Motion Furniture

Nothing adds that extra level of comfort like motion furniture. Whether you're buying furniture for a casual living space, or if you want a hidden indulgence for a formal sitting room, a well-designed motion piece can make all the difference.

Of course, quality motion furniture is more than just a stationary piece with some moving parts. Here's what you need to consider when getting into motion:

Reclining vs. Tilt-Back

The first choice you'll need to make is between tilt-back or fully reclining furniture.

Reclining Pieces

Recliners have the footrest built in to the piece, and can be set in one of three positions: the normal "closed" position, the fully reclined position, and a position halfway between these where the footrest is extended but the back is still upright (called the "TV" position). Recliners are available in two varieties:

  • Pressback recliner Pressback Recliners have no handles or levers, but operate by responding to your own movements as you lay back (pressing against the back of the chair) and sit up. They have decorative wood legs, and look almost exactly like stationary chairs when not reclined.
  • Handle recliner Handle Recliners rely less on your body strength to operate, but they also need considerably less wall clearance than pressbacks—in this case, the entire base actually slides forward as the back lays down, reducing the overall space needed behind the piece. This type of recliner can also be fitted with a motorized control instead of the manual lever, or a swivel glider base. (Note that swivel glider bases require more wall clearance than the standard base.)

Tilt-Back Chairs

Tilt-back chair

Tilt-Back Chairs are the most similar to stationary chairs because the only thing that moves is the back: a small lever on the outside operates the mechanism. The advantage to this relatively simple setup is that the back can be locked into any position along its path, providing you with maximum control.

Because there is no built-in footrest, tilt-back chairs generally rely on a matching ottoman to put your feet up. That's an extra piece of furniture in the room, so if floorspace is a concern then a recliner might be the better option for you.

Options within the same style group

Because of their similarities, many styles are often available as either a tilt-back chair or a pressback recliner, as well as a stationary chair.


The style #501 chair group features a stationary chair, a pressback reclining chair, and a tilt-back chair.
The group is designed to have only a few very small differences in appearance between these variations.

Smith Brothers offers a wide range of all three types, as well as full sofa sets specially designed to complement many of them (see "Coordinating with other furniture," below).

Swivels and Gliders

Some tilt-back chair styles have a swivel base option, and all handle/manual recliners can be fitted with a swivel glider base. Pressback recliners cannot be put on a swivel base due to limitations created by the reclining mechanism.

Spacing and Wall Clearance

When you're planning your room, it's very important to keep in mind that motion furniture needs space to work. The amount of space varies from piece to piece, but in general you should allow for several inches of clearance behind the furniture. The Catalog provides a dimension called "wall clearance" on all motion pieces to give you this information.

Of course, one of the key differences between tilt-back chairs and recliners is that a tilt-back generally has an ottoman with it, so don't forget to account for that as well!

Coordinating with Other Furniture

Motion furniture usually has its own unique design—often determined by the engineering or ergonimic factors inherent in incorporating the moving parts. While there is often a sofa style specifically designed to complement most reclining or tilt-back chairs, it's important to note that there may be small differences between the two pieces, often in subtle factors like the overall height or seat depth. Always review the specific attributes of a complementary sofa before you commit to it.

Of course, you may decide that a sofa designed to match your favorite recliner or tilt-back chair is not what you want anyway. In that case, all you need to do is identify the design characteristics of your motion piece to find a sofa that will work with it. It's usually a good idea to try and be consistent about certain key design elements such as the arm type, legs, and overall shape. The Catalog will help guide you toward similar styles.

About Fabric on Recliners

Reclining furniture in particular has one downside: there are friction points in the furniture where the fabric or leather will rub together as the piece is reclined. With leather, this is usually not an issue. With fabric, however, that constant friction can create a problem.

Smith Brothers has taken this into consideration and tests all of our fabrics specifically for use in reclining furniture. As you browse the fabric offerings, pay attention to the "Recliner Rating." This is a pass/fail rating that we have assigned to each fabric: either a fabric passed our tests and will not have a problem in motion, or it did not pass and we recommend against using it. You are still free to use these fabrics in a reclining piece anyway, but you should beware of potential thin spots or severe pilling at those friction points in the future. (Read more about Smith Brothers fabric quality testing here.)

Frame Construction, Springs, and Mechanisms

Of course you want any piece of furniture in your home to be solidly built, but construction quality is especially critical in motion furniture because of the moving parts and the potential for those parts to fail. Even in the store before you buy, you can identify the pieces that will most likely suffer from wear and tear if you pay close attention. Sit in it and see if you feel any looseness or misalignment in the motion. Grasp the arms and see if you can detect any wobble, or if they feel as solid as a stationary piece.

Do that enough times going from a Smith Brothers piece to furniture made by another manufacturer, and you'll immediately be able to tell the difference. We have gone above and beyond industry standards in engineering our motion furniture to last a long time.

Click here for more about our construction features!