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A Most Unusual Kind of Furniture Upholstery

Remember the good old days of choosing customary fabrics like fake leather, damask, tweed or suede with which to cover your sofas, chairs and ottomans? Today, the trending fabric of choice is exotic animal hides, such as shark, lizard, alligator, python, hippo and even zebra. Although many people may find it callous and unnecessary to use animals in this manner, the market is strong concerning the demand for furniture upholstered in exotic hides, which are provided by suppliers who have legal license to sell non-traditional upholstery.

Working with exotic hides is often difficult for upholsterers to master due to the thickness and composition of animal skins. For example, stingray hide (yes, people actually order furniture to be upholstered in stingray hide) is one of the toughest skins to work with, causing many upholsterers to go through dozens of needles and buckets of sweat in an attempt to make the furniture looks as professionally upholstered as possible.

Hippo skin is popular because of the statistics behind the skin--that hippos cause more deaths than lions each year. Additionally, hippo skin isn't that hairy and feels like suede that is thicker than normal. Hippo hides also exhibit scars from battling other male hippos for females and territory, something that people seem interested in as background material for their furniture.

Ostrich hide is another trending type of exotic fabric upholstery that has a luxurious, "pettable" feel to it. Recently, its price has dropped considerably, making it much more affordable and accessible. This occurred due to the large number of ostrich farms emerging in South Africa that grow ostriches for its feathers as well as its hide.

Caiman, alligator and snake hides often find their way onto easy chairs, elegant bar stools and sofas meant to be display pieces in designer living areas. Caiman are South American crocodiles that have thick, "dinosaur-like" skin which is hard to manipulate, cut and sew. When upholstering furniture with caiman hide, interior decorators generally work with smaller pieces no wider than that way because prices fluctuate from week to week depending upon demand, Kapp says.

In addition to furniture upholstery, shark skin is also used to make wallets, boots and as automobile interior material. Shark skin is gently rippled and feels feel finely grained when touched. It is long-lasting, resists wear and tear and is easy to clean due to its impermeability, unlike mammal hides that tend to absorb moisture and dirt if not properly tanned and dyed.

Like hippos, zebra skin has scars but their scars come from being hunted by wild carnivores. When purchasing zebra skin for upholstery purposes, you will probably encounter a grading system that is used to rate the quality of zebra skin. Trophy grade zebra skin is the best kind because it exhibits no flaws or blemishes. First grade skin can be used as upholstery because it has a minimum of imperfections but anything below first grade--second and third grade--is intended for making key fobs, throw pillows or ottomans because this skin has larger, more obvious problems.
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