The History of Recliners: They Go Waaay Back

The History of Recliners: They Go Waaay Back

The evolution of recliners has been extraordinary in the past few decades, with designs to suit every décor and space.  The modern recliner can change multiple positions at the push of a button, charge your laptop, warm and massage your aching muscles, and even help you stand up. What’s not to love?

The recliner earned its seat of honor following a long and noble path around the globe that dates back thousands of years. From royalty to dentistry, wretched excess to wrenching extraction, this special chair has seen it all. Here’s a salute to the not-so-humble history of the recliner:

  • Peel me a grape. History’s first recliners may have belonged to the ancient Egyptians, whose lavish banquets took lounging to an art form. They wined and dined on daybeds called “klines” with intricately carved legs depicting animals, cushions, armrests, and headboards. During her 44-year reign, Queen Elizabeth I used a “stool” with a tasseled pillow to support her royal feet and spring mechanism that reclined in several positions. Monarchs such as King Philip II of Spain and Charles I of England enjoyed “sleeping chairs” with adjustable backs. Even the well-traveled Napoleon III used a portable, upholstered, reclining camp bed featuring padded arm rests and a steel frame. 
  • The tooth comes out. Long before Novocain, dental extractions were performed with patients lying on the floor – until French dental surgeon Pierre Fauchard elevated the procedure to a comfortable chair in the early 1700s. A century later, American dentist Josiah Flagg equipped a Windsor chair with a movable headrest, inspiring the first mechanical dental chair. By having patients in a reclining position, many procedures were eased for both patient and practitioner.
  • Reclining goes home. As the Civil War raged across the pond, British Arts and Crafts movement founder William Morris was busy designing the “Morris Chair” with cushions and a hinge. The Morris chair later inspired the 1901 Foot’s Adjustable Rest-Chair, with attachments for tables, reading desks, and lights; and Gustav Stickley’s 1901 American version – a rocker with velour-covered cushions and several reclining positions. 
  • American ingenuity takes off. In the late 1920s, Michigan cousins Edwin Shoemaker and Edward Knabush decided to pool their respective talents in engineering and marketing and sales, creating a blueprint for a reclining porch chair with a hinged seat and back. A Toledo department store buyer saw a market for a plush indoor version, and the La-Z-Boy recliner was born. Sold in a variety of upholstery designs, the La-Z-Boy name quickly became synonymous with recliners.

With so many options and styles now available, how do you choose a recliner? Here are five key points to consider:

  1. Carefully measure your space. Your recliner should be able to go back without bumping into walls or furniture and permit foot traffic to circle it freely.
  2. Pick a durable covering. In anticipation of frequent use, choose a quality, stain-resistant upholstery. Today’s options also include sustainable, antimicrobial, and pet-friendly.
  3. Care about what’s inside. Be sure the foam inside is certified through the CertiPUR-US® program, which means the foam meets rigorous standards for content, emissions, and durability.  Administered by a nonprofit organization established in 2008, the CertiPUR-US program has an excellent reputation and has earned the trust of consumer advocates. Find companies selling upholstered furniture (and mattresses) containing certified foam here. 
  4. Consider any special needs. Recliners take mobility and ease-of-use seriously. Are you left- or right-handed? Do you need lumbar or head rest support? Would you prefer push-button or manual reclining? Do you need heating and massaging? It’s all possible.

It’s always a good idea to take a recliner for a test drive before you make your decision. Put it through the paces in all positions and be sure it is easy to operate. The rest is up to you.

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