The Everlasting Appeal of the La-Z-Boy Recliner | Architectural Digest

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Growing up, there was a particular moment at my grandparents’ house when my grandpa would leave the living room—perhaps to check on something in the oven or get ready for a bike ride to the beach—and I would stop whatever I was doing to take a seat in his empty chair. His seat was a large, cushy recliner upholstered (by my grandma) in a sensible neutral of perfectly worn denim or corduroy. The way that old chair felt can be described as no better than pure comfort. I’d sit back, pull the lever, and lean back with my legs extended in bliss. The chair represented a well-lived life, a preservation of relaxation, and it never moved from being the centerpiece of the room. This is the everlasting appeal of the La-Z-Boy recliner: an emphasis on comfort above all else.

“It’s a universal need, it’s a timeless truth that rest and relaxation need to be part of life,” says Christy Hoskins, chief marketing officer at La-Z-Boy. “When I even think back to the first porch chair, that style that reclined, unwinding the body in that new way was an innovation in comfort.”

The top selling La-Z-Boy recliner models are the Pinnacle (here), Morrison, Trouper, and Finley. “We want to continue for [the recliner] to resonate and be a powerful part of people’s homes for many, many years,” says Christy. “I think our magic combination is comfort, which comes from the textures, the fabrics, the cushion, and fill that we use, but also the motion piece, and all the ways you can recline, or put your feet up, unwind the body.”

Although La-Z-Boy is to the recliner what Kleenex is to the tissue, the brand didn’t start off making the plush chairs that likely come to mind. During the mid-1920s, cousins Edward M. Knabusch and Edwin J. Shoemaker founded Floral City Furniture Company in Monroe, Michigan, and began producing novelty furniture like the “Gossiper,” a piece which allowed people to sit, phone, and store things. Next came a chair for “nature’s way of relaxing,” which was a wood-slat folding chair that followed the contour of a person’s body, both sitting and leaning back. In refining the porch chair concept and listening to the voice of consumers, the indoor recliner came next. This 1929 invention was so iconic that it eventually led to the name change of the company (other contenders like Sit-N-Snooze, Slack-Back, and Comfort Carrier were considered), and the image of a cushy seat burned in your mind: the upholstered La-Z-Boy recliner.

Nearly a hundred years later, the La-Z-Boy recliner has hardly wavered as a favorite across the country. Even more so, the chair has maintained a place in memory, nostalgia, and popular culture. “If you quiz a room of people, I know you would come across several [people] that have stories to share of it in their grandparent’s house, or in their parent’s house, or a chair that they took to college with them,” says Christy. “La-Z-Boy shows up in culture. It has this emotional power and life of its own.” The recliner has been featured on Friends, Frasier, Stranger Things, but also on podcasts and late night shows.

Martin Crane’s ducktape-covered La-Z-Boy on Fraiser.

Of course, the love for the La-Z-Boy recliner has an almost equal amount of revulsion, particularly when talking about the aesthetics. An unscientific survey of high-design enthusiasts resulted in many people shuttering at the thought of a hulking beige chair in their living room. When trying to find an attractive recliner after having a baby, author and curator Fanny Singer described her search results as heinous. The recliner she settled on is covered with quilts in order to bear the sight of.

Interior designer Lauren Waters shared the fact that her uncle, who owns beautiful vacation rentals around the coast of California, fills the space with gray leather La-Z-Boys (the sight of them as the focal point of the space drives her insane). Beige and gray, after all, are the most popular colors for La-Z-Boy recliners which reign during the ongoing greige era. And yet, even when a celebrity like Kristen Bell publicly scoffs at her husband’s desire of bringing such a chair into their home, she buys the chair and becomes a La-Z-Boy brand ambassador.

“For decades, the La-Z-Boy has carried with it a sense of relief—physically (of course), but also in terms of social expectation,” says David Michon, author of the furniture-focused newsletter For Scale. “It defies polite decor as the blemish on a ‘put together’ room, at once the most uncouth but most welcoming seat.”

L.A. Door’s L.A. Lazy lounge chair as seen in the Neutra VDL House.

“They are a staple in the American home,” insists Katie Jean Payne, who co-owns L.A. Door, an experimental furniture lab that has created their own take on the iconic chair. “We were already excited about the product but wanted to elevate it to a higher level of design.” For their L.A. Lazy lounge chair, the duo used different materials and details that shifted the design just enough to make you stop in your tracks.

But Katie notes that when you really think about the original recliner, you realize it shares traits of many other highly sought after chairs. “They’re not cheap. They have waitlists. They have the same kinds of lead times as other high design furniture.” Where fast furniture has us replacing our sofas on a yearly basis, La-Z-Boy maintains a lifetime guarantee. “I think this is why people have them forever,” she adds. “They don’t break.”

Katie remarks on the way people light up when they see her versions of the recliner on display, as seen above. “It’s amazing to see this nostalgia kick in with people’s eyes and their hearts.” She shared the same kinds of stories of grandparents and childhood.

Once a La-Z-Boy recliner becomes part of your life, it becomes part of your family—and your body. The emphasis is always on comfort. “La-Z-Boy represents ultimate laziness (it is in the name!) when society demands of us hyper-productivity to support even basic living,” concludes David. “In this way, it is practically anti-capitalist.” The chair defies odds, holding steady in its position despite a changing world around it.

Condé Nast research librarian Stan Friedman won the 2008 ESPN Zone Ultimate Couch Potato Competition after more than 29 hours of continuous sports viewing—while sitting in a recliner. Despite his tiny apartment, his prizewinning recliner is a focal point. “It'll be really hard to get out of my apartment even if I wanted to get rid of it…. People fight over who gets to sit in the chair.”

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The Everlasting Appeal of the La-Z-Boy Recliner | Architectural Digest

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