|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
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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