5 On Your Side

Buyer beware: Not all leather furniture created equal

Posted September 27, 2016 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated September 27, 2016 7:05 p.m. EDT

— When you pay thousands of dollars for leather furniture, you expect it will last.

A Garner viewer was surprised when his couch set started peeling. When he wasn't satisfied with the response of the company where he got the furniture, he contacted 5 On Your Side.

5 On Your Side frequently hears complaints about problems with so-called "leather" furniture. The issue often boils down to the fact that not all leather is created equal.

It's hard to miss the worn spots, peeling and cracking on Rob Tatum's sofa and love seat.

It's peeling. It just looks like junk," he said. "I got barely four years out of what I would consider 15-year furniture."

Tatum is especially frustrated with the furniture because of how much he paid for it. He bought the couches and a recliner for about $3,000 at La-Z-Boy on Glenwood Avenue.

"That's enough of a premium that you would think it would be genuine leather, not fabric with leather glued to it," he said. "They lady told us it was leather, told us it was good quality."

Tatum has since learned only his recliner is authentic leather. The sofa and love seat are what La-Z-Boy calls bonded leather.

"That's why I contacted you," Tatum told 5 On Your Side. "Because ultimately, people need to know what they're buying."

What happened to Tatum's bonded leather couches appears to be pretty common. Several complaints online specifically refer to peeling problems with La-Z-Boy furniture.

Bonded leather is made of left over pieces of leather that are blended together, similar to what particle board is to wood.

It's also called reconstituted or blended leather.

It can be hard to tell the difference because it looks and even smells like real leather. Experts say a big difference is durability, as seen with Tatum's leather recliner and couches.

Tatum first contacted La-Z-Boy when peeling started last fall.

The retailer initially pointed to the five-year "fabric protection warranty" Tatum paid another $130 for, but the warranty does not cover peeling.

After nine months and multiple phone calls, La-Z-Boy offered him a $324 credit toward new furniture.

Tatum says he didn't think that was fair.

After 5 On Your Side got involved, La-Z-Boy upped the credit offer to $1,064, a 50 percent credit of what he originally paid for the sofa and love seat.

In an email, a spokeswoman said, "sales associates are highly trained on products, including the differences in bonded and authentic leathers."

"We believe we made fair offers and apologize we couldn't make him happy," the spokeswoman said.

Tatum said he's still disappointed in the quality of the furniture.

"I would expect under what I would consider normal use – sitting down, standing up, maybe lying on it – that it would last, and it didn't," he said.

Bottom line, there are seemingly countless terms for different types of leather products and even different grades of so-called "pure" leather.

La-Z-Boy told WRAL News they offer about 100 leather options.

Shoppers should do research and find out what they want before buying. Shoppers should also ask very specific questions before buying.