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All The Moves: Upholstery With Motion Capabilities

From swivel to full-body massage, upholstery with motion capabilities is resonating with consumers, even with a higher price point.

By Diane Falvey
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Bellini Modern Living adds dual motors to its leather sectional for head and foot rests. Right top: Spectra Home has found that swivel sells four times to one in similar stationary models.
Bellini Modern Living adds dual motors to its leather sectional for head and foot rests. Right top: Spectra Home has found that swivel sells four times to one in similar stationary models.

From swivels and rockers all the way up to sofas and chairs that put you in a zero gravity position or provide a deep-tissue full-body massage, movement in furniture is resonating with today’s consumer. 
More consumers are investing in furniture designed to provide flexibility and personalize their “sit,” and manufacturers are taking notice and delivering options that bring as much style as comfort.

The overstuffed leather recliner long associated with added comfort is no longer the only option. Today’s streamlined and varied designs, as well as a wide swath of motion capabilities, have helped to elevate the category.


Personalized Sit

According to Jim Tellyish, Senior Vice President of Spectra Home Furniture, chairs that move — swivel, rock or glide — sell four-to-one when compared with their respective stationary models. To leverage the consumer’s increased interest in movement,  the company invests in the mechanisms that allow its furniture to make those needed moves. He credits open concept design as one factor for the increased attraction to swivel chairs. “The swivel chair doesn’t always have to face in one direction,” Tellyish says. “With open concept homes, it can be in the living room or the kitchen.”

“We have hectic lifestyles,” adds Bellini Modern Living’s CEO Hossein Azimi. “People want to relax and put their feet up when they get home.” To answer this need, Bellini, a Canadian company that imports its high-end leather furniture from Italy, added motion options to its streamlined modern styles four years ago. “The recliner has been around for years, but it has been bulky and not in the higher-end of the furniture spectrum,” he says. Bellini’s reclining furniture — from chairs to sectionals — features dual-power motors to adjust the legs and the headrest, inline reclining (they can still sit against a wall), and the ability to recline to zero gravity. The recliners come corded to plug in, or come with a long-lasting battery pack for those pieces of furniture that float in the room, providing myriad comfort and style options.

Oakland Chair from Christina@Home collection
Oakland Chair from Christina@Home collection.

Perhaps one of the most appealing features of Bellini’s motion furniture, however, is its style. The pieces feature a modern, streamlined silhouette that belies its movement capabilities, and the full-grain European leather allows for a softer hand and body temperature control at any time of the year.

Internal motion mechanisms come from Motion Italia, the number one supplier of these components in Italy, Azimi says, and the company provides a two-year warranty if anything were to diminish functionally. However, Azimi adds, the technology is outstanding and there are rarely problems. And even after the two-year warranty, Bellini stands behind its products and works with customers to ensure satisfaction. The furniture is designed so the customer has easy access to the motor for any type of adjustment or replacement.

While Bellini has the capability to customize motion furniture, much the same as it can with its stationary upholstery, there are differences in the construction. “Because of the movement, everything has to be assembled in pieces because it has to move,” Azimi notes. That comes with its advantages too. “I can make you a sectional with 30 seats if you want it, and we can keep adding to that unit. We can customize in a way that your furniture fits your room,” he adds.

There is a cost for motion functionality, but according to suppliers, it’s not enough to outweigh the benefits. For Bellini, for example, a motion sofa or sectional may cost 20 percent to 25 percent more at retail than its stationary counterpart, but Azimi has not seen that price differential as a roadblock to sales. “Motion furniture is actually more affordable than at any time before,” he says, and consumer demand continues to increase.


Health and Wellness

Motion furniture can support health by personalizing comfort and, anecdotally, reducing stress. Perhaps the motion category with the most health benefits rests with massage chairs, which feature the functionality to provide everything from a gentle massage to deep tissue to reflexology, all while in a zero-gravity position. At zero gravity, which Bellini motion furniture achieves as well, spinal vertebrae are decompressed, muscles relaxed and elevated legs can reduce stress on the heart, all important health benefits.

Adding full-body massage to the functionality, increases those health benefits even further. “Therapeutic robotic massage chairs provide the benefits that most of us need,” says Michael Milone, VP of Retail Sales and Business Development at Infinity Massage Chairs. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, he adds, a lot of people don’t want anyone touching them. “Massage chairs provide the benefits of massage without human contact,” he adds. As a result, the company has seen its sales increase approximately 30 percent every year. Most of Infinity’s chairs have the flexibility that consumers are looking for in a massage as well with programmable options for different members of a household or for different situations. “When you get in a chair, there are eight to 10 automated programs that include massage, sleep, stretching and a morning program that wakes you up,” Milone says. In addition, the chairs can focus on one pain point if needed, such as a neck massage or foot compressions. A new Infinity model set to launch soon will have a memory function to capture that personalized massage experience.

While these high-end massage chairs may provide extensive health benefits, that functionality requires lots of moving parts. Infinity’s Genesis Max, for example, uses 58 airbags along with rollers and the motors that run them.

For Infinity, most of those parts are plug and play, and the mechanics of the company’s chairs have less than a three percent failure rate. When components need to be replaced, it’s relatively easy to do, and there is a 12-month warranty to protect the consumer. “If the electronics are going to break, it’s going to happen within the first 12 months,” Milone says, which protects most buyers.

All of those components lend to “not your typical” styling — massage chairs are often designed with a more futuristic or automotive appeal — but as more consumers are looking for this type of comfort personalization, the designer’s challenge is to find ways to incorporate massage chairs into a room’s aesthetic. “Consumers see this as a different category from a sofa or bedroom set,” says Milone. “People want the health and wellness benefits these chairs provide.” With varied color options and styling, it’s becoming easier to incorporate massage chairs into rooms such as the bedroom or family room.

 Infinity Massage Chairs offer customizable full-body massage capabilities to promote  health and wellness.
Infinity Massage Chairs offer customizable full-body massage capabilities to promote health and wellness.

Like Bellini’s reclining furniture, many of Infinity’s massage chairs are designed to “inline recline,” meaning they have full reclining functionality, even if they are flush against or close to a wall.

For retailers, Milone continues, it’s imperative to showcase the functionality of these massage chairs so consumers understand the expanded functionality. The company provides signage, point of purchase materials and marketing support to help explain the benefits, but nothing works as well as having models on the showroom floor for consumers to test.

Showcasing the functionality for any motion furniture, whether it is swivel, reclining or full massage makes a difference when buyers are considering options. Help them to understand the benefits of the added functionality, and according to suppliers, they are more willing to pay the higher prices.

As COVID-19 has shaped the way consumers view the overall functionality in their homes, adding the ability to personalize comfort and flexibility, while keeping it stylish, has gained significant traction. While motion furniture creates added logistical steps during construction, potentially adding to the cost, the functionality is resonating with the end user, making furniture that moves — from swivel to massage — a furniture category that will continue to anticipate increased volume.

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