Recliners in Design: Yay or Nay?

February 13, 2013

The debate continues between husbands and wives about how to mix his and her tastes, and one of the common requests by husbands (yes I’m generalizing!) is the placement of a big ol’ recliner smack dab in front of a giant screen. I’ll admit, there’s something comforting about the feeling of certain cushioning recliners for the television and movie watching experience, but the look?  I’ll just say it: I’m not a fan. Raise your hand if you’re with me.

Kathy M. recently wrote to this to me. “How can I incorporate a leather recliner in a design plan for my main living area? My husband is insistent!” I invited contributing writer and interior designer Courtney of Courtney Out Loud to tackle this topic, please welcome him back with his thoughts on the issue of recliners in interior decorating. 

“I don’t think I have ever met anyone who has ever said they want their home to be an uncomfortable and uninviting place. Mind you, that everyone has a different concept of what that is, but I think I can safely say that home is where we all go at the end of the day to kick off your shoes, let down your hair, and relax.

So it comes as little surprise when clients come to me and ask for interiors that exemplify those ideals of comfort. Kate came to me with a question from one of her readers on how to integrate a recliner into her home, I had a moment of pause. To be honest, I still have flashbacks of the large, over-stuffed leather recliners that seemed to dominate the 70s and 80s living rooms. To me, they exemplify an overly relaxed way of addressing a client’s need for comfort.

However, I firmly believe you can still have a place to put up your feet without sacrificing style. Incorporating a recliner into your room is simple as these rules: Reimagine It, Scale It, or Forget It.

Reimagine It.   Canadian designer Meredith Heron, believes that recliners can work in any space but they shouldn’t look like recliners. "I use recliners in many of my rooms" states Heron. "But I do them all custom which allows me the greatest control." In the example below, Heron reimagined the traditional leather recliner as a pair of streamlined, velvet club chairs that flow effortlessly into her pale grey and cream palette. 

merideth heron recliners in living room

Meredith Heron Designs

Stephen Tomar and Stuart Lampert of Tomar Lampert Associates followed a similar approach to Heron in creating the pair of channel back recliners in the serene shade  that serves as the focal point in a monochromatic room.

Tomar Lampert Associates

Tomar Lampert Associates 

Takeaway: If budget allows, a custom upholstered recliner allows you to all the creature comforts of a recliner without sacrificing any style (see also some of Kate’s picks below).

Scale It.   Typically, I love big things. Huge things. The more oversized the better, as they relate to accessories, artwork and lighting. However, when it comes to furniture, pieces should always be balanced and in scale with the room, which is why I have a hard time with recliners. I find many to be bulky white elephants that clients try to shoehorn into a space. They are the furniture equivalent of bullies, forcing all the other furniture in the space to the edges of the room.

Fortunately, retailers have taken heed and are producing some fantastically sleek and deliciously modern takes on recliners. Mid-century modern lovers will undoubtedly love the classic lines of the Milo Baughman Recliner 74 by Design Within Reach. The walnut legs elevate the body of the chair making it less bulky than its current counterparts and the wispy arms along with the elongated back create a frame that is less ballerina than lumbering lumberjack. The sense of lightness and airiness of the piece isn’t overpowering and won’t overwhelm a room.

milo baughman recliner

Design Within Reach


For those of you who prefer a more traditional take on the recliner, I would suggest the Juno Recliner from Room and Board. The modified wing chair style of this recliner makes it the perfect transitional piece that can find itself equally comfortable in a traditional room as well as a contemporary room. Additionally, when the chair is in fully reclined position, it takes up marginal extra space which means it doesn’t need the "runway" that many of the traditional recliners needed in order to have proper access to fully recline.

Room and Board_Juno Recliner

Room & Board

Takeaway:  Just like any piece of furniture, a recliner needs to be in scale with the other objects in the room. A recliner too big can adversely affect not only the design but a room’s traffic flow.

Forget It.  Just like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, sometimes you just need to let go. Just take a deep breath and let the idea of a recliner go. Ahhhhh. Better? Good, because there are often times when a recliner just won’t work. Lack of floor space. Budget constraints. The fear of alienating your spouse and causing a divorce. You know…the little stuff. In these cases, I suggest that you break down what aspects of the recliner you found enjoyable and wanted to replicate in your own home.

david churchill recliner

David Churchill

In the case of this room from the portfolio of architectural photographer David Churchill, the designer made the deliberate choice to use a lounge chair and ottoman. This combo serves the function of allowing the home owner to put his/her feet up just as you would with a recliner. But they also get additional seating in a pinch, something that a recliner can’t offer. From a design stance, I like that the designer chose to inject a different chair silhouette into the room and not mimic the boxiness of the club chair in the far corner with a traditional recliner.

Gardner Mohr Architects

Gardner Mohr Architects

Now if you truly wanted to recline, why not ditch the chair and get a chaise? A chaise, if you have the room, is a strong design statement that equal parts style and comfort. The cowhide chaise that Gardner Mohr Architects place into their above design serves as a beautiful focal point to their room but I can easily envision the clients lounging reading a magazine with a glass of coffee (or wine).

Takeaway: An ottoman or a chaise can easily up the comfort factor in a room and take the place of a recliner.

In closing, while I may never be a cheerleader for recliners, I am a huge proponent of creating spaces that are comfortable and livable. Your home should be a reflection of how you use the space, but remember a recliner isn’t the only way of having the luxury of propping your feet up at the end of a long day.”

I agree with Courtney, oversized recliners are not a favorite choice among many designers for the reasons he stated, but so many people remain a fan of them for comfort.  I think the key to successfully incorporating them into your room if they are an absolute “must” is to make a stylish modern choice. Skip the poufy overstuffed versions with skirts and choose the more tailored styles with visible legs for main living spaces in quality leather or neutral upholstery. Win win!

Seven Stylish Recliners

From the top: Milo Baughman at Design Within Reach; Juno at Room & Board; Riley from La-Z-Boy; Bentley by Ethan Allen; Flight recliner at Design Within Reach; Sinclair recliner at Crate + Barrel; Sedgwick by West Elm.


What are your thoughts on the recliner debate? Have you accepted or rejected them in your living space planning? 

*article by Courtney of Courtney Out Loud, interior designer and lifestyle blogger.



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