Goldilocks and the Three Chairs

Life is good. Having just moved into a house with a room for a dedicated home theater, it was time to get set up. More to the point, time for shopping. Usually, the last thing I want to do is to buy furniture, but the search for the perfect chairs for my home theater became my quest. Seeking perfection, I pored over furniture catalogs, websites and scoured any furniture in my path. A woman’s home theater is her castle, right? I already had furnished my girl-cave, I mean home office, and the A/V room, although last on the decorating list, was in my mind, the most crucial.

I never really cared what types of chairs went in the theater until I thought about how the chairs need to perform. Obviously, they needed to be comfortable. Very comfortable. However, the longer I looked, the more subtle things became apparent. Back support was essential, and good neck support turned out to be important too. And, of course, the chairs should look cool. But there was more too.

I started my search at your typical furniture store. Ugh. Most of the retailers had such generic (read: ugly) furniture that while comfortable, were just too Lazy-boy-ish. I wanted my theater to look cool, not like a rec room from the 70’s. Other chairs were just too stuffy—too much like my grandmother’s sitting room. No offense, Grandma.

I looked at Ikea too. Cool, hip, and well, cheap. Sadly, also cheaply made. This is my forever-house, and I wanted to furnished it with good quality materials. Thanks Ikea—bought some Swedish meatballs and grabbed a few cinnamon rolls for the road before bolting.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I found some amazingly retro chairs at Restoration Hardware. The “Copenhagen” chair is a beautiful copy of classic chairs designed for a hotel in Denmark. However, the big rounded cocoon backs created a parabolic reflector that completely messed up stereo imaging. Great chairs for my girl-cave, lousy chairs for my home theater.

Then the strangest thing happened. On my way to get take-out at my new local Chinese restaurant, I saw a sign on a small little storefront furniture store: Stressless. I’ve never heard of this brand, but who doesn’t want a Stressless chair? I certainly don’t want a Stressful chair, that’s for sure. I wandered in and took a seat.

The clouds parted, angels sang, and I found Nirvana. I had discovered the perfect chair for my home theater. Stressless, by Ekornes, based in Norway, was just right. The furniture is built there and then shipped to North Carolina for assembly in the US. And, it turns out, Norwegians are the Albert Einsteins of chair design. Who knew? Ekornes makes their Stressless recliners, desk chairs and sofas all with the same basic framework. The basic construction is a steel frame with rows of springs stretched from side-to-side. The entire frame is then encased in high-density foam, then a thinner foam cushion, and finally your choice of fabrics or leather. (Of course, mine was going to be black leather.)

The beauty of the system, however, isn’t revealed until you sit on it. The chairs recline in a most delightful way. Traditional recliners typically just lean back—feet up, head back, eyes staring at the ceiling. The Stressless moves differently throughout the range of rotation. When you first lean back slightly, one row of springs moves forward to support your lower back. Then as you lean back further, the most amazing thing happens. Instead of tilting your head back, leaving you staring at the ceiling, the Stressless head rest remains upright, giving you a perfect view of the TV screen in front of you. Even if the chair wasn’t amazingly comfortable (and trust me, it is), this feature alone would have convinced me to buy it. This is just brilliant. There’s also a way to defeat this feature if you do want to completely recline for a nap. Not that I would know anything about that.

My dream chair avoids another problem that I’ve noticed with most recliners. Although this is my home theater room, it is also primarily a listening room. I found most recliners tend to encase my head (albeit in pillows of comfort) and muffle the sound. Even less cushy chairs are big and bulky and block the sound from my surround speakers. Many models in the Stressless line have adjustable headrests that can be raised or lowered for comfort, and in my case, I can lower them to prevent the sound from being altered. Specifically, I can lower the headrest so my ears are above it, yet my neck is still supported for hours and hours of movie or music magic.

How does my Stressless chair fit me so perfectly? Their chairs and recliners are available in three sizes (small, medium, and large), and most of the sofas are available in two sizes (medium and large). This allows you to make sure your head is supported properly, in addition to ensuring the width of the seat is right for you. For me, the small was too narrow (I tend to sit Indian-style with my feet up), the large was too tall, but the medium was just right. Goldilocks, eat your heart out.

The Stressless home theater seating is the same as some of the sofas, but instead of connecting two or three seats together to form a sofa, they can be configured with a wedge-shaped piece that doubles as a table and remote storage. They can all be configured in a variety of ways to produce the home theater seating of your dreams. From a single chair to double rows of stadium seating, every home theater can be accommodated.

