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Recliners vs. Armchairs (Which is Best for Your Lifestyle?)

This is a top view of a blue comfortable armchair with a coffee table.

Have you ever tried visiting a friend’s house for the first time and you can’t just find a chair that you like to sit in so you settle for that recliner that somehow activates your motion sickness? Then on your next visit, you choose the armchair that makes you feel like you’re in a giant’s home with your feet not touching the floor because the chair is swallowing you.

Those chairs may not have worked for you but they are just right for your friend and their family because it fits their lifestyle. This is also the reason why you are very comfortable in your parents’ house and I bet there’s a particular chair there that you sit on every time you visit.

Here we showcase more of the differences between recliners and armchairs, their pros and cons, and how each of them relate to how you live your life so you can have an informed decision when your time comes to buy your own.

What is a Recliner?

A woman lounging on a recliner while talking on the phone.

Recliners have many aliases and are also known as loungers and reclining chairs. A recliner can be a chair, loveseat, or sofa that reclines when the occupant applies pressure to the back.

When the back goes back, the footrest goes up. This action makes the chair or sofa move into a prone position. The footrest is controlled by a side lever or a button that is depressed. Both methods push the footrest into an elevated position.

Recliners used to be pretty rudimentary pieces of furniture, but today, there are many more bells and whistles than earlier models. Features found in upscale, modern models today include electrical outlets, USB ports, rocking//moving features, heaters, and massage/vibrating settings.

Some have sidearms that make it easy for those in wheelchairs to gain access. Recliners are sometimes used by those that have a hard time sleeping flat and find reclining positions more comfortable.

Some of the newest models also take up less space. An option for apartment dwellers is the hugger recliner. They use a gliding mechanism that pushes the bottom of the chair forward while it sits just inches from the wall.

What is an Armchair?

A white armchair draped with a colorful blanket.

An armchair suggests any chair that has sidearms. Traditional armchairs include dining room chairs with arms such as living room chairs, family room chairs, study, and office armchairs. Armchairs are soft, comfortable, cushioned, and super comfy.

Many designers prefer armchairs instead of couches as they are more versatile. They can be moved around the room and reconfigured at a whim to accommodate groups of people of various sizes. They present a cozy atmosphere when entering a room.

How are they different?

Many novices may interchange the terms recliner and armchair. But there are vast differences between the two; they are different furniture pieces.

Are Recliners Arm Chairs, Arm Chairs Recliners?

The not-so-easy answer is…. yes and no!

Because recliners have sidearms, many consider recliners a type of armchair. The same cannot be said for the armchair. The only thing it has going for it is that it has arms. A step above the lowly bar stool. It has no other designation other than an armchair. 

Perhaps one day, when it grows up, it may become a swivel chair or even a divan.

Features of a Recliner

A beige reclining chair with cushions and armrest.

Surprisingly, choosing the right recliner for your lifestyle, needs and budget are not as easy as one may imagine. There is a long list of features to consider when selecting a recliner. Here are some of the first things to consider:

  • The size of the room
  • The size of the occupants
  • The construction of the piece and how well it is made

What Style Do You Need?

  • Standard two- or three-position recliner
  • High leg recliner: stylish, more expensive, and looks like an armchair when not in use
  • Lift recliners raise the occupant from a sitting to standing position with a lift mechanism

Special Features

When shopping for a recliner, you will realize all the different options you have to make. It’s almost like buying a car. Do you want roll-down windows (i.e., Recliners that require the occupant to lean back to activate the footrest.) or are you looking for a Rolls Royce with all the bells and whistles?

Added options today include:

  • Rocker and glide base
  • Swivel base
  • Big and tall options
  • Massage controls
  • Lay flat options
  • Power source and USB port

Features of an Arm Chair

A set of two armchairs with a small side table.

Armchairs are much easier to choose from than recliners as there are not as many choices. According to The Spruce, comfort should be

the number one priority, but here are some features to consider when purchasing a new armchair.

  • The Chair Seat: should be soft and comfortable. It should also be at the right angle, depth, and width for those that live in the home or visit frequently.
  • The Chair Back: they should offer lumbar support. Many accent the armchair with decorative pillows for additional lumbar support. It also makes the seat shallower and adds a splash of color for a bit of individuality.
  • Arms: resting arms on armrests lend toward better relaxation. Those covered and padded are more comfortable than those with metal arms, at least in family rooms.

