Armchair Vs. Recliner: What's The Difference?

Adorning your living area or bedrooms with seating options can add both form and function, whether it be for your personal comfort or for entertaining purposes. However, purchasing a comfortable chair could more complex than you think. That may be because of the sheer number of options you have when it comes to lounge chairs in general. As pointed out by Chair Institute, different types of lounge chairs include traditional loungers, chaise lounges, and club chairs. There are also the popular choices of armchairs and recliners to consider. 

While the term itself dates back to 1928, over the years, lounge chairs have certainly evolved. The concept itself is credited to Marcel Breuer of Hungary. However, the original design of lounge chairs was quite different from what we are familiar with today. His design consisted of a chrome chair made of tubular steel and leather upholstery.

In today's world, two types of lounge chairs are sometimes thought to be interchangeable — armchairs and recliners. At first glance, these two sitting apparatuses seem pretty similar as they have many overlapping features. However, they also have some key differences that are important to be aware of when selecting the right seating for your space.

To state the obvious: recliners recline

Perhaps the most obvious and notable difference between these two types of chairs is that recliners allow those sitting in them to recline. That means that the back of the chair leans back to create a supportive surface perfect for lounging in a reclined position. Oftentimes, these chairs include a built-in footrest that comes out for added comfort and relaxation.

Besides the fact that this type of chair is comfortable, they also have health benefits associated with them. According to Inspire Your Journey, reclining can allow you to take pressure off your lower extremities. These lower body muscles can relax while still being adequately supported. In addition, recliners can be a great investment for back pain sufferers and are noted for their ability to improve blood circulation. That's because sitting in a reclined position redistributes gravity across your body, giving your spine and circulatory system a break. Finally, the comfortable and relaxing nature of a recliner is known to help reduce stress and tension in the body, making it a great place to unwind.

Recliners can include added features that armchairs don't

Besides the fact that recliners allow users to sit in a reclined position and rest their feet, these types of chairs frequently include additional features that armchairs don't. Wayside Furniture offers a useful recliner buying guide that details some of these neat features. A simple yet luxurious feature that recliners can offer is the ability to rock or glide in addition to reclining. This is a great option to look for in a nursery chair. Another helpful feature that some recliners offer is a swivel base, allowing those sitting in the chair to easily pivot their position or rotate for a better view of their surroundings.

For those looking for something more high-tech, some recliners have integrated heat and massage capabilities. This is a fabulous way to relieve aches and pains and relax your muscles with just a push of a button. Lastly, you can always stay connected by charging your phone with built-in USB ports on certain models — making the chair an unbelievably convenient place to sit!

Armchairs always have sides for support

That brings us to the common characteristics of armchairs. The most notable difference is that armchairs always have sides that offer support. These are the "arms" of the chair — it's even included in the name! While recliners also often have arms, that's not a hard and fast rule.

Homes to Love offers expert advice regarding choosing an armchair that offers the perfect amount of support and that complements the style of your home. To choose your perfect place to lounge, pay attention to the upholstery and style, as well as how these characteristics fit with your other pieces of furniture in general. The price of the chair is also an important factor to consider while keeping your budget and the quality of the furniture in mind.

It's also important to consider your room's layout when looking for the perfect chair. Jill Clements, a senior interior designer at Freedom, comments, "Scale and proportion are key, so consider the other pieces in the room. For example, if you have two large sofas, one little chair in the corner will have no effect besides function. Instead, consider two complementary chairs for balance, in a similar height to the sofas so they won't dominate."

An armchair may not come with foot support

Armchairs do sometimes include an ottoman, but that's not always the case. This is another difference to note between these two types of chairs. Armchairs might not always have built-in foot support, whereas recliners almost always do.

Choosing an ottoman to go with an armchair if it doesn't come with a coordinating one can be tricky. Brosa offers help in this department, making it easier to mix and match these furniture pieces. Most importantly, you have to make sure that you match the height of the ottoman to the seat of the armchair. If you fail to do that, it could be uncomfortable to use the two together, which completely defeats the purpose of investing in the ottoman in the first place. Another tip for mixing and matching is to vary the shapes of the pieces. Many times, a coordinating chair ottoman matches the shape of the chair, meaning it'll likely be boxy or rectangular. But if you want to do something different, opt for a circular or oval-shaped ottoman, as this can make the seating arrangement more visually interesting.

Recliners come in power or manual varieties

Another important characteristic of recliners worth noting is that they come in both power or manual options, which is another way that they differ from armchairs. There are certain pros and cons associated with both types of this chair. Circle Furniture shares these and offers an outline of what each type has to offer. 

