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Home furnishings; Sleek 'motion chairs' update clumsy recliners

Recliners, America's favorite easy chairs, have been evolving over the past 10 years from ugly ducklings into rather graceful swans. And the end of their metamorphosis toward trimmer and more stylish silhouettes is not yet in sight. Their latest descriptive name, given by the industry that produces them, is "motion chairs."

Once known as "clunkers," recliners in the past have too often been overproportioned, outsize, and clumsy. That title still clings, deservedly, to some. But most companies are seeking to innovate and restyle their models to attain a far more fashionable image.

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For one thing, recliners cannot now be relegated so frequently to dens, studies, and family rooms, since those rooms are often eliminated in smaller houses, condominiums, and apartments. These chairs, so specifically engineered for relaxation and comfort, must now be able to hold their own in more formal living rooms and in open-plan living areas.

To do so, they have had to be lowered and thinned. The quality of their covering fabrics had had to be upgraded and their mechanisms improved. If you haven't shopped for a recliner lately, you may be surprised when you go looking.

Recliners are now in better furniture departments and better stores, and their prices are often comparable to good stationary chairs.You can still find models for $199, or even $159, but the new emphasis on style has made the middle range of $300 to $400 far more usual. This price range is proving acceptable to those customers who have upped their taste levels and appreciate the new differences. The top chairs of some lines can cost around $600. A few designer models cost $1,000 or more.

New models may tilt, swivel, rock, and recline. Many of them can be placed within a few inches of a wall. And the consumer today can find a recliner in almost any style, including French, Italian, Queen Anne, and modern. Traditional English wing chairs have been added in several lines. Some contemporary styles have upholstered Parsons- type legs. Others have sleek chrome or brass frames. Rattan and wicker rattan frames have become popular for casual rooms and Sunbelt interiors.

Of the dozen or so top makers, the largest is the 50-year-old La-Z-Boy Company, which did a $158 million business in 1980. New Burris Trimliner models are scaled not only for smaller rooms, but for the smaller proportions of women users. Burris's "Domini" line introduces slender new "move" chairs, molded of polyurethane and sculptural in form. These chairs feature glider mechanisms that enable backs to be adjusted to any angle.

The Berkline Company was the first manufacturer to develop a rocking recliner without the need of a side handle. This company also claims to have been the first to introduce, in 1972, the "wallaway" mechanism. This permitted a recliner to be placed within four inches of the wall and to recline by moving down and forward instead of backward. The company's latest engineering advance is called "feather glide," providing a new ease and smoothness in opening and closing operations.

Barcalounger, one of the true style pacesetters, was the first company to introduce rattan motion chairs, along with "Living End" recliners to serve as instrinsic elements in modular seating groups.At the last Southern furniture market, Barcalounger showed the new hidden ottomans that it is now tucking into sofas and love seats. Today, other companies have also combined recliners with sofas, love seats, sleep sofas, and tables to produce new coordinated room arrangement possibilities.

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New companies include "PeopLounger," "Catnapper," and Gary Schroeder Chair Company. Mr. Schroeder claims to have a recliner that even interior designers could specify without apology.

When Dave Blum of the Stratolounger Company was asked for shopping suggestions on how to buy a recliner, this was this list:

* You should try a recliner for fit, just as you would a new pair of shoes. It is important that the chair's proportions match your own size, weight, height , and body proportions. Therefore, a recliner and body proportions. Therefore, a recliner should always be purchased with the person in mind who will use it most. If that is a man, take him shopping to make sure that the fit is as exact as possible.Although a few companies are now striving to make a model that is equally comfortable for both men and women, a chair that is high enough and deep enough to accommodate a 6-foot-2 man would not usually be right for a petite woman.

* Mr. Blum also suggests that shoppers make sure that the back of the knee, in both upright and reclining positions, meets the top seam of the seat cushion. If it doesn't, he says, leg muscles will soon feel the strain.

* He also advises that the lower back should feel firmly supported by the chair's back cushion, and that the head should neither feel thrust forward nor dropped too far backward, whether you are sitting upright or reclining.

* As a final check, when you are sitting straight, your feet should be firmly planted on the floor, with no need to extend the legs far forward. In a reclining position, feet should rest centered on the raised footrest, with knees bent and not flat.

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