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December 09, 2004

Pop Quiz o' the Day

Fenster Moop writes:

Dear Blowhards,

Get out your pencils.


Is a Barcolounger an example of good design?

Is a papasan?

Do you own, or would you buy, one or the other?

Why or why not?

(max. one page, single spaced)


Dr. Moop
Ron Popeil "Endowed" Professor of Practical Design and
David Brooks EZ-Chair of Department of Late Capitalist Pop Sociology
College of the Nacirema

posted by Fenster at December 9, 2004


Hmmmm...comfort vs. design. I'm sure I'll get hooted at for saying this---now I guess I have a sense of how professional film critics must feel when their critique runs---but I actually think the papasans look kind of cool (now I'm ducking---so bourgeous, I know) but are lousy to sit in. Barcalounger lack style, and are comfy to sit in.

I own neither.

Posted by: annette on December 9, 2004 5:04 PM

As our host likes to say, Good Lord!
Both of them are just horrendous. Run away, quick. (and what's with these weird names?)

Posted by: Tatyana on December 9, 2004 5:48 PM

They're both ugly, but the one on the left is at least comfy.

BTW, did you see the piece in today's WSJ about how some furniture companies are beginning to market recliners that are meant to appeal to the gals? Ie., they're kinda stylish, a little smaller, come in designer colors, etc. They don't scream "Brewski and football," I guess. But they still recline.

The Wife and I had an early-marriage recliner dispute. I wanted one; she hated the idea. We compromised on a pretty handsome black-leather one that she throws a flowered piece of cloth over. I'm man enough -- or so I like to think -- that my masculinity isn't threatened by this. But the "recliner or no recliner" discussion has to be a common one in marriages, no?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 9, 2004 6:18 PM

OK...I guess the papasan is ugly. As ricpic said---what're the weak willed to do? I think it's amazing you know that it's called a papasan.

Posted by: annette on December 9, 2004 6:50 PM

We used to own one of each, until the wooden frame of the papasan finally succumbed after ten years of being flopped in by overweight people (well, mostly me). I loved that chair, really, and I never thought it ugly.

Posted by: Jaquandor on December 9, 2004 7:01 PM

Hah! Jaquandor has repeatedly demonstated exquisite taste and therefore validates my first reaction! Are you getting the sense I'd make a really crappy film critic? :)

Posted by: annette on December 9, 2004 7:09 PM

If I'm offered two choices, I assume the interrogator is tricking me. There's a third choice available; it's my job to find it. So, I offer this

Function. Beauty. Health. And no Naugahyde bound beast was killed in the kneeling chair's construction.

Posted by: DarkoV on December 9, 2004 7:19 PM

The barcolounger may be more comfortable for solo use, but a large papasan is infinately better for cuddling with beautiful women!

Posted by: David Mercer on December 9, 2004 7:28 PM

OK, audience, let's say you're a combined obstinate client and I am...just doing my job.

Why we are NOT going to waste your money on that chair for your den.(I know, I know, that salesguy was very charming)

1. Barcalounger.
a) construction

Reclining mechanism hidden in the bottom elevates seat to 21" (comfortable height with your feet on the floor in relaxed position with back angle less than 90 deg is maximum 17" aff). Armrests are of the same height as seat - strain on your shoulders (ergonomic height - about 22"aff) Description mentions polyurethane of only one density for both seat and backback. Good chair should have back cushion of higher density. Overall height - 42"aff, overall width - 38". Size closer to 2-settee (loveseat) than to a single chair. And still, with this mach height the top of the chair's back is lower than your shoulders (in fact, on same level as your armpits) - strain on your neck. Padding: a lot of unneccessary bulk in unused places, on sides of the back. Tufting is very crude, provides uneven back support. In reclining position only the seat angle changes, not the back - strain on your lumbar area. I can continue, but space is limited.
b) Materials and aesthetics.
*leather - you will get stuck to it in the summer (imagine yourself in shorts, sweating)and cold in winter. Why do you think people always put a plaid on it? Unless it's a very high quality italian or german leather, it will NOT wear well with all those seams and tufting.
* color - it is not dyed right, appears blotchy and doesn't work with your beautiful mahagony desk.
* details - ball feet in front and "sorta kinda" klismos at the back won't do. It's a non-coordinated bastard. (This is the case we must boicott bastards, sorry).
*overall silhuette - bulky, bullish,badly proportioned.