Put simply, a power recliner utilizes a motor to extend and lean back while a manual one does not. With that being said, the largest upside of a power recliner is its ease of use. With just a push of a button, you can recline in one of these chairs! With this simplified method, users with limited mobility can easily recline with little effort. Keep in mind, this electronic capability means that an outlet is required for operation. This means that you might be limited in where you can place your chair depending on where your outlets are located. However, there are battery pack options available that provide more flexibility. 

Manual recliners require some physical effort to transition the chair into a reclining position. They also have their own set of pros and cons. First, there are lots of sleek and stylish options and some don't even look like traditional recliners. They also tend to be less bulky and don't have the location limitations of their plug-in counterparts. On the other hand, some manual recliners may require a good deal of effort to move into the reclining position, causing issues for some users. 

They are commonly made of the same types of fabric

Besides their differences, these two types of chairs also share some similarities. One of those is the fact that they are typically made of the same types of fabric. However, many people have different tastes and preferences when it comes to the way they want their furniture to feel. The furniture industry reflects this diversity of thought, and there are chairs offered in a wide variety of fabrics.

Yorkshire Fabric Shop details different fabrics that make for a comfortable living space. Faux leather is a popular choice for living room chairs due to the look of this material as well as other factors. For instance, faux leather is easy to clean and a more affordable option than real leather but is still highly durable, making it a great choice for a chair that will get a lot of use.

Another common fabric used on chairs is a mix of cotton and synthetic fibers. These come together to create a fabric that is both durable and comfortable, offering a low-maintenance option for nearly any living space. Its versatility and budget-friendly price point make it a go-to choice for many types of upholstered furniture. 

They both vary greatly as far as cost goes

Another similarity that these types of chairs share is that they both vary greatly in terms of cost. Both types of chairs have models that fall on the inexpensive end of the spectrum, the high-end side, and somewhere in the middle as well. First, take armchairs. Home Decor Bliss discusses the cost range of accent chairs. The site notes that it's hard to know exactly how much you should spend on a chair of this sort because there is such a wide range. However, you can expect to spend between $200 and $600 in most cases.

When it comes to recliners, there's also a great variation in prices between different models. As previously mentioned, recliners can feature an abundance of bells and whistles. Obviously, the more upgrades to the chair, the higher the price will likely be. According to La-Z-Boy, there are a number of differences between recliners that denote a difference in price. First off, a manual recliner is likely going to be far cheaper than a power recliner, as the latter costs more to produce. Additionally, the fabric of the chair is going to alter the price. For instance, a recliner made of genuine leather will likely come at a higher price point than a faux leather chair. These models range in price from $400 to a whopping $2,000, demonstrating just how large of a difference the price of recliners can be.

Recliners and armchairs both come in a range of sizes

The fact that both of these types of chairs come in many different sizes is yet another similarity they share. In particular, armchairs and recliners alike come in different widths, allowing you more chair space and comfort depending on the model you choose. XO Ashley shares some insight regarding the different-size recliners that exist. For instance, what they call "Big Daddy Recliners" have a width of 50 inches or more across, with some featuring up to 59 inches of comfy space. Their mid-size recliners range between 40 and 49 inches in width and their smaller models are 39 inches or less in width. That is certainly quite a range making it simple to find the ideal option for your space.

Armchairs range greatly in size options as well. There are compact options that can fit into tight spaces or pair together as a set. On the other hand, there are some oversized options as well. Conway Furniture sheds light on what the term "chair and a half" means. This is a comfortable hybrid between a regular-size armchair and a loveseat. It's a comfy seating option that's appropriately named since it's pretty much a full-size chair that comes with extra width. These spacious armchairs can often accommodate more than one person while taking up less space than a sofa.

Recliners tend to be more versatile as far as function goes...

There are a lot of reasons to love a recliner, and they're known for being particularly functional chairs. These chairs are great for lounging and relaxing while doing a wide variety of activities. They are perfect for a relaxing movie night or cozying up with a good book. Gamers also love them for a change in position while playing their favorite video games. The best part is, they can be easily adjusted to sit upright whenever a user desires. 

As previously mentioned, they're good for a range of health reasons meaning that your comfy recliner can be a perfect spot for nighttime or an afternoon nap. La-Z-Boy shares that there are some powerful health benefits to sleeping in a recliner. These advantages include allowing individuals to breathe easier. That's because sleeping in a recliner helps open the diaphragm, which can aid in sleep conditions like snoring and sleep apnea. Plus, the reclined position allows for gravity to aid in digestion, alleviating symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD. 

