Leather couches are more popular than ever these days.
But with a high quality leather sofa costing $2,000 or more, a lot of stores are pushing low cost versions, sometimes just $800 for a full couch.
Which can be acceptable in some cases, or can be junk, as a woman found out.
Grabbed a half-price sale
Elizabeth Gibson dreamed of having a beautiful leather living room set.
So when she found a leather sectional for half price, she grabbed it. What she didn't expect was to see peeling in less than 3 years.
"It started to crack and peel here first," she said, pointing to the seat cushion.
But it was soon peeling everywhere: cushions, back, armrest.
It was then she realized the leather wasn't real leather at all, despite the sales pitch.
"They told me this was real leather when I bought it," she said.
What she really bought
But it was really "bonded" or "bi-cast" leather, typically 60 percent leather shavings, 40 percent plastics. The mixture is then bonded into a fabric base, with a polycoat baked in on top.
There is nothing wrong with it, if well done, but the FTC says stores should not call it real leather.
Furniture restorer Joe Naiser compares bonded leather by comparing it to the cheap wood in much of today's inexpensive furniture.
"Bi-cast leather is to genuine leather is what veneer particle board is to solid hardwood," he explained.
Naiser is an old-world furniture craftsman, at his shop Naiser Furniture Restoration.
"I get quite a few calls from people needing leather repair," he says. "And I ask them a few questions and realize it’s not really leather," which means he is unable to repair it.
The website MousePrint.org recently looked into the issue of whether stores have to disclose if a chair or couch is made of bonded leather, as many buyers assume it is real leather.
MousePrint learned that many inexpensive office chairs do not say if they are covered in real or bonded leather, and that apparently there is no law requiring it.
Store offers some help
We contacted the furniture store where Gibson bought her sectional. But since the couch is well past its one- year warranty, the best the store would do is offer her free slipcovers.
Gibson feels she was deceived, saying "I thought it was leather."
How to protect yourself
So don't let this happen to you. While some bonded leather is fine, Naiser says:
- Be wary of very cheap leather furniture.
- Ask if an extended warranty will cover peeling.
- Try to research the manufacturer.
Naiser says some bonded leather furniture is well made, and will last for years.
But you may want to find out who makes the couch you're looking at, then Google the manufacturer for complaints before you buy.
That way you'll know what other buyers think of it and you don't waste your money.
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