Em­braced by Baby Boomers, re­clin­ers get a makeover

The Commercial Appeal - - Home & Garden - MELISSA KOSSLER DUT­TON

In­clud­ing re­clin­ers in home dec­o­rat­ing projects used to be an in­te­rior de­signer’s night­mare, says Bon­nie Lewis, founder of 55+ TLC In­te­rior De­sign in Scotts­dale, Ari­zona.

But the easy chair has got­ten a face lift, thanks largely to Baby Boomers.

“Be­fore, this fur­ni­ture was strictly about the func­tion — mean­ing it could re­cline, but there wasn’t much to the aes­thet­ics of it,” says Lewis, whose firm spe­cial­izes in de­sign for older adults. “Be­cause Boomers want that cleaner-line look, it’s push­ing the man­u­fac­tur­ers to get on board.”

Re­clin­ers used to come in one pro­file: big and bulky, says Bruce Birn­bach, pres­i­dent and CEO of Amer­i­can Leather in Dal­las, Texas. “Ei­ther you wanted that look or you didn’t.”

To­day, he and his com­peti­tors of­fer re­clin­ers “in ev­ery size and shape and style,” he says.

Like other man­u­fac­tur­ers, La-Z-Boy, which in­tro­duced the re­cliner in 1928 and for years built a rep­u­ta­tion more on com­fort than on style, has added au­to­ma­tion to the chairs, and of­fers mod­els that are smaller and more stylish. But La-Z-Boy will never stop mak­ing the tra­di­tional chairs that made the com­pany’s name syn­ony­mous with re­clin­ers, says Penny Eudy, prod­uct man­ager of up­hol­stery for La-Z-Boy in Mon­roe, Michi­gan.

“We want to a cast a wider net to at­tract that more stylish con­sumer and get them com­ing in, but we want to do it with­out alien­at­ing the cus­tomers that we’ve al­ways had,” she says.

Eudy be­lieves re­clin­ers are the ideal chair for the mod­ern home: “We all are liv­ing more ca­su­ally and more com­fort­ably than we ever have,” she says.

The trend to­ward open liv­ing spa­ces means that cus­tomers are look­ing for fur­ni­ture that’s less for­mal but still eye-catch­ing, says Erin Berg, an as­so­ci­ate ed­i­tor at Fur­ni­ture To­day mag­a­zine in Greens­boro, North Carolina. Open floor plans mean there’s nowhere to hide an ugly re­cliner, and no place for a for­mal chair that’s not com­fort­able, she says.

New re­clin­ers’ smaller foot­print gives home­own­ers more flex­i­bil­ity, Berg says. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers of­fer a “wall-hug­ger” fea­ture: The seat moves for­ward when it re­clines, al­low­ing the chair to be placed against a wall.

Many re­clin­ing chairs, so­fas and sec­tion­als now plug in or run on bat­tery packs, al­low­ing them to do ev­ery­thing from charg­ing your phone to cool­ing your drink, while pro­vid­ing an ar­tic­u­lated head rest and lum­bar sup­port.

“To­day’s re­clin­ers have be­come sleek and smooth-func­tion­ing, com­bin­ing de­signer-qual­ity looks with en­gi­neer-qual­ity op­er­a­tions,” says Pa­tri­cia Bowling, a spokes­woman for the Amer­i­can Home Fur­nish­ings Al­liance, in High Point, North Carolina. “The Baby Boomers love their gad­gets. They love be­ing con­nected and they are do­ing that in ev­ery room of the house.”

Still, com­fort re­mains a pri­or­ity — par­tic­u­larly for an ag­ing gen­er­a­tion that’s ac­tive and has “a ten­dency to overdo it,” she says.

Berg says there are many more op­tions now for how the chairs’ backs re­cline and the footrests ex­tend.

Four out of ev­ery 10 re­clin­ers pur­chased in 2014 were for Boomer house­holds, ac­cord­ing to a Fur­ni­ture To­day study re­leased in 2015.

The va­ri­ety of new fab­rics and styles — in­clud­ing some re­clin­ers with legs — means that de­sign­ers no longer shy away from the chairs, Lewis says. “Be­fore, when a client wanted a re­cliner, you wor­ried that it was go­ing to ruin the whole look,” she says.

Lift chairs, which rise to help the oc­cu­pant stand, have also be­come more at­trac­tive, she says, mov­ing from in­sti­tu­tions into homes as home­own­ers look for ways to age in place.

“They’re not as slick as the plain re­cliner, but they’re get­ting there,” she says.

And as Baby Boomers down­size their homes, multi-func­tional fur­ni­ture like the re­cliner be­comes more im­por­tant, says Sarah Doo­ley, prin­ci­pal de­signer at Leedy In­te­ri­ors in Tin­ton Falls, New Jersey. “The fam­ily room be­comes the key room in the house,” she says. “It’s got to be liv­able and stylish, but func­tion is key.”

LEEDY IN­TE­RI­ORS VIA AP AMER­I­CAN LEATHER VIA AP

In­te­rior de­signer Sarah Doo­ley helped this baby boomer client in­cor­po­rate a sec­tional with re­clin­ing pieces into a room that com­bines com­fort and style. Amer­i­can Leather of­fers the stylish Ad­ley com­fort re­cliner.

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