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Recliner vs. Bean Bag

A woman lounging at a balcony atop colorful beanbag chairs.

You must make many decisions about the furnishing of your home. Do you want an elegant and old-fashioned look? Or do you want a more fun and exciting atmosphere?

The seating you purchase will to a large extend answer these questions for you. If you prefer a traditional armchair, then you will lean toward buying a recliner. If you want the kind of seating that invites a bit of play and sociability, then you will certainly consider a bean bag chair.

These are two very different types of furniture. You should learn all about them before you spend your money.

What is a Recliner?

A woman lounging on a black leather recliner chair.

The recliner is one of the oldest types of armchairs on the market. It has been a living room favorite for generations and the various styles and designs have kept up with changing tastes. A recliner is an armchair that is composed of a front piece and backrest. It reclines be the raising of the former and the lowering of the latter.

The chair is designed so that you can stretch your body fully on it.

What is a Bean Bag Chair?

A man sitting on a beanbag chair at the office.

A bean bag chair is a product of 1960s radicalism, which, though the fact has been largely forgotten by the public, went well past art and politics and into the realm of interior design (more of this below). The bean bag chair, also known as the Sacco chair, consists of a great sack that is filled and shaped by beads.

The chair is designed to take the shape of the person sitting in it—or rather, the parts of their body in it. Instead of the firmness and solidity of a conventional chair, bean bags offer comfortable shifting and variability.

Features of Recliners and Bean Bags

It is not possible to create an exhaustive list of recliner and bean bag designs and models. There are simply too many of them. What follows is a summary of the general features of each type of furniture and the most popular designs available on the market.

Recliners in General

A man lounging and listening to music on a recliner.

A recliner consists of a headrest, footrest, and backrest. You have the option of buying additional accessories to add further comfort. The lumbar support pillow is a favorite, as it is designed to conform to the natural curvature of the back.

If you have lower back problems—and nearly everyone at some point has this kind of problem—then a lumbar support pillow may give you the relief that you need. You can also buy a recliner that includes a massage and heating function.

These recliners turn the backrest into a kind of heating pad that can soothe and heal your back on days when it is especially troublesome. The more advanced heated recliners also vibrate to give you even more relaxation and relief.

You can buy a manual or a powered recliner. With some manual recliners, you must use your body weight to lean back in the recline position and extend the footrest. In others, you recline simply by pulling an attached side lever.

Powered recliners are driven by an electric motor. You are taken into a recline position by hitting a switch on the armrest or side of the chair.

Recliners by Design

The most popular recliner designs are as follows:

1. The Two-Position Recliner

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This is still the most popular recliner on the market. As the name suggests, it has two positions: upright and reclined. In most models, you adjust the recliner manually—with either your bodyweight or a lever on the side. However, there are powered two-position recliners.

2. Rocker Recliner

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This recliner, as the name suggests, can be used as a rocking chair. If you find it hard to fall to sleep in bed, it may help to spend a few hours in this recliner before turning in. The armchair is also popular with nursing mothers, as it helps to relax babies during feeding time.

3. Swivel Recliner

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This recliner rests on a circular base, which gives the sitter the option of spinning around to speak to and engage with others. With this armchair, you can at once relax in repose and involve yourself in the talk of the living room.

4. Lift Recliner

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Recliners are a favorite among elderly people, and they are good for them. The trouble is that while it may be easy for them to sit down in such a chair, it is not always so easy for them to get back up. A lift recliner is a perfect solution.

It contains a device that pushes the chair from a level to an upright position. This makes it easy for anyone with knee, leg, or hip problems to get to their feet.

Bean Bags in General

Bean bag chairs consist of a designer cover and bean-type filler. That’s all there is to them!

We shall cover the most popular designs in the next section. Here, we will focus on the different fillers that can be put inside the bag. Understanding the various “beans” will help you decide which is best for your home.

Here we go.

1. EPS Beads

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Most bean bags are filled with expanded polystyrene also known as EPS. The latter is a hard-celled plastic that is similar to Styrofoam. It is lightweight but rigid enough to retain form.

The EPS beads used in bean bags are resistant to heat and moisture and are 98% air. EPS beads are not bio-degradable, though they can be reused and recycled. Indeed, many people use old beads for arts and crafts and home DIY projects.

2. EPP Beads

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Expanded polypropylene (EPP) is also used to fill bean bags. EPP is a very strong and durable type of foam. Perhaps the greatest benefit of using EPP beads is that they can be sat upon again and again without losing their cushioning qualities.

Another great quality of these beads is that they do not have as strong an odor as EPS beads. The downside to EPP beads is that they are susceptible to fire.

3. Compressed Foam

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This is one of the newer types of material used to fill bean bags. Often called memory foam, compressed foam is a type of polyurethane. The great upshot of this type of filler is that it makes transporting bean bag chairs easier, as the latter can be compressed to about a quarter of their size during shipping.

