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Recliner vs. Sofa

A woman lounging on an L-shaped sectional sofa.

Comfort, atmosphere, and style. These are the qualities that you want in your living room furniture. You want a space that is warm, inviting, and relaxing. At the end of a long day, you should look forward to coming home, sitting down, and resting.

You should also have a living room that reaches out, so to speak, to your guests. When they enter it, they should feel at home, and it should beguile them into sticking around for a while and enjoying your hospitality.

Furniture matters. And the furniture that you sit down on matters most. The latter is not only looked at, it is used. You must therefore make the right choices when purchasing domestic seating.

Recliners and sofas are among the main types of seating furniture on the market. Now, you will encounter all kinds of names and descriptions related to these two categories of furniture. You need not be bogged down by confusing and at times misleading terms. Recliners and sofas are distinct types of furniture. There are significant differences between the two. The following article will tell you all you need to know about each one so that you can make informed purchasing decisions.

What is a Recliner?

A recliner is an armchair that reclines by the raising of the front piece and the raising of the backrest. The main aim of a recliner is to maximize your ability to relax through repose. It is the ultimate indoor lounger. When you recline your recliner, the combination of backrest and front piece, which becomes a footrest, allows you to spread out in the way most comfortable to you.

What is a Sofa?

This piece of furniture goes by many names. Couch, settee, and chesterfield are among the most popular tags. Here we will stick to the simplest moniker: sofa.

Sofas are designed to seat two or more people. Rare is the sofa that can fit more than four.

The entire point of putting a sofa in your living room is to have a place for you and yours, and any guests you may have over, to sit, chat, eat, drink, watch television, play games, and, in general, recreate yourselves in comfort.

Features of Recliners and Sofas

To get a handle on each type of furniture, it is best to first break them down by general features, and then move on to their features by design. There is no one model of recliner or sofa so it would be pointless to limit ourselves to a generic description of each one.

Here we go!

Recliners in General

Recliners consist of a headrest, footrest, and backrest. Some recliners come with lumbar support pillows. Lumbar support is a fancy name for a piece that is specially designed to maintain the natural curvature of your back, as seen here:

Gugusure Lumbar Support Pillow,Memory Foam Back Cushion with Breathable Mesh for Low Back Pain Relief,Orthopedic Backrest for Car Seat,Office Chair,Wheelchairs and Recliner

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Some recliners also have massage and heating functions that are meant to soothe and relax your back even more.

There are recliners that are operated manually. In some, you push on the armrest and lean back on the backrest in order to adjust to the recline position. You must then use your body weight to extend the footrest. Other recliners come with a lever on the side. You pull the lever back to recline your chair.

Power recliners work on an entirely different principle. They use electric motors to adjust the position of the chair. You need not exert yourself at all with this type of recliner. The touch of a button will set you up—or, in this instance, down.

Recliners by Design

As with nearly every other consumer product, there is no shortage of recliner designs. Here are some of the more popular options and the most important things to know about them:

1. The Two-Position Recliner

This is the traditional recliner found in millions of living rooms around the world. It is, in a manner of speaking, your granddaddy’s reclining chair. It has only two positions: upright and reclined. You get to the latter by pulling a lever or leaning your body back. Here is a rather elegant example of this type of recliner:

Christopher Knight Home Izidro Traditional Fabric Recliner, Coffee / Dark Brown

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2. Rocker Recliner

This recliner reclines on arched tracks, which allow the person in it to rock back and forth. It is a favorite of nursing mothers and people with young children. It is also quite popular with insomniacs, as the rocking motion is soothing enough to put them to sleep.

3. Swivel Recliner

For those who like to busy themselves when sitting in an armchair, the swivel recliner is not without value. It is designed on a circular base that allows you to swivel left and right in addition to reclining backward.

Amazon Brand – Ravenna Home Manning Swivel Base Recliner, 34.6"W, Smoke Grey

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4. Lift Recliner

A lift recliner contains a mechanism that pushes the chair from a flat position to an upright position so that the occupant can more easily get to their feet. There are traditional, rocker, and swivel recliners that incorporate this feature. This type of recliner is popular among the elderly who have a hard time getting up from a recliner.

It has also found favor with people who have problems with their knees, legs, or hips.

Sofas in General

This is a close look at a blue gray sofa with gray throw pillows.

The number, range, and variation of sofa features and designs are so great that to catalog them all would exhaust the patience and drain the life out of even the most ardent home decorating enthusiast. Again, we must describe and summarize based on the most common features and most popular styles.

Sofas are composed of frame material, cushion filling, suspension, and upholstery. These will suffice as the four main features of all sofas. Here is what you need to know about each one.

1. Frame Material

The frame of a sofa keeps every other part of it together. These frames can be made of wood or metal. The latter are much stronger, but they can be weakened by the oxidation that results from an especially humid climate. Wood frame composites are less expensive, but they lack the sturdiness of metal. No matter the material used in the frame, it must be robust enough to withstand everyday use without compromising comfort.

2. Cushion Filling

This is a blue suede sofa with tufted cushions.

