Ultimate Guide To Recliners: Types, Materials, Colors, And More

What does recliner mean? Recliners are the main function, besides a couch, for living room furniture. In fact, a recliner is often the first piece of furniture someone gets for themselves, particularly if they live alone and like to hear the TV in the background. They can eat, sleep, relax and be entertained all in one place.

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The Beginning of Recliners

The Rocking Chair

The rocking chair was the very first stage of the recliners we know and love today. The wood on the rockers was especially soaked and curved over a mold for the rockers. Then, the wood was clamped and allowed to dry and harden. It was oiled over and over again to give it elasticity and flexibility before being attached to the legs of the chair.

The Armchair and Stool

The build and soft bulk of the recliner were obviously modeled after the comfort of a nice, cozy armchair. Rocking chairs were hard and uncomfortable, requiring woman after woman to create or buy a heavily padded, tying cushion for the back and seat of the rocking chair. The design and placement of the armchair cushioning was a perfect fit of the next stage of the modern recliner.

The Slider Chair with a Slider Stool

Porch gliders did not require any curved wood at all. You simply made a bench, a frame in which to set it, and swiveling dowels which kept it suspended in the frame so that people could glide back and forth on it. This allowed you to swing without being tilted forward and back. Soon, gliding chairs and matching footstools were common in living rooms.

The First Lean-Back Chair

The standard recliner has only two positions, upright and lean-back. The action can be taken through a lever on the side of the chair. The lever also keeps you in place so that you don’t slide back down to an upright position. This locking mechanism keeping both positions in place really defined modern recliners

Further Mechanization and Technology Added

Once we had those two positions in the chair, it was easy to start adding electricity, positioning controls, more than one locked position and so on in order to make your chairs even more comfortable.

Recliner Builds

The Standard Lever Recliner (one and two positions)

The first recliners only had one position other than upright. That was a position half-way between fully extended and sitting up. After two-position recliners came on the market, users could then lean the recliner all the way back for a type of sleeping position, which was much more comfortable.

The Electric Powered Recliner

Electricity made the recliner so much more usable for the elderly, for children, and for short or weak-muscled people. These were perfect for people who couldn’t simply push the recliner back into position or easily manage (or reach) the lever on the side.

The Lift (or Riser) Recliner (for Disabled People)

The recliner with a built-in riser or lift is able to raise the chair up and tilt it forward in a large, slow arc so that people can easily stand up completely with very little motion. This is perfect for the chronically ill or disabled and for people who are in the middle of rehabilitation and need a little bit more control than simply flopping into the chair.

The Wall-Hugging Recliner

This recliner is specifically designed to shove the entire seat of the recliner forward and up a little bit in order to accommodate space behind the upright position of the chair. With this type of recliner, you can have your recliners backed into a wall, but will still be able to position them correctly in an extended state as long as you have plenty of floor space in front of you. This type of chair requires you to have more space in front of the recliner than normal for it to be able to recline fully after sliding forward.

The Massage Recliner

Some high-end recliners have built-in massaging capabilities. You should always check these recliners out yourself, because not everyone can use this type of chair effectively or comfortable, depending upon their height and weight. Children, short people, the elderly, and overweight people need to try out massage chairs in person so that they can determine if it is even comfortable for them. For some people, their height and weight really make a difference if a massage roller keeps bonking them in the head or if the massage depth you thought you would have is really not strong enough for your size of a body. Always test drive massage recliners and make sure that they have everything you need them to have and that they fit your body well.

Colors and Materials

Brushed, Fuzzy Cloth

This is the most common type of recliner material, especially among lower-priced and used recliners. This is actually a fairly comfortable material and wears very well over time. You won’t have a lot of problems with dry, rough spots and it will look fairly nice in just about every type of living room, no matter what your color scheme is. This is because this type of material is slightly iridescent, making it an easy match with other color palettes. This type of material also comfortable to fall asleep on and to have next to your bare skin.

Sturdy, Woven Textile (stiff)

This material is less common in recliners, mostly because it is usually used in stiff, sturdy, modern office furniture, such as clean-cut couches on spindly metal frames or as a comfortable but practical seat in a waiting area. This material is not used on recliners very often, but sometimes it shows up. People often put a recliner cover over this type of material, because it is certainly not comfortable to fall asleep on.


