The reclining chair business isn't what it used to be. It isn't Archie Bunker. And it isn't Monday Night Football.

— Website of Barcalounger Corporation*

Here is the story of a proprietary eponym of, well, not epic, but wide proportions. Upon arriving at the "company information" page of the Barcalounger Corporation's website, the viewer encounters a peculiar dichotomy; the hot denial (above) of Barcalounger's public image, but the tacit admission of it as well. Perhaps their advertising agency decided that a slightly softer, "let the product speak for itself" approach wouldn't work. Perhaps the idea of "the new Barcalounger" appeared hackneyed. Years ago, before the demise of the brand name, the Oldsmobile division of General Motors, aware that the car's image was indeed similar in the mind of the American consumer as "Barcalounger" had become, came up with a pretty neat statement for their line of new, powerful, Euro-styled vehicles. The television and print advertising bragged "it's not your father's Oldsmobile." What these products have in common were that they were status symbols of creature comfort and luxury. (Oh, by the way, Archie's chair wasn't a recliner, it was a plain wingback — it's in The Museum of National History in Washington, D.C.) But I digress; this is not intended to be an analysis of advertising staid brands to a younger generation.

Basically, the Barcalounger is the trademarked name for a chair patented by one Dr. Anton Lorenz. In 1940, Edward Joel Barcolo acquired the license to manufacture the "therapeutic" mechanical chairs. Prior to the advent of the Barcalounger, in order to be comfortable reading the evening newspaper, one would have to move (or wiggle around) one's ottoman, settle into the chair, adjust your pillow and then perhaps wiggle one's feet to get the ottoman back in line. Then, when one's beverage of choice ran out, the process would be reversed unless one's significant other would come running when the person seated exclaimed, "hon, couldya get me another cold one?!"  Well, Mr. Barcolo's invention changed all that.
 

What a Reclining Chair Does

The chair's arms are of a certain level to make leveraging even the most size-challenged individual into the seat a breeze. In the case of the Barcolounger, the sturdy wooden construction of the frame assures no embarrassing tumbles on the floor lest the chair jiggle the slightest bit. (Visit a furniture store and try out a $299 special. Assert your weight on one arm and the chair will flip over, forwards or sideways. This lesson learned from long, tedious shopping trips for "just the right one" for my beloved mother.) Once situated, at the push of a handsome, discreet lever at the side of the chair and a little push of one's tush, the chair reclines. The lever enables one to stay in this position, by returning it to the "stop" position, or one can go farther, and from nowhere, as if like magic, a plush footrest is offered up by means of a metal mechanism driven by the backward motion of the chair. Finally, should one desire a little snooze, the chair will all but flatten itself out into a bed, and cradle the occupant in Dr. Lorenz's unique and patented comfort.
 

What Sets This Brand Apart

The Barcalounger is basically the Cadillac of reclining chairs. They were also the first, although competitors whose patents apparently were different enough popped up as soon as ten years after the first Barcalounger (La-Z-Boy). Later, companies like Lane, Bassett and other name makers all got in on the recliner business.

What sets Barcalounger apart is really the fact that they've been, as their website says "two steps ahead of the competition" for a long time. They're also well-known for quality (especially if price is a measure thereof). Besides, who wants to admit they're "La-Z?" I'd much rather be accused of "lounging," personally. But again, I digress. Solid steel (instead of tubular steel) construction, extra-heavy springs, ball-bearings everywhere and plenty of plush cushioning that's orthopedically engineered are all product sales points that set the Barcalounger apart. So far as styling options, Barcalounger leaves the competition in the dust. However, after inspecting myriad pieces of furniture while researching this writeup, I must tell you that even Barcalounger doesn't have a model that approaches Bauhaus simplicity. Some of 'em are busier to look at than a guy trying to look '70s retro wearing plaid pants, a polyester psychedelic print shirt, and a paisley tie. And wouldn't it be funny if there were such a thing as a Barcelona Barcalounger? Aesthetics aside, there are a number of Barcaloungers which are motorized, so as to help those in need into their seat, and then back out of it, at the touch of a button. Heat and massage options on other models lead me to believe that even something as American as Apple Pie can evoke a bit of kink.