Cushions give your sofa shape and volume. They also give you the support you need to relax. Foam, feathers, and polyester fiber are the most commonly used cushion fillings. The foam consists of a mixture of chemicals that rise into a block shape. It is both soft and pliable.

Feathers are even softer than foam. Their lack of firmness can make for uncomfortable seating, which is why they are combined with other materials to ever so slightly bolster their solidity. You would literally sink into your sofa without this reinforcement.

Polyester fibers are produced from oil-based chemicals and are similar to foam in their softness. The way to tell the difference between polyester fibers and foam is that the former needs plumping up after a seating; the latter resumes its former shape on its own.

3. Suspension

The suspension goes into the inner part of the seating area. These are the metal springs that keep the sofa cushions propped up and comfortable. The sofa’s suspension defines what it feels like to sit on a piece of furniture. There are two main types of suspension: coiled spring units and serpentine springs.

Coiled spring units consist of conical metal springs linked to metal laths, which provide a soft sitting experience. Serpentine springs—the most widely used type of suspension—are individual metal wires with a zigzag shape. These are linked front to back within the seating cushion.

The suspension used is highly dependent on the type of cushion filling. These details must be left to the design and manufacturing teams. The bottom line for you—the bottom being the operative word here—is that the springs are used to produce the maximum amount of comfort.

4. Upholstery

This is a low and wide sofa with beige linen upholstery.

The upholstery is the material that covers your sofa. It is what gives the piece its look and feel. When shopping for a sofa, you will know straight away if it is comfortable by sitting in it. You can also get a sense of the quality of the cushions by leaning back on them and watching their reaction to your weight. Appearances can deceive when it comes to upholstery.

Upholstery that is made of cheap and inferior leathers or fabrics will fade quickly. It can wear down and become discolored within a year of your purchase. That is why you should insist on generous warranties and guarantees on the sofa you purchase.

Sofas by Design

This is a gray fabric three-seater sofa with cushions.

There is a sofa design to suit every intelligible taste. The standard sofa couch is the one that you are perhaps most familiar with.

It comes in various shapes and colors and consists of the pieces and features described above. Other popular options include:

1. Sectional Sofas

This is a top view of the L-shaped sectional sofa.

These are composed of multiple pieces that can be arranged in different positions. Versatility is the upshot of sectional sofas. Modern sectional sofas can be composed of up to seven pieces, and they can be used to create settings that range from a single long seating area to an L-shaped conversation area.

2. Microfiber Sofas

This is a close look at a woman cleaning the microfiber sofa.

These sofas are popular with families with kids or pets. They are made of ultra-soft polyester—microfiber—that is stain-resistant. The texture of this upholstery gives extra comfort. It is also durable and water-resistant. The fabric also holds color well, which will make it easier to keep your sofa looking fresh and new.

A word of warning. Owning a microfiber sofa does not mean that you don’t have to clean up spills. The sofa beads up in reaction to spillage and keeps liquid on the surface for only a short time—long enough for you to wipe it up before it soaks into the fabric.

3. Sleeper Sofas

A blue suede sleeper sofa in mid transformation.

These are sofas with a mattress inside. The way it works for most sleeper sofas is that you remove the cushions, pull out the mattress, and lay down your linen to make a proper bed. Sleeper sofas are similar to sofa beds. In the latter, you push the back of the frame down and use the cushions to form a bed.

The Most Common Materials Used in Recliners and Sofas

This is one of the few areas in which recliners and sofas have a great deal in common. The vast majority of pieces in both categories are made of leather or fabric.

Here, personal preference is the sole governing factor. Some people swear by one or the other. There are people who will have nothing to do with leather furniture, while others will not even look at a fabric recliner or sofa. If you have no sworn allegiance to either of the two camps, you should become familiar with the attributes of each.

1. Leather

This is a close look at a brown leather recliner.

Leather has a great deal going for it. Leather upholstery tends to last longer than fabric, it does not stain as easily, and it is capable of standing up to a lot of wear and tear.

Not all leather is the same. You must choose between natural leather and synthetic leather. Within the former category, there is genuine leather and bonded leather.

Genuine leather is made from animal hide and is the most durable type of leather on the market. Bonded leather is made from recycled leather materials. It has the benefit of being the most eco-friendly.

Among your synthetic leather options, there are polyurethane and vinyl. Polyurethane, or fake leather, is soft, supple, and lightweight. Vinyl leather is pliant and highly polished, but it is made of a variety of plastics, fillers, and additives, which makes it no friend to the environment.

Synthetic leather is much cheaper than genuine leather in both recliners and sofas.

2. Fabrics

A close look at a brown fabric long sofa with sections.

In fabric upholstery, you will also have a choice between natural and synthetic products. Cotton, wool, and linen are the most common choices.

Cotton is a favorite. Everyone loves it because it is soft, light, and breathable. The downside of cotton upholstery is that it fades and wrinkles over time and is easily torn and damaged.

Wool is perfect for people who live in cold climates. It gives off a warm and cozy feeling. Wool, however, is difficult to clean and it attracts moths, which eat away at the fabric.

