The quality of a leather sofa has as much to do with animal ethics as with style - with the origin of the leather being just as important as the aesthetic sense of the designer.

"It makes all the difference in the world," said Adam El-Hout, sales and business development manager for Roche-Bobois North America. "The quality of life experienced by this animal will have a direct effect on the suppleness and softness of the hide."

The finest hides come from Europe and are part of a sustainable approach that taps a food source.

"This is an ethical use of the resource and you can be sure that the highest standards worldwide have been applied to the life of these animals," El-Hout said.

The best tanneries in the world are in Italy, where "passion, quality and ethics play a big role," he added.

Theodores' furniture buyer and staff interior designer Janice Kanter in Washington agreed, while adding a caveat.

"When selecting a leather sofa you definitely want to make sure you are buying genuine leather," Kanter said, adding consumers are seeing "price points that are very low and products being marketed as leather that are not."

Top-of-the-line leather is known as "full grain with aniline finish" and offers natural beauty, though it is not for everyone. A sofa can easily exceed $10,000 and will have the delicacy that often accompanies beauty and luxury, El-Hout said.

The pigmented leathers offer more durability, along with good looks.

"I can't think of any reason a client should not buy leather," Kanter said. "The color palette is full spectrum -- way beyond the neutral."

Leather is long lasting, too, competing admirably against other materials in the furniture industry.

"From a longevity standpoint and depending on how well it's cared for, leather will certainly outlast fabric," said Munzer Murshed, a designer for Calligaris furniture. "My first question to a client trying to decide between the two is always: 'Do you have kids or pets?' If the answer is 'Yes,' then I will always recommend leather."

From a design standpoint, leather offers fresh dimensions that are sometimes viewed in gender terms.

"Leather is a good choice for family rooms or libraries, as it is durable and add a masculine design element," said Heidi Williams, senior designer with Justine Sancho Interior Design.

The trend also seems to reflect the fashion bent toward renewed grunge as El-Hout said "shabby-looking" leather that has a rough and multi-tone effect is popular.

Another popular trend, according to Kanter, is "smaller scaled pieces with intricate contrast stitching that is often contrasted with a different color thread than the leather choice."

Whatever the choice, leathers add grace, style and substance to any room.