2. Should I proceed with monster number 2? I can if I'm paid by the hour.

3. Darko V - two words for your Wing chair: lumbar support. Which is missing. Which disqualifies your Health claim. Besides, not compatible in function with two exhibits above since they are offered in LOUNGE category, and the Wing - temp. working chair.

Next time please call me before you depart on your deplorable 3-rate store shopping expeditions, OK?

Posted by: Tatyana on December 9, 2004 9:25 PM

Whe! Tatyana,
I believe Valium comes in gallon size containers. Besides, I'm not into that dominatrix stuff, so I believe I won't be needing your permission slips.

Posted by: DarkoV on December 9, 2004 11:14 PM

Darko V, untie your panties.[hmm...I see now - ""? Never mind]

My last sentence was directed to esteemed Dr.Moop and co-assigners (and imaginary combined client), you're addressed separately only in paragraph #3. Do you have something to say against my points there or you're going to go sensitive on me and play "shrinking violet" ?(I love that expression; I first heard it while was listening to interview with T.Wolfe on C-Span on Sunday as he used it; a friend later told me it's a stable American expression - is it? it's genius. But I digress)

Omitted from #1 a) while overall width is 38", actual seat width is 22". Not much room inside (especially if your weight is a bit above average and you wanted a big sturdy chair to fit).

I hope you gentlemen are satisfied. Am I getting my "A" (or a biscuit?)

Posted by: Tatyana on December 10, 2004 9:38 AM

Thank you class for your interesting comments.

I thought there might be some disagreement.

I doubt there's a right answer. And is the issue one of "comfort versus design"? While comfort does not equate to good design, I'd hope it would always be an important element. At least for my taste: I've seen some ostensibly beautiful "well designed" furniture that is plainly not comfortable. Say what you will about my backside, I resist it being deconstructed for the sake of aesthetics or fashion or "design".

Michael, I did not see that article, but it makes a lot of sense that someone is trying to redo the Barca concept. The Barca is so reprobate, so Archie Bunker, that it's almost like no serious designer would think to rethink it. I don't own one but when I go to my in-laws, I find that my wife's father's old recliner is where I usually end up doing my reading.

We do, however, own a papasan. Two in fact. I have always found them comfortable, as Jaquandor and David Mercer seem to agree. Plus, they are inexpensive. I think cost-to-produce-and-sell is a legitimate factor in considering good design, at least where real consumer objects (as opposed to art objects or cutting-edge trial balloon objects) are concerned.

Further, you could if you wanted to argue that papasans are ecologically friendly. Here's a website

describing a bamboo research project at the Rhode Island School of Design. Bamboo is a pretty nifty renewable.

Posted by: Dr. Moop on December 10, 2004 9:48 AM


A special note to you on your obviously well-researched paper.

I was hoping someone would do the ergonomic research and spare the poor professor from having to do so. I'll just ask the questions, thank you.

Gosh, I did not know some of those ergonomic points--really--though I'm not surprised the chair does not conform to best practices in that area. I will say that my eyes glaze over somewhat at the data. Perhaps I need to study the matter in more detail. If I can just cozy up in that nice recliner over there, I'll be able to concentrate, and then after take a nice nap . . .

I suspect, though, that the chair is kind of stable over time, a cockroach design-wise--where's the need to adapt when the organism is doing well in its niche?

Also, that if someone develops a "better designed" version, it will simply appeal to a different market, and that the market will remain strong for the classic version among those, who unlike you (and I), prefer their chairs on the bulky and bullish side.

Posted by: Dr. Moop on December 10, 2004 10:03 AM

Of course there is a right answer, Doctor.

All you had to do - is to set some rules before announcing the assignment.
(And if you'd educate yourself first on your definitions it would help your students tremendously, too. Design, as it is understood in professional field, starts with purpose of the object. Than structural elements constructed to serve it - in this case, ergonomical support for human body in lounging/reclining position. Than, considering materials for this function, costs of production/overhead/segment of targeted consumer market comes into play. Aesthetics come last.All of the above, combined, means "design". You misuse the term,, professor)

What are you categories for proposed critique - function, production/retail costs, EC (environmental correctness), aesthetics, consumer market segment? All of the above?

