Guide to Buying Reclining Sofas

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Reclining sofas are versatile in both use and style, but the addition of moving mechanisms makes finding the perfect piece more complicated than buying a basic couch. Look for furniture that comes with a lifetime warranty on the reclining mechanism and a minimum of three years on the entire sofa. If you’re eying a sectional, make sure the separate pieces lock together -- if not, the motion of the recliner pushes the sections apart.

Determine the Best Size

  • When you’re researching a reclining sofa to buy, length isn’t the only consideration -- the depth of the sofa with the seats fully extended determines whether a piece will work in your home. Measure the available space in the room, including the total distance from the back of the current sofa to the piece of furniture or wall directly in front of it. Use this to find a reclining sofa that allows for at least a 2-foot clearance in front of the sofa; a 3-foot clearance is ideal. Remember, even if it fits the room, it may not fit through the door. Reclining sofas often feature a plusher, thicker padding than standard versions, making them more difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. Work with the store to take accurate measurements of the sofa and your home to determine if it will fit.

Find a Quality Frame

  • The motion of the reclining mechanism increases the stress on the frame of the sofa; in fact, the stationary portions are more likely to break than the moving parts. Look for a sofa with a frame made of birch, oak, maple or another hardwood. Well-constructed plywood frames are a decent, more budget-friendly alternative. As you shop, ask what type of hardware or method was used to fasten the joints. Those that lock together, such as dowel rods or mortise and tendon configurations, create the sturdiest frames. Screwed or nailed joints come in second; because the wood pieces rely on the hardware for connection rather than locking into one another, they’re more prone to shifting. Avoid sofas constructed with staples; they can’t handle the motion caused by extending and retracting the recliner.

Test the Mechanism

  • Consider your space and your family's needs as you decide between reclining styles and manual or powered mechanisms. If you simply want to kick back after a day at work, a two-position recliner that extends just the footrest is ideal. But if you’re looking forward to comfortable afternoon naps, opt for a sofa with a back rest that moves as well -- these are often sold as full-reclining sofas. Base the decision between powered and manual mechanisms on the layout of the room; although an electric reclining sofa may seem ideal, it requires a nearby plug, limiting your furniture arrangement choices. Once you’ve made your decision, test each reclining portion of the sofa. The motion should be smooth and require little to no effort on your part during extension, and the footrest should glide easily back into the sofa and lock securely in place. Listen carefully as you move the recliner. If you hear grinding or other noises, outside of a very soft, nearly indiscernible hum in an electric-powered model, move on to the next option.

Upholstery Fabric Considerations

  • Look for upholstery fabrics durable enough to withstand the motion of the recliner. A lackluster, cheap upholstery will stretch and warp quickly. Top-grain leather lasts the longest and keeps its shape well while remaining flexible enough to move easily, but it’s also the most expensive option. A thick, durable microfiber is a good choice, especially if you have pets or young children, while canvas and wool give you a durable natural alternative. Stay away from thin cotton, silk or other delicate upholstery fabrics. When shopping, always inspect the stitching closely, especially on the footrest. Look for straight, tight, even seams throughout, and avoid anything with visible staples.

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