Linen is a very durable natural fabric that is resistant to moths and is also quite smooth and soft.

Polyester, microfiber, and acrylic are among the most common synthetic fabrics. Microfiber has already been covered above. Polyester is blended with other fibers to form a material that is tough and durable. Acrylic is stain and fade-resistant. It has a similar texture to wool and is relatively inexpensive.

Durability of Recliners and Sofas

Buying a recliner or sofa is an investment. And like any other investment, you should expect a significant return on your money. In furniture, the pay-off is in style, comfort, and durability. The third is as important as the first two.

You should expect your recliner to last about ten years if you use it regularly. It may last even longer if used infrequently. The higher the quality of the chair, the longer you can expect it to last. Expect traditional recliners to last longer than powered chairs. You will need to replace the motor mechanism in a powered recliner long before the ten-year mark, no matter the brand or overall quality of the chair.

You can expect your sofa to last about as long as your recliner. But again, this is highly dependent on the frequency with which it is used and the material it is made of.

If you are in the market for a sofa, then you probably have a family or intend to entertain people on a regular basis. This makes a big difference. The normalized chaos of family life will wear down a sofa at a much more rapid rate. Though it must be said that both recliners and sofas that are made of genuine leather—leather made of animal hide—can withstand nearly all the stresses and strains put on it.

If you buy the best kind of genuine leather sofa, you should expect to endure well past the ten-year mark. Indeed, it is not unheard of for such sofas to become heirlooms that are passed down from one generation to another.

Recliner vs. Sofa—The Cost

Price is the biggest factor for most people. If you are interested in a recliner, then you should know that it will cost you more than an average chair. You can spend from $250 to $5,000 on a recliner. Accessories and high-end features are what drive up the price of this type of chair.

You can get it within the limits of your budget by choosing the features that are most important to you. You can purchase a reasonably comfortable recliner for less than $2,000.

As for sofas, you can expect to pay less than $1,000 for a sofa of average size and comfort. A mid-range sofa will run you up to $2,000. The more luxurious sofa suites are in excess of $2,000.

Benefits of a Recliners and Sofas

Each type of furniture has its strengths.

Recliners are relaxing, compact, and, in their own way, personable. The last of these qualities make the recliner special. Everyone who takes an interest in buying a recliner knows when they have found the one that is perfect for them. There is a kind of sensation that you feel when you sit in an armchair that seems to be made for you.

A dog lounging on a black leather recliner.

Aside from this fleeting feeling, the best recliners last. They are meant to seat one person at a time, and a recliner is usually bought by or for the only person who will use it. If you are in an especially strenuous and stressful job, a nice, soothing, vibrating recliner can take you away from the strains of the day.

A sofa also has its benefits. It is much easier to entertain people with a sofa—even if it is usually limited to your family. A large and well-arranged sofa set will allow you to create a hospitable atmosphere in your living room. On holidays and other celebratory events, the sofa will become the heart of social interaction. Multiple groups of people will be able to sit and have conversations throughout the evening.

A family lounging on the beige sofa.

On days when it is just you and your family, you can all sit, chill, and enjoy a movie or binge-watch the latest Netflix, Disney, or Amazon Prime box set.

Fun Facts from History

We would do the subject an injustice if we did not marshal some history of recliners and sofas.

Sofas date back 2000 years. The Ancient Egyptians were the first to use them. The word sofa is derived from the Arabic “suffah” which means bench. Sectional sofas were first used in the early 19th century in America. The earliest examples of the latter are found in the Rappahannock River area of Virginia, which was one of the wealthiest regions of the state back then.

The recliner has its own colorful history. The first reclining chair was owned by Louis Napoleon of France, who served as president of the country from 1848 to 1852. The first recliner was a camp bed that could be adjusted to serve as a chair and a chaise lounge. The inventor of the recliner is unknown, but most scholars agree that it has its origins in the Second French Republic.

The Bottom Line: Recliner or Sofa

Though we recognize the relaxing qualities of a recliner, we are decidedly in favor of the sofa.

There is something solitary, stilted, and old-fogeyish about a recliner that makes it unappealing. And even if you are someone who is approaching the age of old fogeyism, you need not look the part.

Sofas on the other hand suggest sociability and dynamism. Putting a sofa in your home is a kind of herald of friends, family, and, if you are still single, future lovers to yet to come. Sofas lay the table, so to speak, for conversation and human interaction. Sectional sofas in particular are versatile and offer options for different arrangements.

You can make a loveseat out of your sectional sofa pieces. With a sleeper sofa, you can invite friends and loved ones to stay in complete comfort. A modern sofa can be put to all kinds of uses. It can enhance your living room and give it a style that is inviting.

There is also the possibility of buying a reclining sofa if you are desperate for this experience. Although you cannot lay back on a sofa in the same way that you can on a recliner, it is possible to get as comfortable as laying on a sofa with a large pillow and blanket.

Be social. Be friendly. Be imaginative. Choose a sofa.

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