...While armchairs are more versatile design wise

On the other hand, armchairs are more versatile when it comes to interior design. Arlo and Jacob shares the different types of armchair styles that are both available and popular choices for any home. First is a high-back armchair, whose most notable characteristic falls into place with its name: its tall backside. This type of chair also features traditional arms, allowing anyone who sits on it practical comfort combined with a timeless aesthetic. Wingback armchairs are another variation. As explained by Medium, wingback armchairs have the tell-tale characteristic of what resembles "wings" at the back top of the chair. 

This chameleon-like ability to seamlessly fit into any room or space thanks to their range in style is what really sets armchairs apart from recliners. Recliners are a more straightforward variation of a chair that is used namely for function. On the other hand, armchairs and their unending style, color, material, and pattern options aid more in enhancing a curated aesthetic. ​​Kelly Collins, interior designer and head of creative at Swyft, talked to Country Living about adding an accent chair to your home to fit its overall style. She says, "If your home sports a bohemian or a neutral look, think about adding a natural, rattan chair to the space to stay in keeping with the theme. If you love the sleek, minimalist vibe, opt for a structured seat with clean lining and detailing."

Recliners are more prone to problems

Something important to keep in mind about recliners is that their moving parts will likely make them more prone to issues than armchairs are. Homewares Insider tackles the question of whether power recliners can actually break down. In short, the answer to that question is yes, they can. The most common issue that causes this breakdown is an electrical failure. This could be brought on by anything from an unexpected power surge to pinched or damaged wires. It also takes several components for the chair's mechanisms to work correctly. A problem with any of these can cause the power reclining function to fail. This could lead to costly repairs or time-consuming troubleshooting. 

Furniture Fair further discusses issues that manual recliners are prone to. The chair's mechanisms are actually quite susceptible to breaks and issues. Manual handles are prone to damage or bending, which affects the recliner's ultimate ability to function over time. Furthermore, manual recliners are not as popular as they used to be, so finding replacement parts could prove to be difficult in some instances.

You can change up the fabric of both types of chairs

Another similarity worth exploring is the option to change up the fabric on either type of chair if you so decide to. Many times, individuals have a piece of furniture for a while and then want to revamp it rather than investing in a whole new piece of furniture. That's possible with both recliners and armchairs, although it's certainly easier to do on a standard armchair. Adding a slipcover or reupholstering an armchair is standard practice, whereas it's possible but a bit more nuanced with recliners.

She Holds Dearly details how you can add a slipcover to a recliner, but it requires a bit of elbow grease to accomplish the project. In this tutorial, you can use antique hemp sheets or upholstery fabric to create a makeshift slipcover that will fit on the recliner. From there, you'll have to measure the chair and sew the fabric accordingly to custom-fit the recliner. As you can see, this is a bit more in-depth than buying a standard armchair slipcover and plopping it on, but it's certainly a feasible task!

Recliners are not one size fits all

Something else to know about recliners is that they're not "one size fits all." If you have someone in your household that's going to be lounging in your recliner and they're quite tall, this is something you'll want to take into consideration in the shopping process. La-Z-Boy has pointers on how to choose the perfect recliner from a size standpoint. This guide shares that choosing a recliner that coordinates with your height is of paramount importance, as you don't want your feet to dangle over the edge of the footrest when you're using the chair. 

For that reason, La-Z-Boy in particular offers sizing services to help their shoppers find the right chair for them. Here are a few tips for determining if a recliner is a right fit for you. First, when you sit in your recliner and it's not extended, you should be able to comfortably rest your feet on the floor. From the top of the seatback down, you should be able to lay back comfortably with your spine in proper alignment. Finally, when the chair is reclined, your heels should only slightly extend the bottom of the footrest. 

They're both great additions to your home or living space

At the end of the day, while armchairs and recliners have their share of similarities and differences, they both make wonderful additions to your living space. With a wealth of comfortable and stylish options, you can feel free to explore both choices. This will allow you to find the chair that's right for you, your style, and your specific needs.

Joss & Main offers some tips on styling an accent chair — like an armchair or recliner — in your living space. Either of these chair types would be a great choice to add around a coffee table or in a cozy nook, allowing you to take full advantage of your space and create a relaxing corner to read. You can also set one near a window to take in the view outside. Or, set one in an entryway for a perfect spot to put on shoes. The site notes that choosing versatile chairs will make it easier to seat an array of guests while entertaining, and you'll certainly be grateful for differing seating options whenever you or someone else is looking to take a load off!