Are the Same Fabrics Used for Recliners and Arm Chairs?

In many cases, armchairs and recliners can be made from the same fabrics. Leather, faux leather, suede, corduroy, and other durable fabrics are used interchangeably between the two fashionable furniture items.

Often armchairs are made from fancy brocade fabrics, but these chairs are most often used for show and not for everyday use. Recliners, on the other hand, are made of durable fabrics to withstand everyday use. They also must withstand the movement that goes along with the recliner.

Both furniture pieces are best when made with fabrics that do not show wear and tear and repel stains.

What Materials Are Best and Most Durable?

Before purchasing a recliner or armchair, the user should consider how it will be used. For instance, if the family has pets and kids, the furniture piece should be made from natural or faux fabrics like leather and polyurethane that can withstand use.

An armchair by the window as a reading nook.

Leave the fancy fabrics to those that use their living area as showpieces. If you have a home that is lived in, consult with your designer to find the best materials for your living situation.

Recliners need to withstand more wear and tear than an armchair, so those looking to add to their living spaces need to keep that in mind before they make their purchase.

Cost differences

According to Furniture Academy, the cost for a recliner can range from the discount models found at big retailers, for around $200, all the way up to way over $4,000. The difference depends on the durability of the furniture piece. 

Is it going in used in a hardly used bedroom or will it be part of a family room, gaming, or TV room? The cost and durability all play a significant role in the cost of the recliners and armchairs. The more advanced the recliner is, the more it will cost.

A man lounging on a recliner while listening to music.

The cost of armchairs also varies greatly depending on how sturdy they are. They also can be made to fit the lifestyle of the purchaser. Fancy materials are beautiful but often not exceptionally durable.

The cost for armchairs also can range from around $200 from a big-box retailer to thousands of dollars for custom-made armchairs. Again, the purchaser should keep in mind their lifestyle before they make a purchase.

Benefits of the Recliner and Armchair

While both are used as fashion accessories in the home, the recliner has many more uses.

The recliner is often used as an office chair, gaming chair, and even as a medical care device when it helps the occupant get in and out of it. Because a recliner has so many diverse options, it delivers more benefits than an armchair. Both can make fashion statements in a well-appointed home.

But the trusty recliner can offer more options than the armchair.

History of the Recliner

Homall Recliner Chair Padded Seat Pu Leather for Living Room Single Sofa Recliner Modern Recliner Seat Club Chair Home Theater Seating (Black)

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The recliner has a history dating back to 1850. It was first introduced by the French as a reclining camp bed. The first known purchaser of a recliner was Napoleon III. Two Americans, Knabush and Shoemaker, are believed to be the first to patent the wooden recliner back in 1928.

This act led to the creation of La-Z-Boy a leading recliner manufacturer.

History of the Arm Chair

Amazon Brand – Stone & Beam Cheyanne Modern Living Room Accent Arm Chair, 30.7"W, Denim Blue

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In ancient days, chairs were not used much. Most of the population would just squat! But thankfully things advanced. There are signs of the chair dating back to 3100 BC, according to The Chair Institute.

These were bench-style models and made for comfort and durability, not as a fashion statement. One of the first uses of an armchair dates back to 1776 when Thomas Jefferson used an armchair to write the declaration of independence. He also credited himself with creating the swivel chair, and who are we to disagree!

Your Choice

As you can see, chairs come in all shapes and sizes. The best chair for you is the one you will use most often, and one that fits with your décor and can endure your lifestyle.

Most people find that the recliner offers more options than a typical armchair, including helping those that are up in age, get in and out of it, due to its mobility. So, keep all these factors in mind when adding on to your rooms.


Wikipedia: Recliner

Vocabulary: Armchair

Difference Between: Recliner vs. Rocker Recliner

Wayside Furniture: Recliner Buying Guide

The Spruce: Tips for Selecting a Comfortable Upholstered Chair

Furniture Academy: How Much Does a La-Z Boy Recliner Cost

Chair Institute: History of the Chair – A Story to Sit and Enjoy!

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