The history and evolution of the recliner armchair

history of recliner armchair

When you hear the word ‘recliner’ you probably think of a comfy, plush and spacious leather couch or lazy boy. But the chronicle backdating this iconic armchair goes even further than the bygone days of a  stereotypical 1950s man relaxing in a recliner reading the newspaper while his wife brings his slippers and sees to the affairs of the household. The classic recliner, which can be found in various forms in modern South African homes, dates back to the 1850s when they were used by the French military as a reclining bed that could be easily transported from camp to camp for relaxation. 

The bulky recliner armchair designs of the 19th century might have only been reserved for leaders, royalty and military personnel, but these beloved armchairs have evolved to find space in various middle and working-class homes in the 21st century. 

Let’s backtrack and learn a little about the origins of this popular armchair:

Etymology of the recliner armchair

The word ‘recliner’ comes directly from the Latin ‘reclinare’, which means ‘to be bent back, to lean back, cause to lean’. It was later modernised by the French in the early 15th century to mean ‘rest, lay or bend over’. The term ‘recliner’ gained popularity in the 1660s in France as a noun from ‘recline’ and later, in the 1880s, ‘recliner’ was used to describe the type of comfy chair that we know today.

man cave recliner

History of the recliner armchair

Who would have guessed that the recliner’s precursor came as early as 1790? It was then that dentist Josiah Flags added a movable headrest to his Windsor writing chair, which was used to make the dentist’s visit more comfortable for patients.

dentist's recliner

Later, in 1850, the recliner was introduced by the French military as a reclining bed which could be transported from one camp to another. This earliest known recliner featured a steel frame and padded armrests. One of these recliners was said to be owned by Napoleon III, nephew of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. (Who said this armchair was not revolutionary?)

During the 1860s, philosopher and designer William Morris introduced the ‘Morris Chair’ to the world. It featured a back and seat made with bars to put cushions on and it moved on a hinge. 

morris chair

It was only in the late 1920s that American cousins, Edward Knabush and Edwin Shoemaker, received a patent for a wooden bench recliner which led the way to become the well-known La-Z-boy armchair. By 1930, the cousins patented an upholstered model which allowed people to lean back with the help of levers on the side of the chair.

Evolution of the recliner armchair

Soon after the La-Z-boy became popular, multiple brands began marketing recliner armchairs with various bells and whistles to make them the ultimate symbol of comfort, relaxation and style. (Think seat warmers, motorisation, vibration, cup holders etc.).

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the recliner has been popularised in movies and TV series to become the choice place for the patriarchal ‘man of the house’ to relax at the end of a stressful day at the office. Who can forget Martin Crane’s worn-out recliner in Fraiser? Or Friends characters Joey and Chandler’s excitement when they bought matching leather lazy boys to relax in while being waited on hand and foot?

These once colossal armchairs have slimmed down (in some cases) and taken on different uses. Today, they are commonly seen in nurseries to assist parents with feeding and putting their bundles of joy to sleep. They have also adapted to include 2-seater, 3-seater, corner units, home theatre recliners and chairs on aeroplanes, trains and buses which allow passengers to take a nap en route. Who knows what the design future holds for recliners? 

corner recliner

Find just the right one to suit your home at Recliner Online

With quality brands to suit your taste and prices to suit your pocket, you’re sure to find the perfect recliner for your home at Recliner Online. And whether you’re in search of a corner suite for a large living room or a single-seater armchair for your stereotypical man cave, we have the lounger for you.

Our luxurious recliners are locally-made and guaranteed to last. You also needn’t wait weeks for delivery or save for months for one of these historic chairs to feature in your home.

Simply click, kick back and put your feet up with our flexible payment options.