How to Choose the Right Recliner

Q: My mom wants a Stressless Diplomat recliner. When I Googled to see what it looked like, I found other chairs that look just like it, most way less expensive than $1,350. Wouldn’t a chair in the same style made by a well-known manufacturer be just as nice at half the cost? — Nan C., Pleasantville


A: Similar leather recliners are out there, but whether they are “just as nice” is a matter of opinion. There’s truth to the adage, “You get what you pay for,” so you can bet the bargain basement knockoff at Wal-Mart isn’t even close. So how do you choose the right recliner?

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Ekornes, the Norwegian company that manufacturers the Stressless line, claims to offer “functions you’ll find nowhere else,” including automatic neck and lumbar support in any position, and a nifty glide system that (once adjusted) allows you to sit up and recline using just your body weight. The chairs come with a 10-year warranty on the internal mechanism, which is the part that takes a beating. The bases are made of beech, there’s a lot of cushy padding, and the leather is the real thing. The Diplomat, which your mom likes, is smaller and more streamlined than most recliners. Stressless recliners also get the nod from the American Chiropractic Society.

That said, absent the patented glide feature, lookalikes might be as good, although many come with only a one- to three-year warranty. Some companies offer a Limited Lifetime Guarantee, which in my experience often seems to mean, “limited to everything except what just broke.”

It’s worth paying more for a chair made of a hardwood, like birch. Plywood, which is cheaper, is OK, but beware the term “all-wood construction,” which might mean pressboard. Ask to see the underneath and check that the chair been put together with heavy screws, not plastic fasteners. Check the density rating on the foam — you want 1.9 or higher. Leather is more durable than vinyl, which can crack. Bargain models are often made with “bonded leather,” a synthetic mix of vinyl and ground-up leather fibers stamped to look like the real thing.

Apart from selecting something sturdy, the best way to choose a recliner is to do a test run: Go to a furniture store and sit in the chair for several minutes. Make sure your feet touch the ground when it’s upright. Is it comfortable in all positions? Does it lean back far enough? Is the headrest cushiony enough, or too cushiony?

Prices for the Stressless models vary. Check for sales, outlets, or even a floor model for a bargain.

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