As my dear friend and teacher used to say, years ago - there are no ugly colors, there are ugly color combinations.

And I demand my biscuit.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 10, 2004 10:12 AM

Sorry, we were typing simultaneously, Dr. Moop, so I will have to continue (gosh, am I ever get my fee?)

Ergonomics are not that complicated, I was just trying to show you why this ... thing is UNcomfortable (while you seems to think the opposite).
For the layman, again: the seat in closed [non-reclining] position is too high for the feet to stay on the floor. The inside of the chair is too narrow for a large person to move freely. In reclining position the angle of the chair back doesn't change (the bottom of the back should move forward a bit), among other things.

I have no doubt you might fluctuate to that chair in your in-laws house, but could that be because there is nothing better is there? Some people feel quite comfortable lying on the carpet, no chair involved whatsoever.

No matter what materials or aesthetics of the chair are, it has to serve it's function first. If it's a lounge chair, it shoud support body in lounging position. If this basic function is reached, the means serving this purpose could be very expensive or very cheap: bamboo, pink Barbie plastic or Macassar ebony and ivory inlay.

The whole initial impulse for Modernist furniture design, as it was stated in Bauhaus manifesto, was to serve low-budget clients, so to speak (if we to abandon Marxist class slang) providing best possible design with the cheapest materials.

Unfortunately, it's prooved to be a bit more impractical than they thought - at the time. But now, with all the techno advances we have - I don't see why not. Cockroach models appealing to the mass-market could be well-designed, using inexpensive materials.

Also, professor, you're risking to get bad student evaluation at the end of your course with statements like "I just ask questions and you do research". If you ask questions, you should know the answer. Otherwise your students could teach themselves.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 10, 2004 11:25 AM

If I had a choice, NO. But the man of house insists that he must have a recliner. If only it were as attractive as the one in your picture. (Not that I find that especially attractive; just that the one in my house is worse.)

Posted by: Lynn S on December 10, 2004 11:40 AM

No. No. They are both ugly and look ergonomically appalling.

Posted by: Alan Little on December 10, 2004 11:56 AM


OK OK OK here's your (virtual) biscuit.

Posted by: Dr. M on December 10, 2004 3:00 PM

Lynn, I feel your pain.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 10, 2004 3:14 PM

MMMM. Not that bad, considering your low budget.

Me, I'm more of a black coffee and viennese pastry gal. My favorite place (go to 'cafe Sabarsky' button).
Besides, they offer genuine Thonet chairs and wonderful banquettes...

Posted by: Tatyana on December 10, 2004 3:24 PM

Either big fat comfy chair or weird bamboo and natural-fibers chair? Eh, I'd rather have their offspring:

Yes, its a mission-style recliner.

Posted by: rvman on December 10, 2004 3:33 PM

Or, for only 1500 bucks more...

Posted by: rvman on December 10, 2004 3:35 PM

All recliners are not created equal. We bought one (for me) a couple of years ago: plaid fabric (no naugahyde for me, or leather for that matter) and in style it looks like a wingback, albeit a wingback for King Kong. But I had to look far and wide before I found one I thought was sufficiently comfy to bring home.

As for all of the ergometric data quoted above, it all depends on your personal body proportions.

Posted by: Will Duquette on December 10, 2004 4:39 PM

Absolutely, Will. (Uff, somebody with rational point!)

But we were asked to say yes-no and why, so I thought it more general excersize.
I used average data wich will fit at least 60 % population (where, f.ex., it is assumed average eye level is at 5'-6" above finished floor, and knee in seated position is at 17", and so on.)
What's more, there are numerous factors influencing anthropological differences, and race, gender, occupation, even time of day for maximum use is all legitimate questions I have to ask as a designer when selecting furniture for a client.

Good furniture manufacturers take all of this into considerations. For example, Haworth with it's TAZ chair - available in three sizes to fit most people.
Sounds like you've done some work to get the chair that fits and pleases you, congrats.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 10, 2004 7:42 PM

Holy cow! It used to take AIDS or some attack on the publishing world or something to get these kinds of comments!! Who knew chairs were really at the heart of America? Sounds like the Dems would have had a better chance in the recent election if they had taken a clear-cut tough no-bullshit stance on recliners!!

