For many years there have been two genres of chairs that have dominated the market: leather and wire mesh (or simply ‘mesh’).
Leather precedes its wire mesh counterpart chronologically and has almost iconic status, providing comfort, reliability and that quintessential sophisticated look, whilst the wire mesh is slightly more stripped-back, with a more breathable surface and emphasis on ergonomics.
With the mesh-made chair increasing in popularity due to the increased awareness of the numerous health issues that result from prolonged periods of sitting down at the keyboard, sales for both these types of chairs are currently neck and neck.
But which one should you choose? What do both chairs offer the discerning chair user? Will you be spending a fairly hefty wedge on one rather than the other?
Don’t worry, we understand the importance of buying the chair that is right for you, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions that you don’t want to be exacerbated by a shoddy chair.
So we’ve provided you with a handy list of comparisons, highlighting the various strengths and weaknesses of both chairs, so you can decide which one to invest your time and money into.
To avoid taking sides, pull up a plastic chair, and let’s get started!
Mesh vs. Leather: Compare and Contrast
First off, let’s start with our old faithful: the leather chair. Often associated with style rather than comfort, the leather chair possesses many extremely comfortable and supportive attributes.
A lot of modern leather chairs have thick padding in the seat and the lumbar region, providing a great deal of ergonomic support in the lower back, which is crucial if you’re going to be sitting for long periods at work or your gaming station.
Some leather chairs, like the La-Z-Boy Trafford, even use memory foam, so they mold to the shape of your back and posterior.
However, one of the few drawbacks of leather is that it isn’t a very breathable material and during those hot summer months it can gather sweat and become very unhygienic and uncomfortable to sit in for hours at a time.
However, one of the other advantages of leather, especially faux leather (aka PU leather) is that its smooth surface enables the user to easily wipe off any unsightly sweat stains or coffee spillages.
Designed in what was seen as a response to the lack of ergonomic support in outdated leather chairs, the wire mesh attracted much controversy when it was first introduced for its perceived lack of comfort. However, the exact opposite is true.
A lot of wire mesh chairs feature curved backrests to accommodate the spine and adjustable backrests and seat pans that relieve pressure on these areas and feel remarkably comfortable!
Plus, one of the main selling points of mesh is its porous surface that helps ventilate the skin during those humid summer months. This can help the user sit for significantly longer than its leather cousin.
These ventilation properties help mesh chairs to get air to the skin and prevent the chafing and discomfort that can occur with leather chairs.
Most chairs should be built to last for years, possibly even decades, and the leather chair is no exception.
With a tough hide, a leather chair has been proven to stand repeated wear and tear, often still looking in pristine condition years later (if not even better) if enough care is applied to it. It is not as susceptible to staining or sweat rot, with a wipe-able surface it is easily cleaned and requires very little maintenance.
Mesh chairs, on the other hand, with their bare skeletal design, can start to get battered and bruised by continual use over time. Unsupported fabric can lose its elasticity and bare plastic suffers nicks and scratches when bumped into desks and walls.
Generally, the plastic of a mesh chair will bow a lot faster under the weight of a human body, its constituent parts will also begin to break, having to be repaired more often than leather components, which are usually integrated with the body of the chair.
If you are prepared to spend a few thousand dollars on a high-end leather chair, you could be looking to get years of wear out of it. But that does not mean that leather chairs are without their cosmetic breaking points.
Leather chairs are prone to scratch marks, which over time can widen as the fibers inside are pulled further apart, especially in places where it comes into contact with the human body, such as the armrests or the back of the chair.
Sunlight can also cause the chair to bleach, which may not lead to any deep functional damage, but might affect the cosmetic appeal of the chair, especially if it was bought to blend in with the surrounding decor.
Leather also has limited elasticity, which means that once it begins to sag it never regains its shape. This can cause the chair to lose what little ergonomic properties it once had, exacerbating issues such as sciatica and piriformis syndrome in certain users.
Leather chairs also require a bit more regular cleaning than mesh chairs, usually spraying and wiping down with soap or disinfectant once or twice every two weeks is required to revitalize your chair and remove bodily odors that might linger around its recesses.
It is difficult to identify genuine as opposed to fake leather, especially if you are shopping online. You might end up spending a large amount of money on poor imitation leather that frequently experiences superficial damages, which could lead to issues when applying for a refund.
With a lightweight, integrated frame, wire mesh is a lot easier to maintain than leather chairs, with a surface that can be wiped clean simply with warm soapy water, before being dried with a cloth or a hairdryer to avoid rusting.
Mesh fabric can be a hassle to clean though. This is because crumbs and particles can get embedded into the layered mesh fabric, and just wiping the chair down won't get them out. We've put together a guide with simple steps on how to clean a mesh chair to make it easier
Modern mesh office chairs are also generally lighter than bulky leather chairs, which make them much easier to flip over, especially when cleaning the base and the wheels.
Leather chairs have slightly decreased in popularity over the last decade, with most companies and individuals looking to save a few dollars with a cheaper, lighter wire mesh model. This has led to real leather chairs being much harder to come by on the high street, more often than not you might have to track them down online or specialized stores.
Mesh is beginning to outsell leather as an office staple, whether owing to its lightweight material, its ergonomic functions or its inexpensiveness.
As a result, the market has flooded with mesh chairs of all different shapes and sizes. You can find mesh chairs in most office supplies, department and furniture stores.
However, mesh chairs still have less aesthetic value than a leather chair, which is seen as the reserve of stylish office types, enlarged symbols of success and power that tie the workspace together. However, as with all trademarks of sophistication, they come with a pretty hefty price tag.
Now somewhat of an endangered species, the leather chair has seen its monetary value skyrocket, with a lot of high-end chairs, made genuine leather of course, being valued at anywhere between $1000 and $3000.
People are willing to go all out for both the distinctive feel of leather, coupled with its long-lasting properties, giving buyers a reliable chair they can count on in all weathers.
However, anyone simply looking for a functional chair that provides the basics without racking up a sizable bill will probably stick with faux or PU based leather. You can find countless chairs in this category at a more reasonable price point, even less than $100.
The beauty of mesh chairs is that you can find one at both ends of the budget spectrum.
For example, high-end mesh chairs, like those available from Steelcase and Herman Miller are made from the best materials and engineered to ergonomic perfection. But there is a hefty cost if you want to own one of the these beauties.
On the lower end, you have numerous options with basic mesh task chairs priced to sell. And for the most part, these will work just fine for your normal workday usage. Just don't expect them them to hold up in terms of support and comfort after years of use.
Our Final Say
There is much to recommend both leather and mesh chairs and hopefully, our list has gone some way to highlight the unique properties of both, getting you somewhere closer to making a decision.
Leather chairs offer more for the office chair connoisseur - someone who sees themselves enjoying a brandy and a cigar buried in leather upholstery or someone who simply wants to give their office that superlative, accomplished feel. These chairs are also extremely reliable and are a must for anyone who prefers high cleanliness and low maintenance.
The mesh chair, while still stylish, is the more economical option. Its lightweight, airy frame can give the office an austere, no-frills atmosphere that some buyers will prefer for their office or home. Easily-transportable, it might be the choice for someone who is looking for mobility when it comes to their four-wheeled friend.
However, if the price is your primary consideration, it might be worth opting for mesh chairs, as a lot of the heavy-duty leather chairs could set you back thousands of dollars.