 20th century leather chairs continues, but is moving on from Scandinavian to the Italian mid-century style, such as chairs designed by the iconic, Gio Ponti.

Why are antique leather chairs so popular today?
Throughout history, leather has been used in chairs and it continues to suit all styles of interiors. There is a leather chair to suit all looks.

Any care advice?
Over time, leather can become dry. There are a number of specific products that clean, revive and feed . As well as those products found in a hardware store, a great place to find specialised products is a good saddlery shop. Maintain the beauty of your leather with the use of a good leather cream for regular nourishing, remember leather is a skin and appreciates it’s own beauty regime.

How much should you expect to pay?
Price can vary enormously, depending on period, style, rarity, quality, etc. A good pair of leather bridge chairs can range from £850-1200. Generally, a nice single club chair can be found for under or around £1000.00, while a pair can be anywhere between £1600-£3000.

What is the best leather used in these chairs?
Traditionally, sheep skin has been the preferred choice. On average, it takes 6 skins to cover a club chair! This is followed by cow hide, goat, etc.

Steven Lazarus from Alfies Antiques Market.

A leather Holland chair with a storage pocket on side.
A leather Holland chair with a storage pocket on side.

What should be considered when buying a leather chair?
The thing to consider when buying is that you like the chair, some people like chairs that are really worn that have character – it takes time to get that worn look.

What styles and eras are currently popular?
It’s down to the individual designer. Chairs by Gerard Vandenberg and Brazilian and French are also popular.

Any care advice?
For care you can feed the leather with a leather feed, available at shoe repairers.

How much should you expect to pay?
That’s different for the individual, a chair can cost anything from £1500 upwards to £3000.

What is the best leather used in these chairs?
There is no such thing as the best leather, always remember to buy what you like – it will always serve you well.

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