Recliners: The big, the broad and the burly

Sources scale recliners to match bigger bodies of today’s Americans

Joan Gunin, November 15, 2006

Offering a feeling of plush relaxation, Catnapper's Big Comfort category includes the Sumo. The wide-body, 360-degree swivel-glider-recliner is part of the PURR-fect Glide collection. Retail, $499 fabric; $599 leather.

HIGH POINT -- Recliner manufacturers have been building big chairs for big people for decades, but as the national statistics on obesity rates have inched up over the last 20 years, producers have begun updating the category with even bigger seats.   Call it the broadening of America. These new recliners target more than the stereotypical football fan who's content to spend all day Sunday in his seat with a remote and an ample supply of beers and snacks. Today, more and more recliner companies are scaling products bigger because people are, in fact, larger. A growing concernIt's no secret that obesity is a huge health issue across the United States. The American Obesity Assn. estimates that 127 million Americans 20 years or older are overweight, with more than 60 million of them considered obese. The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980 with 16% — approximately 9 million children and teens aged 6 to 19 — considered overweight.

La-Z-Boy's Jagger chair-and-a-half recliner, with sculpted round edges, offers big individual comfort.

This trend has caused furniture makers to reconsider the dimensions of their seating products. In recliners, seat dimensions are being stretched as cushions expand from 16 inches to more than 20, backs are widened and leg chaise supports made roomier. In addition to the higher inch count, the underbellies of recliners are being strengthened to support the increased weight. And even the names of these new recliners — such as the Big Deal and the Beast — convey a sense of expansive girth. One motion executive compares buying a bigger recliner to buying shoes. If the shoe doesn't fit, you typically move up to the next size. This same logic is being applied to the recliner category. While Triton has been Flexsteel's original big people pleaser, "Customers were telling us they needed a bigger recliner," said Mark Hedden, director of sales and marketing, west. "Our

PeopLoungers' big push is on the Big Deal (right), sharply contrasted here with Kimberly, a diminutive ladies’ chair.

big man's chair was not a big man's chair anymore." Addressing this niche, Flexsteel introduced an even larger recliner — the Mountain — at the High Point Market last month. "The Triton was a big chair in that it will fit taller people, but it did not necessarily have the inside width to accommodate some," he said. "Big" doesn't always mean tall — it usually means wide, Hedden said. The Mountain has both a taller but wider seat capacity. "We tried to make the chair heavier — somewhere north of 350 pounds — for that big market," Hedden said.

Franklin scaled this sumptuous, oversized seat specifically for the larger person, weighing up to 450 pounds. Dressed in washed polyester, it measures 43 inches wide arm-to-arm and 22 inches inside.

The Mountain is reinforced with heavier foam as well as Flexsteel's standard spring-with-steel box. Flexsteel will add a power-lift mechanism to the Mountain, probably in time for the next High Point market in March, Hedden said. Aiming at big and smallCatnapper has had much success with its Big Comfort category over the past five years. The market for these seats, however, is not limited to the larger person, said Don Hunter, senior vice president, major accounts. "Small people also seek big comfort: They sleep in king-size beds and they drive large cars." With this line, Catnapper is "offering big plush comfort for total relaxation," Hunter said. "You're not limited in sizing and any member of the family can enjoy it."

For a big sit, Best Home Furnishings boasts both the Beast and the Mini-Beast, a downsized version in the same sturdy construction that is shown here. Addressing girth, The Beast's (No. 9B14) seat width is 22 inches, as compared to the smaller replica's (No. 9B24) 19.5 inches. Seat depth for the Beast is 27 inches, compared to the 23.5-inch Mini-Beast.

Catnapper calls its wide-body model the Sumo. Part of its PURR-fect Glide collection, the swivel-glide recliner is built on a wider, reinforced frame. Hunter also emphasized that consumers see a greater perceived value in a larger chair. "You get a larger, comfortable chair with 360-degree swivel, glider and full recliner functions for $499 (in fabric)," Hunter said. A leather cover is $100 more. At 49 inches high and a width of 43 inches arm-to-arm and 22 inches inside, the Manhandler from Franklin is "designed to handle an extremely large individual," said Chuck Tidwell, vice president of merchandising and product development. The typical width for a recliner is from 36 to 37 inches across, he said. Serving the big chair category since the early 1990s, Frank-lin offers different styles to suit the individual's "ergonomic desires," be they big and tall or short and squat, Tidwell said. A standard Franklin recliner will support from 250 to 275 pounds, he said. But Franklin's expanded collection — featuring hardwood as well as interlocking mortis and tenon joints — supports up to 450 pounds on wall proximity chairs. Built to last"We scale it for that size individual," Tidwell said. "These people don't use recliners like we do. The 'wearability' of the armrest is important, too; they use the arms like crutches to bear down on because it is often especially hard for them to get up." The seats are bulked up with six springs in each cushion — one or two more than ordinary. Higher-density, profile-cut foam is used to provide a firmer grip, and higher compressions are utilized to dissipate weight load.

Leather Italia USA boasts big value with its biggest seat, the Davis. The seating area on this rocker-recliner measures 41 inches across. In a full-grain, natural leather cover, it's $599 retail.

In addition, the manufacturer uses durable, performance fabrics with extra-strength Marquesa olefin yarns from American Yarns & Fibers. The recliner mechanism itself is beefed up with ribbing and embossing in major stress areas. Franklin also offers a bariatric chair for those in need of a chair as medical device. Built to support an individual weighing up to 600 pounds, who may be unable to recline or to get up on their own, the chair employs separate motors for the lift and recliner functions. Measuring 30 inches arm-to-arm, this chair qualifies for Medicare reimbursement for those in need, Tidwell said. Leather Italia USA has dubbed the Davis the largest rocker-recliner in its collection. Dressed in full-grain natural leather, the rocker-recliner boasts a 41-inch-wide seat (46 inches outside panel to outside panel) and is retail priced at $599. Value plus comfort

The largest recliner in the Flexsteel series, Mountain accommodates broad as well as tall with an extra-wide seat. Reinforced with dense foam as well as Flexsteel's standard spring- with-steel box, a power-lift version will join the line next year.

"Buyers come in and look for the value first," said President Michael Campbell. "They see the scale of these and realize the value is tremendous, along with the comfort. These (big chairs) are great sellers."Best Home Furnishings also has enjoyed substantial growth in the recliner category in the past 10 years, particularly with small ladies’ chairs and overstuffed recliners.

Three years ago, Best took the next step and introduced the Beast, a giant of a chair with a 21.5-inch-wide seat and beefed-up construction.

Available in both chaise and non-chaise versions, the model features strong seven-gauge steel (instead of the typical six) coil seating with high-density foam cushioning for equal weight distribution, Advertising Coordinator Eric Vollmer said. Comparing its plush comfort to that of a bed, Vollmer added that "it's for heavier people who might not be tall." Best followed its introduction of the Beast with the Mini-Beast, featuring the same sturdy construction on a slightly smaller scale.

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