Here’s the first fun, important (and pretty obvious) historical fact: people didn’t always sit on chairs. Stools, benches, other hard and backless surfaces, sure. But not chairs. Chairs, since their very earliest inception (they became popular in the 16th century), have always been a little special, what with their legs and their backs and all, and so were reserved mainly for kings and emperors and heads of state. Which leads us, then, to another fun, important (and possibly dubious) historical fact: since the common people got their hands on them, it’s been a steady race to make chairs as goddamn comfortable as possible.
Which is where the reading chair comes in. It’s a funny classification, not really official by any furniture standard. But when we talk of reading chairs, we’re talking about being relaxed, secure, and unfettered by the demands of world outside your book (including the harsh demands of gravity). You could say the reading chair is the evolutionary high point of sitting down. A good reading chair is one you can stay in for hours and hours and hours, poring through detective novels, newspapers or websites like this one. You could even watch TV in a reading chair — we’re really not sticklers about the term. It’s possible you have one already — one that’s worked in, that you’ve been carrying with you move after move after move. But if you don’t have one already, here are some more than worthy options.
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Eames Lounge Chair
Best All-Around Reading Chair: Depending on whom you ask, the Eames lounge and its ottoman are played out. Over. So ubiquitous in neo-modernist hipster homes that it’s barely worthy of comment. To those people, we politely say: shut up. The Eames lounger is a classic, plain and simple. It’s been in continuous production since it was introduced in 1956 — and still there might not be a better looking, more comfortable chair on the market. If there’s such thing as a benchmark in reading chairs, this right here is it.
Room and Board Callan Chair & Ottoman
Best Chameleon Reading Chair: The Callan chair is a masterclass in both comfort and design, with a light touch of the unassuming. Its seat cushion, made of eco-friendly, highly resilient foam that’s topped with an extra layer of padding, is made for blissful comfort yet melds perfectly with the chair’s kiln-dried hardwood frame. The chair is available in several different fabric colors and wooden finishes, so customizing it to match any room isn’t a problem. A matching ottoman can be purchased for those who like their feet elevated when devouring Hemingway.
Lookout Mountain Rocker
Best Family Values Reading Chair: This chair is already a family heirloom. It was designed by Randy Cochrane when his two sons, Keith and Dylan, were babies — the perfect chair, he thought, to rock them to sleep in his arms. Some 30 years later, Randy’s still making the Lookout Mountain Rocker in his workshop in Payne, Alabama, only now he’s helped out by Keith and Dylan, who these days do most of the work at the family shop, Wood Studio. It’s everything a handmade chair should be: solid, well designed, timeless. And it works just as well for reading as it does for rocking babies to sleep.
American Bungalow Chair
Best All-American Reading Chair: Thos. Moser is a good, old-fashioned Made in America company that prides itself on craftsmanship above all else. And is there a more genuinely American piece than this? It’s simple, made in the Craftsman style (though only vaguely, so as not to be too distractingly stylistic), made with solid cherry wood and rich brown leather. It’s the perfect cottage chair, the kind you could spend all day in if you had the time.
CH445 Wing Chair
Best Mid-Century Revival Reading Chair: This Hans Wegner reproduction is another mid-century classic, a product of Eames-era industrial design that’s still current more than 50 years after it was conceived. While we could extol the CH445’s MoMA-worthy design, its comfort is actually a more convincing talking point. The chair is deep — a full 35.4 inches — and the back’s high, horn-like peaks make for great headrests, all the better to curl up against.
Best Chair for Fireplace Reading: The Fogo Island Inn is the best place you’ve probably never been: a design-centric resort on a remote island off the northern coast of Newfoundland, Canada’s remotest province. Last year, the inn released a set of limited-edition furniture by some of the best designers working today in North America, Europe and Scandinavia. The Bertha chair is the undisputed standout of the bunch — at least where comfort and accessibility are concerned. Designed by Donna Wilson, the chair takes cues from the inherently comforting interior life of Newfoundland: plain, plank wood (yellow birch, in this case) and quilted cushions. The only thing missing is a roaring fire and some Screech (or, you know, better liquor).
Best Reading Chair for Leather Aficionados: The club chair emerged in France at the beginning of the 20th century, right around the time gentlemen’s clubs were flourishing and unadulterated comfort was becoming en vogue. To this day, there is no more sumptuous or luxurious experience than sinking into a soft, low-slung lounge chair. It makes you want to light up a cigar, sip on good whiskey and fall unwittingly to sleep — not necessarily in that order. This version from Ethan Allen hits all the right marks, with a deep seat, big cushions and hand-tailored leather; still, it’s not as enormous as some of the true club chair hulks, which can make the difference in a less-than-luxuriously sized room.
Best Reading Chair to Lean Back In: This might be the point in the list where you’d expect to find a La-Z-Boy or some other monstrous recliner. Instead, we endorse this rather elegant recliner from Room & Board. This chair has more in common with mid-century classics than it does with anything in the clearance section at American Furniture Warehouse. But yeah, it reclines. All the way back. So what more could you want, really?
Best Budget Reading Chair Option: You don’t have to spend all of your money on a reading chair. Heck, you’ll want to save some of it for actual reading material — books and magazine subscriptions don’t come cheap. A simple, affordable option, the Anders Armchair from West Elm has a wide seat and wide, padded armrests, perfect for balancing a drink or a volume of Tolstoy. Plus, you can get it in any one of 74 different colors or patterns.