The Uncomfortable Tale of How Recliners Took Over American Living Rooms
Sit back and put your feet up for this one, y’all.
Recliners are about as synonymous with American leisure time as baseball and Budweiser. In fact, if you walk into any living room in America, you’re pretty much can guaranteed to find a well-worn, over-stuffed reclining chair waiting patiently by the television.
Many people assume that we owe the invention of the great American recliner to La-Z-Boy, whose iconic design has dominated U.S. living rooms for nearly a century. But as Apartment Therapy recently pointed out, the tale of everybody’s favorite chair actually begins in the late 1700s, and it originated in the last place you’d ever associate with comfort: a dentist’s office.
According to Apartment Therapy, the recliner was born in 1790 at the hands of an enterprising dentist named Josiah Flagg. The Boston-based dentist unknowingly kicked things off when he added a movable headrest to a Windsor writing chair to make his patients more comfortable. Fast forward to 1832, that’s when James Snell is credited with creating the first mechanical dental chair. In Snell’s version, patients could lean back in the adjustable chair and the footrest would automatically rise up, paving the way for generations of dentist chairs to come.
But early versions of the recliners we know and love today didn’t come onto the scene until the 1860s, when William Morris—the creator of the Arts and Crafts movement—introduced the Morris Chair to the world. The original Morris Chair, which launched in Europe, featured cushions and moved on a hinge. By 1880 people were referring to the adjustable chairs as recliners.
An updated version of the Morris Chair finally found its way to the U.S. around 1901 when Gustav Stickley's design company introduced their take on it. Its plush cushions and ability to recline to multiple angles made it an instant success stateside. Around the same time Americans were introduced to Foot's Adjustable Rest-Chair, which not only reclined, but also featured attachments for tables, reading desks and even lights. Its over-stuffed shape is nearly identical to the ones we sit on today.
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In 1928, American cousins Edward Knabush and Edwin Shoemaker forever changed the lounging game when they filed a patent application for a reclining wooden bench 1928. Later, the cousins would go on to found La-Z-Boy. And even today, their company is so successful that most people refer to all recliner simply as “La-Z-Boys.”
And they’re not going anywhere any time soon.
"For better or worse, the recliner provides the ultimate comfort in living room seating and is here to stay," interior designer Lauren Behfarin told Apartment Therapy. "So I try to help clients find the most stylish way to incorporate them when they are requested."
"When we think of reclining chairs we think of the classic La-Z-Boy, kick your feet up, and watch some TV while eating dinner kind of moment," she continued. "But the recliner has come a long way since then, still providing comfort but looking a lot more sophisticated than those two chairs Chandler and Joey had in Friends."
Sorry ladies, but it looks like that worn out recliner is here to stay.