Barcalounger brags that they've literally hundreds of fabrics/leathers/plastics with which they can upholster your furniture. You may also provide your own fabric; that's catering to interior decorators so they gather commission not only from Barcalounger, but from the fabric-seller as well. However, you'll end up owning the only Barcalounger of its kind (my mind drifts to what flights of fancy someone like Liberace would've come up with had custom-upholstered Barcaloungers been available in his time. Who knows, they probably were!).
 

The Couch (Well, Recliner) Potato

The Barcalounger even rears its ugly head as a contributor to COPD symptoms in a piece of research from the venerable European Respiratory Journal. The good journal was arguing that rehabilitation, e.g., exercise and breathing exercises, in conjunction with enhanced levels of medication make life easier for COPD patients, and that the term "rescue" should be "abandoned" for such patients. Basically, the journal argues that given the symptoms of COPD, shortness of breath should not be considered an "acutely negative event." They emphasize that by engaging in slightly more activity, as well as increasing medication, COPD patients' physiological functioning is optimized.

A GENTLE WARNING:  THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH IS FACTUAL AND USED HEREIN FOR HUMOROUS RELIEF. IT MAY, HOWEVER, DISTRESS READERS WHO SUFFER COPD OR FAMILY MEMBERS OF COPD PATIENTS. CONTINUE WITH THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH (ONLY) AT YOUR OWN RISK.

The case study that the European Journal describes is ironic in a morbid way. Patient "X," a 68-year old male with a long history of COPD had a long history of cigarette smoking, as well. His respiration and blood oxygen levels (despite receiving nasal oxygen therapy) were seriously compromised. When asked by doctors if he had shortness of breath, he replied, "no." When asked if he had difficulty breathing when climbing stairs, he replied, "I don't do that." When asked if he had difficulty breathing when walking on level surfaces he replied, "I don't do that either." A little more questioning revealed that the entirety of his physical activity was sitting in a Barcalounger; the only state wherein he did not experience breathing difficulty. Aggressive use of medicine as well as aggressive attempts at physical rehabilitation had the net result of enabling him to sustain a mild degree of ambulation. In other words, he could do more than sit in his Barcalounger, following therapy. Although there were certain events of heightened dyspnoea (shortness of breath) paradoxical to his increase in activity, the Journal concludes that "the fact that he was better off after the initiation of aggressive therapy was clear to him, his family and his physicians."
 

The Winds of Change Are A-Blowin'

Ask almost anyone familiar with furniture, and they'll say that a Barcalounger is "an enormous, really enormous, piece of furniture; built to seat one, typically placed in front of the TV sets of wealthy older people." (DISCLAIMER: this statement is derived from purely unscientific research.) Well, has Barcalounger got news for you! Read from their website:

  • When the housing market moved toward smaller interiors, Barcalounger anticipated the trend with our popular "low profile" recliners.
  • As new home entertainment options emerged, we complemented the hardware with stylishly coordinated "software" - Barcalounger living room groups and big, comfortable recliners.
  • And now as the baby boom generation matures toward the more traditional reclining chair profile, Barcalounger is uniquely positioned to satisfy their dual demand for style and quality.

A SIDE NOTE: as part of the research for this piece I came across an interesting blog entry entitled "Bye-Bye Bookstore Barcaloungers" discussing the removal of the comfy, over-stuffed furniture so often associated with Barcaloungers from bookstores. The writer of the blog, Colleen Doran, just (10 August 07)  gave me permission to reprint her post in full. Bold type/light type is hers:

…the availability of so-called “soft” seating - overstuffed chairs and sofas - is on the decline at some bookstores, done in by various complications: homeless squatters, overly enthusiastic young lovers, food trash left behind.

“We were finding people staying for hours and hours and not necessarily buying books,” says Juliana Wood, district marketing manager for the Borders chain. “We obviously hope browsing turns to purchasing, but that’s a chance you take when you offer people a really comfortable setting.”

I’m more likely to buy if I’ve been hanging out in a comfy spot at the store because I feel guilty if I don’t.

