Today's recliners are comfortably stylish

August 01, 1993|By Glenn Helmers | Glenn Helmers,Contributing Writer

There was a time when buying a reclining chair meant your taste in decorating was about as sophisticated as Archie Bunker's.

"Pop the beer can, kick back in your clunky recliner, and watch TV -- that's the image most people have always associated with reclining chairs," says Philip Cooper, director of merchandising for Barcalounger.

In the past decade manufacturers have been bending over backward, so to speak, to fight this image problem. "Fifteen years ago, recliners had a pretty bad reputation in terms of style and fabrics, especially among women clients," says Greg Logsdon, a designer with Texas furniture retailer Louis Shanks. "Today, I'm seeing a great deal of crossover with women -- the wing chair recliner is a clear favorite with women who, at one time, would never have even considered owning a recliner."

The news in recliners is the surprising variety of designs, from club chairs to sectional sofas, that marry comfort, utility and style -- yes, style. There are press-back models, which require a gentle push back and lock into several positions; chaise recliners, which, like chaises longues, have no gaps between chair seat and foot rest; models where the reclining mechanism is operated with a lever hidden between the cushion and the arm or a simple button (both considerably more discreet than the old handles); and sofas with reclining backs and foot rests.

Other chairs simply feature tilting seat backs, relying on accompanying ottomans to provide support for the legs. This is a big draw for some design fans, who don't care for the "dentist chair" look of a fully outstretched recliner in their living rooms.

Current decorating trends are making waves in the once predictable world of recliners. American country and lodge style a la Ralph Lauren are looks that homeowners, weary of the formality of '80s-era damask, tassels and gilding, have been eagerly embracing. Motion manufacturers are right in step.

Mission and Shaker?

Barcalounger is coming out with recliners modeled after two uniquely American furniture styles, mission and Shaker. "It's American history, the early craftsmen, revisited with modern technology," says Barcalounger's Phil Cooper. Similarly, La-Z-Boy, not exactly renowned for fashion-forward statements, plans to unveil mission-inspired chairs this fall. Already offering an adaptation from the now popular arts and crafts period is movie star Robert Redford's Sundance catalog, a direct-mail compendium of Wild West furnishings, accessories and clothes..

The Victorian era is another period that has generated a great deal of enthusiasm in the home design magazines and elsewhere. Perhaps that's because most Victorian furniture is now appreciated as antique, having passed the 100-year mark. And while designers aren't doing rooms up in head-to-toe Victorian fashion, they are using furniture from the 19th century more and more. There are no vintage recliners (two brothers, the founders of La-Z-Boy, concocted the idea in the 1920s) but modern choices do exist. A wonderful example is the Estate press-back recliner introduced last fall by Barcalounger. It has all the markings of a classic Victorian chair, including the telltale shape and silhouette and the turned wooden feet.

While the mania for iron, steel and other metals has swept through design circles in recent years, you won't find it embellishing recliners. You can, however, find wicker.

"Sun rooms are the No. 1 addition for homes today, and wicker is the natural product for that environment," says Tom Black, vice president of sales and merchandise for Wicker by Henry Link, a )) division of Lexington Furniture. The company's three recliners -- two in wicker, one in pencil rattan -- are especially popular in second homes, in areas along the coast, and in Florida. Not surprisingly, these are places where people want both wicker and a relaxing environment.

Cutting edge

The challenge of creating recliners on the cutting edge of style has been taken up by the Swedish furniture company IKEA, known for selling spare Scandinavian chic at a low price. Due to debut in IKEA's 12 U.S. stores this summer are two original designs: One of the recliners features a rolled arm, skirted bottom and a glider base; the other is a three-position press-back model in a biomorphic shape straight out of the 1950s. These are chairs hip enough to make it in Paris, and indeed that is what IKEA hopes will happen. The company intends to export the all-American phenomenon of the recliner to Europe.

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