Graham Freake thought he’d be sitting comfortably for years after he tried out a £3,000 Oak Furnitureland leather suite at the Ocean Park Portsmouth store.
But just months later it literally became a pain in the back when the resilience of the foam padding began to deteriorate, making sitting less comfortable and leaving unsightly shrinkage indentations in the recliners and settee.
The Portsmouth retired window and door engineer made it clear he wasn’t prepared to take the matter sitting down so he complained to the store that his expensive purchase wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
‘My wife Sue had been diagnosed with bone cancer in her pelvis,’ he said, ‘and she was finding it difficult to get comfortable in our chairs.
‘We’ve had two or three things from Oak Furnitureland and as she’d been struggling to get out of the manual recliner when somebody told us they seen a rather nice electric recliner suite at Ocean Park we went there to test it out and it was really lovely.
The leather felt really firm and it was easy for her to get up and down on it.
‘We bought it in mid July 2018 and paid in total £3,035 for it. After a few months the chair Sue used had lost some of its form so we swapped the two chairs over.
READ MORE: New book launched about Portsmouth mysteries
‘In the November Sue broke her pelvis and was in hospital for a month.
‘I first wrote to the firm to complain in June this year as she was finding it very difficult to get out of the chair due to it sinking quite badly. Sadly she died in August some two months later, so the suite had very little use.
‘I bought what I believed was a fairly expensive leather suite but within six or seven months the two chairs and the centre of the settee had sunk, one recliner quite substantially.
‘In one chair you feel as if you’re on the floor, and it makes the angle of your back painful after a short time.
‘I thought and assumed when I bought it the chairs I tried out in the store would be as comfortable and firm for many years. This is definitely not the case. Had I been aware of the shrinkage defects I’d never have bought it.
‘When I spoke to the store manager his argument was the amount of resilience lost is down to how much it was used.
‘But the main seat had only been used by my wife. She was only about eight stone, and there were also signs of the foam losing it resilience in the centre of the settee and one arm.
‘She only sat in the other chair for five or six months and that’s gone as well. Not drastically but when you sit in it you go quite a bit down, despite it’s hardly been used.’
Oak Furnitureland’s head office arranged for a technician to examine the suite, but Graham was angry and unconvinced after he received a report that as far as they were concerned there was no manufacturing fault and he’d just have to put up with it.
Two inspectors had told him they believed the compression and settlement of the seating areas was well within the manufacturer’s specification and amounted to normal settlement of the foam. It could lose up to a whopping 30 per cent of its resilience or more due to air displacement.
Graham, 69, decided to call in Streetwise because he believed the suite wasn’t of satisfactory quality as required by law.
We agreed that the legal definition of satisfactory quality and fitness for purpose contained a number of elements which affirmed his stand, and he’d ended up with a raw deal.
The price indicated an upmarket product which he examined in the store for satisfactory comfort and firmness.
As a result he had a not unreasonable expectation the suite would remain in the same durable condition he experienced for a number of years and free from minor defects.
The shrinkage in the foam left unsightly indentations in the leather detracting from its appearance and finish, and the deterioration in the resilience had resulted in the seating being significantly less fit and comfortable than experienced at the time of purchase.
The foam used in the manufacture of the product clearly wasn’t up to the job and therefore unfit for purpose.
Crucially, he wasn’t given at the time of sale all the information he needed about the potential negative aspects of the product to make an informed purchasing decision.
Had he been told about it he wouldn’t have bought it.
As there are no substantive British or other international quality standards for upholstered furniture and substantial variations in the type and quality of the leather and foam used in its production, manufacturers were free to provide products to their own manufacturing specifications.
Rejection of quality complaints therefore amounted to little more than marking their own homework.
We got onto Oak Furnitureland on Graham’s behalf, and asked for their reaction.
A spokesperson said: ‘We stand by the two independent technicians’ reports which both confirm there’s no manufacturing fault in the sofa and recliners, and that the softening of the foam experienced by Mr Freake would be expected after one year's usage.
‘Our customers are really important to us and so, with Mr Freake’s permission, we are happy to contact him to discuss his concerns in more detail.’
Streetwise pressed the firm for further comment as their initial reaction didn’t address the specific points raised, but they weren’t in listening mode and refused to back down or even meet him halfway.
Graham wasn’t at all surprised. He said: ‘If all the leather suites they sell have the same problem then they’re on a sticky wicket.
‘The plain fact is that when the technicians told me about the 30 per cent displacement being the normal thing and not a manufacturing fault my argument to both of them was I’ve got friends who’ve had leather suites for 20 years and they’re still the same as when they bought them.’
We were disappointed to have drawn a blank with Oak Furnitureland. Hiding behind individual suppliers’ product standards to deflect customer complaints was transparently unfair.
We have advised Graham to take his case to trading standards as a significant number of people could be exposed to potentially misleading trading practices and detriment.
Streetwise will continue to back his stand. Watch this space.