“People were falling asleep in the chairs, then spilling their coffee. We want you to be comfortable, but we also want to be able to clean up after you have left,” Wood says. At another store, she once broke up two teenagers exploring something other than a good book - “by the children’s section, no less.”

Tsk. Get a room.

c

The above, and more of Colleen's delightful writing, may be found at: http://adistantsoil.com/blog/?p=1428.

My input about part of the issue mentioned: perhaps if certain bookstores did indeed set aside a certain amount of seating for the homeless (by way of affording homelessness intervention groups a kind of "one-stop" milieu in which to do their good works) more people would patronize those stores than those which are homeless-unfriendly.
 

Firmly Ensconced in Middle America

Barcalounger's online catalogue was extensive and shows innovation. There are myriad styles from which to choose, including "Traditional," "Vintage," and the smaller-profile "Lifestyles" collection. The "Vintage" collection as well as the traditional ("Your Father's") skirted Barcalounger are available in "Medium Scale" and "Large Scale" dependent upon the girth of the intended occupant (unless of course the "Large Scale" models are awfully, awfully narrow loveseats which are meant for cuddling by two relatively skinny individuals whilst they recline; the website is silent about whether the "Large Scale" models are for single- or two-person occupancy.)

Barcalounger should be commended on their attempt to reflect their product in use by a modern, forward-thinking, racially integrated family. Barcalounger's homepage shows a stunning array of red leather contemporary barcaloungers (three in front and two staggered, and raised, in back) in front of a wide-screen television. The room is decorated with restrained good taste, a stylized sports-related works of art on the walls, neutral-colored carpeting, tasteful, contemporary draperies and accessories. An empty pizza box sits on the floor next to the young man of the household (a white boy verging on looking Aryan), watching as his team makes a touch-down. Mom's in back (she's white and blonde — but from a bottle — with the son, actually standing up and making a fist to celebrate the touch down. Father and daughter (you guessed it; white and whiter) sit next to one another, dad being offered a pizza box by another member of the household (or perhaps a visitor, or perhaps the household help): a young black woman. She's standing next to dad. The nearest deluxe home-theater Barcalounger remains empty. Even the cup-holder in the empty Barcalounger is empty. Well, at least the black woman's in the house. So I guess this year's Barcalounger isn't Archie Bunker's at all.

Barcaloungers are made with care in the U.S.A. from the finest materials. Consult their website or a dealer of fine furniture near you for more information.

UPDATE 8 AUGUST 07: squeezie says re Barcalounger: Is it worth a brief mention of the importance of the Barcalounger in the TV programs 'Friends'? There was at least one whole episode dedicated to one getting broken, and it's almost a character in itself, especially when Chandler and Monica move in together. I'm pretty sure I'd never have heard of the brand if it wasn't for that programme. (Author's note: I bet Barcalounger paid an awful lot of money for that product positioning!)
 

Archie Bunker is copyright 1971-2007 Norman Lear/Tandem Productions. "Monday Night Football" is copyright 2006-2007 ESPN Network Corporation (Sorry, ABC.)
*"Barcalounger" is a registered trademark of the Barcalounger Corporation. The quote at the lede of this article is copyright 2007 Barcalounger Corporation.

SOURCES:

  • Various pages of the Barcalounger Corporation: www.barcalounger.com (Accessed 8/9/07)
  • Pricing/Specification comparisons from: http://www.bradshomefurnishings.com/ (Accessed 8/9/07)
  • Archie Bunker's Chair at the Museum of National History: http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/North_America/United_States_of_America/ Washington_DC/Local_Customs-Washington_DC-USA_On_Display-BR-1.html?frdir=yes (Accessed 8/9/07)
  • "Bye-Bye Bookstore Barcalounger" http://adistantsoil.com/blog/?p=1428 (Accessed 8/9/07)
  • "Rescue! Therapy and the paradox of the Barcalounger:" Rennard, S.I. and Calverley, P., European Respiratory Journal 2003; 21:916-917 http://www.erj.ersjournals.com/cgi/content/full/21/6/916 (Accessed 8/9/07)

 

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