4. Natural Fillers

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When bean bags first came out, they were literally filled with dried beans and other dried grains and crops. The synthetic fillers described above slowly started replacing them. Natural fillers have recently made a comeback owing to the organic movement.

Mind the Beans!

It must also be noted that bean bag filler is composed of small, lightweight objects. Though most covers are sturdy and resilient, tears and breaches occur and beads spill out. These pose a serious risk to children if they are swallowed or inhaled.

For this reason, you should ensure that the bean bag you purchase is double stitched. The bean bag zipper should have a parental locking mechanism or removable zipper handle.

Bean Bags by Design

There is no shortage of bean bag chair models and designs in the following popular categories:

1. Round Chairs

This is a red beanbag chair on colorful mats.

These are circular and spread out in a ball shape.

Round bean bag chairs can be used nearly everywhere in your home—living room, bedroom, or entertainment room. They are quite comfortable, and they offer great support for your back and arms.

2. Square Chairs

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With backrests and armrests, these chairs have attributes that are similar to conventional armchairs.

3. Body Chairs

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Most bean bag chairs are meant to be sat on. However, some are designed for people to lay on. Body chairs tend to be very long and able to seat several people at once or a single person who lays down.

4. Novelty Chairs

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Such bean bag chairs tend to be most fitting for children. Common themes of novelty bean bag chairs include airplanes, turtles, sharks, footballs, and other such designs.

The Most Common Materials Used in Recliners and Bean Bags

1. Recliners

A brown leather recliner on a platform.

Leather is the most popular type of material used in recliners. The appearance and texture of leather add character to any furniture that is composed of it.

You have the choice of natural or synthetic leather. In the natural leather category, you have the further choice of genuine and bonded. The former is made of animal hide. It is a tough durable material that is highly resistant to stains and tearing. Bonded leather is made of recycled leather materials.

Most synthetic leather recliners are made of polyurethane, which is supple and lightweight. Other recliner armchairs are made of vinyl, which is composed of plastics, fillers, and other additives. Vinyl leather is non-bio-degradable and non-recyclable.

It is perfectly fine to not like leather. Some people find it too heavy, noisy, and claustrophobic. They prefer fabrics, which tend to be more lightweight and breathable.

Cotton is the most popular natural fabric used in recliners. It is soft and light but tends to fade and wrinkle over time.

Wool is also a popular option. Most people who choose wool recliners live in colder parts of the country. The downside of wool is that it is hard to clean and attracts moths, which eat away at the fabric.

Linen is also an option. This is a smooth, soft, and durable fabric that is moth-resistant.

You also have the option of synthetic fabrics. There is polyester, acrylic, and microfiber. The last of these is by far the most popular type of synthetic upholstery. Microfiber is water and stain-resistant, which makes it perfect for recliners that are in households with kids.

2. Bean Bags

An office meeting with people sitting on beanbag chairs.

Bean bag chairs also vary in the materials used to make them—that is, the outer covering. It is possible to find bean bag chair covers made of leather, fake leather, and cotton.

Corduroy is another popular material. This material is soft, comfortable, and robust.

You can also get bean bags in fake suede and fake fur. These are designed to look and feel indistinguishable from the real thing. They are easy to clean, stain-resistant, and require very low maintenance.

Fake suede is quite soft and will keep you warm in winter. You can find fake fur that is made of animal prints or one solid color. Both fake fur and fake suede are fire retardants.

It is possible to buy bean bag chairs that are suitable for outdoor use. In this instance, you want a chair that is made of outdoor fabric. The latter is made of soft, shower-proof, UV-resistant material so that they are not damaged by either sun or rain.

Luxury chenille bean bag chairs are made from high-end woven fabric. This kind of material is most suitable for chairs that will be used mostly by adults, as it adds a touch of elegance to the bag and the living space.

You can also order bean bag chairs with designer velvet coverings. These are the height of elegance and luxury and are often found in homes with lounges and custom-built bars.

Durability of Recliners and Bean Bags

The best recliners are expensive. But these are the types of furnishings that should be viewed as investments rather than temporary household items. Your return will be in the style and comfort they provide. You want them to last as long as possible, which is why durability is a factor to consider before you buy a recliner or glider.

Recliners last about ten years—even longer if your piece is from a high-end brand and is used infrequently. A powered recliner will not last as long as a traditional recliner. The motor used to move it will sputter out well before the ten-year mark.

A woman working on her laptop while on a recliner.

Then you will have the choice of buying and having installed a new motor or buying a new recliner. In many cases, buying and installing a new motor is more expensive than buying a new powered recliner.

A leather recliner is the most durable—especially one that is made of animal hide.