Posted by: annette on December 10, 2004 8:25 PM

Yeah, chairs are in my heart. Along with other furnishings.
Do you want a share? it's like taking biscuit from a baby...

Posted by: Tatyana on December 10, 2004 10:25 PM

Here I try really hard to stir up a lot of comments with a post about a fart-artist. And what wins? Recliners.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 10, 2004 10:32 PM

I bought what I thought was a perfectly good reading chair- which resembled the barcolounger- and soon realized my mistake. My body's silly proportions caused me to hold my shoulders in a permanent shrug position when holding a book. I tried to compensate by hanging my arms either inside or outside the arms but this was also uncomfortable. I found that sitting in a kitchen chair with my feet on the wall was more comfortable. Oh well, what the hey.

Posted by: bart j on December 10, 2004 11:07 PM

I like this sucker. With a chair like that I'd finally get around to reading my Life of Johnson at last. And smoke a pipe, if I had a pipe.

Posted by: Brian on December 10, 2004 11:22 PM

I've always loved papasans, but I'm 5'4" and usually sort of curl up in them while reading or watching the toob. But I can also readjust the angle by skooching the bowl up or down. I bought laz e boys....hmmn that was a mistake. Ugly and uncomfortable but it was a bow to the boyfriend's bad back. I have an adjustable chair from relax the back:

Posted by: Liz on December 11, 2004 4:25 AM

Am I the only person around here who'd never heard the term "papasan" before? My nesting instinct clearly isn't what it should be...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 11, 2004 11:35 AM

I don't want to mention any names here, but it is possible to get a Barca (aka LaZBoy* here in Tejas) that is big enough for, um, someone's ginormous butt. Other observations:
- Tatyana, the whole point of the LaZBoy is to get your dang feet OFF the gound. Hence, the high seat.
- You don't stick to leather, even when you're sweating -- that's vinyl. And who doesn't have AC in America, the spiritual home of the LaZBoy? Now I have known some old boys who put the minus-one generation recliner on the front porch, where one might actually be sweating. This is typically for lazy early-morning hunting purposes during deer season, when you're not likely to be sweating (unless you turn the electric blanket up too high.)
- Why do so many women hate Hate HATE the LaZBoy? Generally speaking, I've found that those that voice the strongest negative opinion can often be found "resting their eyes" in them.
- I've heard, from people I've met in bars, that it is quite possible to do some relatively serious "cuddling" in a LaZBoy. Especially the Big Ol' Boy version of the recliner, like, um, someone's.
- What's wrong with plaid?

* And doesn't THAT name always fire up the ladies? You can see the venom dripping from, um, someone's wife's lips when it's uttered. "Wanna go look for a new LaZBoy?" "I think I need a leather LaZBoy for the ranch." "Hey, look -- they're having a sale on LaZBoys!" heh heh heh

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on December 11, 2004 11:53 AM

I couldn't expect my obstinate client surrender so easily - and how right I was!
- First - nobody wants to start brand name lawsuits here, so let's stick to Barcalounger. Lazy or simply idle you boys are (or you might say - I'm just pausing here between 2 jobs - sure, hon) - not the point here.
- You do stick to leather. If you don't, I think I know the answer to boxers or briefs question. The ladies, on the other hand... or you going to attach "personal property, trespassers will be shot" sign to it?
In some places in US it's actually 4 seasons, imagine, so conditioner isn't always on. And when it's on, it means "winter" situation which I discussed above.
- Who said anything against plaids? Not me. But having a blanket over upholstery sorta defeats the purpose of upholstery, no?

-We were to discuss particular model. I found it on official Barcalounger site, it's called Prestige, that looks close to the model assaigned (scroll down @ the link), and I used published dimensions for attached table. Note, this is "Large" category, and the insides of the seat are still 21" wide.

In reclining position, as I said before, the chair back doesn't move - and it's not good for you posture. Afraid, you gonna freeze like that...

Or, and I thought hunting is a physical activity. Thanks for opening my eyes, Scott.

What I don't understand, with all marvellous internet shopping now, why people stick with their grandaddy options? You could find out all info about the furniture - dimensions, fiber content of upholstery, was the wood frame kiln-dried or not - all kinds of stuff, besides purely aesthetics. And you can get the best price, too.
Or is it insecurity issue? Like my 4 y.o. nephew, who refuses to eat seated in unfamiliar chair?

