At the risk of being unpopular, I’m going to say it out loud: It’s probably not a good idea to reupholster your recliner. There. It’s out in the open. Now let’s talk about why.
Contemporary recliners (meaning ones manufactured in the last 20 years) have become a fixture in a lot of houses. Unlike most furniture, which is built for aesthetics as well as usage, recliners are created solely for comfort. They cradle us like newborns as we watch tv, take naps, and kick back with a cold one at the end of the work day. They are even made with lift assist motors for folks who aren’t able to easily remove themselves from the pillowy softnesss.
So what’s so bad about that you ask? Well we can tell you.
First off, all of that squishy padding is not foam. Quality foam is one of the largest expenses in the furniture industry, so to keep prices competitive, manufacturers often use polyester batting and low density foam in their upholstered furniture. Both of these products break down quickly during the extensive “quality time” we spend in our recliners, creating unsupportive seats, and flat arms, as well as hollow backs with no lumbar support. The chair that fit you like a glove when it was new, now 2-3 years later is a lumpy eyesore that makes your back hurt.
Secondly, that mechanism lifting your feet up and down several times a day is now made with rivets, rather than bolts, so it will loosen over time with heavy use. Can that be fixed? Rarely. We often recommend contacting the manufacturer to find out about warranty claims and service calls. No tags? Company is no longer in business? Then you’re looking at replacing the chair.
And can we get a little personal here for a second? How much time do you spend in your recliner every day? Ballpark. Now multiply it by how old it is. When was it last cleaned? Do you sleep in it? Have you fluffed the cushions, or vacuumed it? There isn’t a lot of furniture that can hold up to that amount of attention and neglect and still do its job. Even your mattress gets flipped and rotated at least once a year.
Another thing to consider is economy. Now I will be the last person to suggest that furniture should be disposable, but a lot of it is being made that way. Recliners are rarely considered investment pieces, and with online retailers selling them for under $300, and American recliner companies selling them for under $700, reupholstery can rarely compete with replacement cost.
Here are a few options to consider if you want something to replace that old recliner with a better piece of furniture.
Eames-style loungers are a timeless modern piece, with ergonomic support and a comfortable pitch to the back giving you all of the support of a recliner, without the huge footprint and Stay-Puft aesthetic. The real ones are expensive, but there have been many companies making stylish reproductions for decades.
Mid-century recliners have all of the lumbar support without taking up the whole room. The Scandinavian design is minimalist, but built to the proportions and scale of the human body, and can often be found with a matching ottoman or small footrest to take a load off.
High end recliners do exist, with Ekornes and American Leather offering pieces with high quality padding, frames and mechanisms. Treated well, these pieces will give you exponentially more life and comfort than the cheaper alternative, and are worth recovering when or if it eventually becomes necessary.