Bean bags chairs are durable, but not as long-lasting as recliners. Your chair should last at least 3 years, but may go for as long as 4 or 5. You will know that your bean bag has had it when it goes flat. However, there are ways to prevent this.

A man working on his laptop while sitting on a beanbag.

The best way to prevent the flattening of your bean bag is to use it properly. Bean bag chairs are not meant to be walked or jumped on. If you have children in the house and you can prevent them from doing these things, then your bean bag chair will last longer.

You can also fluff your bean bag and refill it. The former operation involves unzipping the opening, holding the chair so that none of the beads fall out, and shaking it. Refilling your bean bag is only a matter of pouring new beads inside. Replacement beads can be found at retail shops that sell bean bag chairs and at online vendors.

Cost of a Recliner versus a Bean Bag

Cost may be a significant factor in the piece of furniture you decide to purchase. In both recliners and bean bags, cost is driven by the type of covering used and the accessories asked for. For a recliner, you can pay anything from $250 to $5,000. A reasonably comfortable chair should cost you no more than $2,000.

Bean bags can be purchased for much less money. But again, this depends largely on the quality of the bag. You should pay no more than $300 for a high-quality bean bag chair of any design. In reality, you will probably find what you want for less than $100. Bean bags that are made of exceptionally high-end materials—and they do exist—can run you into the thousands.

Benefits of a Recliner versus a Bean Bag Chair

Recliners and bean bag chairs have much to recommend them. If you are thinking of putting the one or the other in your house, you must first decide what kind of atmosphere you want to set.

An old man in a Santa costume sleeping on a recliner.

The recliner armchair is perfect for particular individuals in a household. It is more of a personal rather than a social type of furnishing. Whether you live alone or have a large family, a recliner can provide you a spot to relax and unwind at the end of the day.

The best recliners also make for excellent decoration. They can elevate the elegance and luxuriousness of your living room or den.

A blue bean bag at a living room with a world map.

Bean bag chairs are for those who enjoy a little versatility and playfulness in their home. A bean bag chair will make nearly any meeting or setting informal. It is hard for people to remain stiff, upset, or austere when sitting in bean bags.

They also make the perfect seating for children. If you are trying to protect an expensive or cherished sofa from the inevitable stains and marks left by children, then you should go for a bean bag; doing so will give them a better seating alternative.

Fun Facts from History

Now for a few fun facts from history.

Bean bag chairs were invented in Italy. They were designed by Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro and manufactured by the Italian company Zanotta in 1969. All three men were designers. According to legend, they sat on bags filled with Styrofoam during coffee and cigarette breaks.

No one knows how they came up with this idea or whether they meant for this make-shift seating to blossom into a furniture design that would become a multi-billion-dollar industry. In any case, the basic principle of the bean bag has remained unchanged in the over 50 years since its invention.

The recliner made its first appearance in the mid-19th century. The first armchair of this type was owned by Louis Napoleon of France when he served as president of the country from 1848 to 1852. The recliner began as a camp bed that could be adjusted to serve as a chair or a chaise lounge.

Here again, the inventor of the recliner is unknown, but scholars agree that it did originate during the Second French Republic.

The Choice: Recliner or Bean Bag Chair?

Recliners are a staple of living rooms around the world. Design and styling have kept up with the times, and this particular kind of armchair has lost none of its power to soothe and relax.

We nevertheless prefer the bean bag chair.

No matter how updated the design, the recliner still suggests isolation, stiffness, and stolidity. There is a whiff of old fogeyism in every recliner. The site of a recliner conjures the image of a person in their twilight years, alone and unsociable, constantly asleep or constantly enthralled to the television.

Bean bags give a different feeling. They are more suggestive of youth, dynamism, playfulness, and distraction. Fun is the word that comes to mind when in sight of a bean bag chair. One can imagine the conversation, group games, and plenty of merriment in a room with one or more bean bags.

Bean bag chairs come in such a variety of styles and designs with such a range of materials to choose from that it is possible to find a piece that is suitable for every room in the house. The same cannot be said for a recliner, which tend to be fitting only for the living room or den.

You can put a bean bag chair in your living room, den, dining room, kitchen, or bedroom. You can find models that are suitable for the patio, porch, or other outdoor areas. You can find bean bags that are just as cozy and relaxing as more traditional types of armchair furniture.

The lightness of these pieces makes them easy to transport. It is also easy to keep them from going flat so that you are not forced to purchase a new one.

But when you are eventually compelled to replace your old bean bag chair with a new one, you will not have to spend large amounts of money. Their cost, comfort, and recreational value make bean bag chairs the perfect piece of furniture to install in your house.

A bean bag can be the ultimate lounger. It comes with a removable cover, which makes it easy to maintain. You can get special bean bags for your little ones and a more traditional bean bag for guests.

Get comfy. Be sociable. Be fun. Choose a bean bag chair.

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