This is the most common material for middle-market and high-end recliners. It is smooth, supple, luxurious, strong, and wear-resistant. However, it cannot be used around children or pets, because cuts, claws, lacerations, and accidental spills or bites are very possible.

Always use leather cleaner and supple leather balm on a regular basis on your leather recliner. It will keep the material from becoming dry, stiff, or cracked over time, particularly if sunlight falls on your chair sometimes.

Vinyl, Faux Leather, and More Unusual Covers

Vinyl is a very bad choice for a recliner and you should avoid it at all costs. It easily cracks, becomes old and stiff, cuts your skin and clothing, and sticks to your skin no matter what shape it is in.

Faux leather is being made more and more luxurious and it is a great way to have the experience of leather furniture while also being animal-friendly. A lot of high-end recliners have really supple (and more maintenance-friendly) faux leather.

More specialty materials are ordered by celebrities and rich people, such as genuine white tiger skin or real leopard’s fur. These are a little too specialized for our discussion here, though.

Colors and Your Home

Use a dark-colored recliner to add pop and depth to a light-colored room. Use black recliners to add depth and warmth to a medium brown or medium golden room.

Light-colored recliners go in an all-light room or as a way to make certain pieces of furniture look softer and more comfortable.

Do not use colored recliners (such as green, blue or red) unless they are specifically meant to be an accent piece in your room. Do not try to match a colored recliner to a theme in the room. Simple buy neutral colors for that and use colored accent pillows, instead. Pillows can be changed out when your mood dictates and the entire color theme of the living room does not have to be altered or a new recliner bought.


Built-In Remote Control

Many recliners have built-in remote controls that are universal in nature. You can program the remote with different functions on the TV. Since different buttons on the remote can perform a variety of functions, play around with a built-in remote and see if you want to change out function as you go along.

Cupholders, Caddies, and Magazine Racks

Be aware of your morning routine and your routine at night, during the big game, and when you are sick. If you have these things in mind when you buy a best recliner, then you know how many cupholders you need, how big they should be, whether or not you need a magazine rack, and if you keep a variety of necessary things in a nearby caddy or not. This is also a great way to make sure that you have a slight hiding place for easy to grab keys or loose change.

Built-In Heat and Massage Controls

If your chair comes with heat and/or massage, you will want to get out your instruction manual right now and look through the book to see how to replace important parts. This is something that you should do while you are in a good mood so that things don’t get confusing when a part breaks down and your relaxation is ruined.

Swivel Function

Most modern recliners come with a swivel function. This is typically manual and hard to reach so that you can turn your recliner to a new position without needing to drag it and push it back into place or without needing to get someone to help you.

Swivel functions are pretty common these days, so check out your new recliner thoroughly to see if it has this option. Also, see if the swivel is a friction-based turn or a locking-based turn. If it is friction based, it just requires some effort to swivel your chair. However, if it is locking based, you can actually freely swivel and spin your recliner around until your children or grandchildren (or you) are done playing with it and then you can simply lock it back in the right position again.

Attachments for People with Special Desires and Requirements

Rolling Massage Mat

This is most often attached to a regular, non-massaging recliner. Not only is it soft and deeply relaxing, but it is movable which means that you can roll it up and put it somewhere else if you think the kids will get into it too much.

Separate Lift Underneath

This is an attachment for regular recliners which people need to be made into lift recliners. Lift recliners can be up to $600 or $800 or more, so sometimes it is just helpful to have a lift underneath. Make sure that you check it thoroughly and attach it to the chair securely so that you don’t slip as you are being tilted.

Remote Control and DVD/Blu-Ray Controls

This is a less common attachment for a recliner because most people have free-range remotes. However, if you like the security (and not losing it!) of having a remote control attached to your chair, there are cords which are available for this purpose.

Radios and Speakers

This is a much more common feature and many people either get recliners with speakers built-in to the headrest or they had these features added if possible. This is a great way to hear your favorite shows, but still to have them at a volume that doesn’t disturb the entire household. It is also a great option for people who are hard of hearing.

Recliners are supposed to be relaxing, but sometimes the process of picking one out can seem overwhelming. Perhaps a trip through a department store would be helpful to you so that you can try out different models and experience different features in real-time. Enjoy your shopping and remember to check out the massage roller pads as an added attachment!