This type of luxury doesn’t come cheap. The recliners start over $2,000 and the sofa and theater configurations start around $3,000, depending on the style, and fabric or leather choices. However, for seating in your home theater, it pays to pay attention to details—details like good neck support at a good viewing angle, and ear position that isn’t blocked. A great home theater with terrific gear deserves equally terrific chairs. Scrimp on wallpaper in the powder room or linens for the guest room. Your theater deserves the best.

This Goldilocks finally found her perfect chair—not too big, not too small, not too squishy, not to firm. Plus, it's ideal for listening and movie viewing. My Stressless home theater seating is just right.

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COMMENTS
Greg Handy's picture

Congrats on your purchase. However, I would like to point out a few pit falls with these chairs that might help others make an informed decision.

First I do admit that Stressless by Ekornes is first rate in quality. No debate about that. Quality is awesome including frame leather etc. I have looked at this line of products for some time. One day I will purchase one of their products if I can make it work in my space.

The draw back:

They require at least 14 inches from the rear wall to recline. While that may not be a problem for some rooms - if you don't have the space, you don't have the space.

Second, they don't have built in foot rests like most recliners hence the ottoman. I know, the manufacturer indicates that the ottoman is the best way to rest your feet. However, I hate ottomans. Children use them as skateboards, or launching pads, etc, and often just get in the way. But again - if you have the space and don't have kids, you may be just fine.

I don't like to criticize unless I offer an alternative. Check out IMG (http://www.imgcomfort.com). They too are cut from the same cloth as Ekornes in that they are from Norway - designed but built in their factory in Vietnam. But don't let that fool you - (my iPhone is made in china). Quality is fantastic, comfort is incredible, leather quality is excellent - sourced from Italy. The only bad thing is they are not cheap - just like the Ekornes product. Unlike Ekornes, Much of their product can be placed 3 inches from the wall, and yes, they have built in foot rests just like a traditional recliner. They have a similar look to the Ekornes line - sleek, space saving, and no grandpa appearance here. They are hard to find though. I stumbled across them in a store that specializes in recliners. As I toured the store, I tried various products they had but all hurt my back -I have two herniated disks - L4, L5, and no couch will do. Most recliners hurt after a while. I saw the IMG product, and sat in it. Immediate relieve from the other recliners. But then the shock in price. Oh well. You pay what you get for. Same price point as Ekornes I would imagine. Google them, you will find them.

Willy's picture

That Ekornes and IMG have similar furniture, that's no accident. In the small village Sykkylven, Norway, there's one industry, and that industry is furniture. Through the years, a lot of innovative companies have had their home here. LK Hjelle, Formfin, Brunstad, the list is long. The two largest were Ekornes and Hjellegjerde.
After a string of unfortunate events, Hjellegjerde slowly started to fade, but the Hjellegjerde family weren't done with the furniture business. Headquartered in the old Hjellegjerde factory, IMG delivers a very similar range of products to Ekornes just on the opposite side of the fjord (The factories are only two miles apart as the crow flies). Where Ekornes went high-tech and use an increasing amount of robots and automation assisted production to keep manufacturing competitive in a high-cost country like Norway, IMG built production facilities in Vietnam. There, they build good furniture at a lower price point than Ekornes.
IMG's business model is good. Exploit the market that wants norwegian-style furniture but can't justify the price tag of the Stressless line to themselves. In fact, the business model is so good that Ekornes ASA started asking themselves why they would let anyone else harvest the profits from this market. They are now in the final due diligence phase of acquiring IMG.

As for the problems with space behind the recliners, I consider that more of a problem with the room rather than the furniture. I have a similar issue, my couch is against the wall. This also gives me a problem with the rear surround speakers. I have to have them to the side of me instead of behind...
I'm definitely going to get a Stressless sofa at some point though. My parents have a living room set, and it's amazingly comfortable.

Disclaimer: After having lived my whole life in this town, I recently started working for Ekornes ASA (IT Dept). I was a fan of their Stressless furniture long before that though.

Leslie Shapiro's picture
Thanks, Greg. Sounds like you found the chair that was just right for you! Thanks for pointing out the space issue. Alas, no kids here, and my theater has plenty of clearance behind me.

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