Posted by: Tatyana on December 11, 2004 12:39 PM

What does anyone think of this "Manhattan Everyday Suede" armchair from Pottery Barn?

I'm debating.


Posted by: annette on December 11, 2004 1:25 PM

I had a dispiriting moment when I was reading a book on sailing ships, and I realized that "barcalounger" most probably derived its name from a type of Mediterranean ship called a "barca-longa."

Posted by: Stoney S. on December 11, 2004 3:54 PM

Annette, more material for your debate:

Posted by: Tatyana on December 11, 2004 4:26 PM

Tatyana---Oooh, thanks. I love the Paris chair and the colors are right. And the price is better!

Do I remember correctly---are you a designer? Or am I imagining that?

Posted by: annette on December 11, 2004 5:05 PM


Numero uno, those ain't large. Here's what I'm talking about: The Grand Canyon, baby. If you're going to do The Recliner, by gosh, do it right. None of these faux stylized half-measures. NB: I don't have one of these. Yet.

Numero two-o, I will contend that you don't stick to leather, not good leather. I have gargantuan leather furniture from past bachelorhood, and I've never stuck to it, unless I've flopped down completely drenched in sweat (and that's a drying problem, not a leather problem.) BTW, guess where all of my expensive, gorgeous, enormous leather is now? At the ranch. Regardless, I'm willing to share my recliner, unless it's football time, or nappy-poo time. Then Herself can hike off to those butt-ugly 'divans' that litter the house.

OK -- who wants to take a nap in a chair with a back that moves??? Very confused by this point, posture be damned.

Numero four-o : you ladies are eensy. Yall can curl up in those cute little chairs and be comfortable all day. You're probablyh neat, too. You'd never spill a beer or queso on it, or fall asleep with a half-eaten Whataburger in your lap.

Lastly, and this might possibly be a man thing -- I don't need no kiln-dried wood or fiber contents. Give me the welded metal frame, high-grade leather, and easily-replaceable cushion stuffer thingies, and there's a chair that'll last a lifetime. Having hinged arm dealios that hold the remote and other goodies (cigar cutter, toenail clipper, six-pack) would only be a bonus.

I think I have a future in recliner design. Must go find funding.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on December 11, 2004 6:50 PM

Scott, is there a game on the toob or your burger is distracting you?
Can't check your own link?

Uno: overall width of your chair is LESS than the one in my link . On whole 1/2". So whose is bigger, huh? (yeah, I'm talking to you)

secundo: in answer to your question - YOU're the one who wants to take a nap in chair with a back that moves. Scroll a bit down in your link and see the tiny-teeny diagram with that color arrow pointing down next to the back of your dream? That means the back is adjustable, my friend, and rightly so!

Scott, if I'd be priviledged to have you as a client, do you know what I'd suggest? Look here.

Happy napping!

Posted by: Tatyana on December 11, 2004 7:55 PM

I'm clearly confused -- I thought you said that the back shouldn't move if you wanted to nap. Never mind.

I was looking at back height dimensions for full body support during the nap. That Presige looks like it would have my head flopping over the edge when in full-recline. Gotta admit I really like that Longhorn, but only if it had a taller (40+") back.

Your big sofa recommendation has a severe problem for me -- it's too short for a six-footer to nap on.

Speaking of naps and recliners...gametime in 1:21!

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on December 12, 2004 12:08 PM

Oh come on guys. Get Chesterfield serious. Don't be lower closer. It unbecomes you all.

Posted by: Randall Parker on December 12, 2004 7:07 PM

Leather, icky. Hate the feel and the look of leather, high quality or not. It is for desktops and blotting pads, not chairs.

Relaxation? Get a good day bed or chaise lounge. You not only get to lay back, but you look all historical doing so.

I've always perfered the high-backed, heavily cushoned seats for dining and working. Comfortable enough to be relaxing, but not enough to amke you fall asleep.


Posted by: JL on December 13, 2004 2:31 AM

Also, as a tall and wide man, I can never fit into a paraban, always end up curling in some awkward and unseemly posture. Ugly thing too.

Tatyana is right


Posted by: JL on December 13, 2004 2:33 AM

Really, JL: Scott Shaffin as Mme Recamier!

Posted by: Tatyana on December 13, 2004 11:00 AM

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