With their 21st century engineering, stylish fabrics and sleek lines, recliners have come a long way. Many, in fact, don’t look like recliners at all. “The latest recliners – even lift recliners – are sculptural highlights, not space hogs,” the American Home Furnishings Alliance tells us.
Still, many hear the word “recliner” and recall the behemoth creation in their parents’ den, college frat house or buddy’s basement. These recliners still exist. Maybe duct tape has become necessary. Maybe the reclining mechanism doesn’t operate so smoothly anymore.
Occasionally, you might even spot one at curbside – topped with a blanket of snow rather than a knitted throw. Has it been replaced by a newer model? One can only wonder.
Recliners of various styles and functions – be they in dentist offices or hair salons, movie theaters or family rooms – have history. Here are a few things we dug up, especially regarding the evolution of the ones parked in front of TVs today, ready for kickoff.
1. The BarcaLounger, which dates back to the 1940s, was created and built at the former Barcalo Manufacturing Co. in Buffalo. The company later moved to North Carolina and today operates in Tennessee.
2. Adjustable reclining chairs in the form of outdoor steamer chairs and deck chairs became popular in the second half of the 19th century, writes Witold Rybczynski in “Now I Sit Me Down: From Klismos to Plastic Chair: A Natural History.” An indoor reclining chair – the Morris chair – appeared during the same period, he notes. Read on:
3. Rybczynski writes this: “The Morris chair, designed by the Arts and Crafts architect Philip Webb and named after his friend William Morris, was a low wooden armchair with a hinged back whose angle could be altered by degrees. The design migrated to the United States where, adapted by Gustav Stickley, it became a staple of the Craftsman style.”
4. La-Z-Boy brought out its first recliner in 1928 – a wood slat chair. Its ad slogan in the 1930s was: “Recline, Relax and Recuperate.”
5. La-Z-Boy was one of the first home furnishings companies to utilize sports personalities to endorse their product. TV and radio ads featured football greats Joe Namath, Don Shula, Rick Forzano and Bo Schembechler. Bassett unveiled its John Elway Home Collection in 2004, which included recliners. Naturally.
6. La-Z-Boy introduced the Oasis recliner in 1999. Among its features: a built-in cooler and motor massage unit with heat. In a 2001 episode of NBC’s “Friends,” Rachel broke Joey’s beloved BarcaLounger (named “Rosita”) and replaced it with a La-Z-Boy, reported Entertainment Weekly ‑ a modified version of the Oasis with a different name.
7. Joey may have named his recliner Rosita, but writers through the years have used less affectionate terms for the recliners of yesteryear: Bulbous blob. Ugly duckling. Dad chair. Bubba. Puffy living room brute. Mastodon-inspired.
8. Recliners come in all sizes. Best Home Furnishings, for one, offers a range from Petite to Medium to the Beast.
9. Perhaps the ugliest recliner seen on TV was the one favored by character Martin Crane on NBC’s “Frasier.” Actor John Mahoney, who played Frasier’s father, once described it this way to the Chicago Tribune: “A godawful fabric but it’s extremely comfortable. Everybody sits on it. When we rehearse, it would take an act of Congress to get the grips or cameramen out of the chair ... It’s truly the most comfortable chair I have ever sat in.”
10. Pamela Witte, owner of White Orchard Home Furnishings in Orchard Park, said that because today’s recliners don’t look like recliners, she puts signs on them in the store that read: “Yes, I am a recliner.” Or: “Yes I am a power recliner.”
Information for this story came from Buffalo News archived articles, La-Z-Boy, “Now I Sit Me Down: From Klismos to Plastic Chair: A Natural History,” by Witold Rybczynski (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25) and other sources.