Not all seating is created equal.
BY LISA SLAYMAN, ASID, IIDA | PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER 19, 2023
If you consider what the critical elements are of any entertainment space, whether a screening room, media/family room, or gaming area, the seating is arguably one of the most important components to consider. But seating is not like most other product categories.
Seating crosses over into several different mediums, and you get what you pay for. These mediums are design flexibility, comfort, quality, and convenience and technology. The combination of these mediums transcends almost all other components considered when designing and conceiving an entertainment space.
As an experienced ASID, IIDA professional interior designer and owning and operating a professional cinema interior design company for many years, I have been exposed to every level of seating possible. I would like to share my thoughts on the mediums to assist you in educating your clients on the best seating path to achieve the optimal outcome for their private cinema and multi-use entertainment spaces.
Before delving into the seating differentials, know that pricing can vary from the low three digits up to the low five digits per seat. That price is based on the following four mediums.
We are all aware that product design is highly subjective. Initially, the theater seat was a high-backed and sometimes “over-stuffed” product with a motorized or manual recline mechanism of some type. Over the years seating design has evolved, and, more recently, designers and end-users are selecting a more universal sofa-type design and using high-backed seating as a supplemental element of the seating configuration. These different sofa options fit beautifully into private cinema or mixed-use media room spaces.
Sofa-type designs have evolved dramatically. Designers can choose from a diverse range of contemporary or more traditional designs, with many custom configuration options. These sofa products can integrate the motorized and customized features found in high-back seating and more. There are solutions that can provide a vertical motorized backrest that creates an adjustable high-back solution from a standard sofa. If you include a motorized articulating headrest and footrest, you have all the comfort and more than found in standard high-back seating. Variable seat configurations can be created by adding armrests to provide single, loveseat, or full sofas based on the customer’s wishes.
The fit and finish of the seating products have many options and directions that can be chosen. Many of the lower-cost options include non-leather, bonded leather, or low-grade leather and fabric upholstery solutions. In addition, the internal seating frame construction, which determines comfort, longevity, and product life expectancy, is very important to understand and consider.
On the higher end, most of the luxury seating options include multiple grades of all leather finishes and high-end fabric options. Not only do these finishes provide more elegance and comfort, but they generally provide a more robust and longer product life expectancy. Taking the path of high-end includes the ability to provide intricate stitching patterns and contrast color options.
Since these elements are what customers see and feel when experiencing their finished space, the satisfaction level for the final product will be higher and reflect the quality of your overall workmanship.
Everyone enjoys a cozy and comfortable seat, especially when you could be spending two-plus hours watching a movie or television event. Well-designed and thoughtful seating will provide a significant improvement in the overall experience. Whether you like to sit back and recline or stretch out and chill, the options are all available, especially with higher-end seating solutions.
I always recommend, if possible, that you audition the seating products you provide for your end users. This way you can better interpret and translate their wishes into reality. Everyone is different, just like choosing a mattress. Some people like firm, medium, or soft. When using higher-end products, these options are all available. Most of the higher-end seating companies have experience centers where you and your customers can try out the different products.
The spectrum of leather and fabric options all have different characteristics that can determine the type of feel that the seating will provide.
Obviously, quality is determined by the level of design integrity, the workmanship, and the products that are used internally and externally. It is important for you to understand the differences and successfully educate your customers on the fundamentals.
An example might be if the internal construction is medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or if steel is being utilized in the seating frame. The outcome is a significant difference in product life expectancy. This is just one example of product construction to take into serious consideration.
Externally, it is very easy to determine what a quality leather or fabric looks and feels like versus lower-end materials. All quality seating manufacturers can provide complete leather and fabric grade sample portfolios.
Convenience and Technology
The final medium to consider are the convenience and technology elements. Most higher-end seating solutions include the standard cup holder as an option. However, there are myriad options available, including motorized chaise lounges, ottomans, USB charging outlets, customized swivel and tray tables, end tables available in many optional luxury finishes, built-in custom storage, etc. Use your imagination. A few of the higher-end seating providers can custom-design and fabricate your wishes.
Technology is an important element of custom seating. Most products come with a single motor recline mechanism. The more advanced vendors provide multiple motorized functions, including recline or incline, motorized footrests, motorized vertical backrests, and motorized articulating headrests. This advanced approach to controlling seating comfort not only assures that end users can adjust the comfort to their tastes, but can also provide an optimized listening experience by eliminating blockage due to backrest height of surround sound channels in an immersive environment.
Full automation control is available selectively from one high-end seating provider. Imagine being able to pre-program all your seats — either individually or collectively — at the touch of a button. This is possible. We as designers, and speaking for the end-user’s perspective, would love to be able to touch one button and have all the seats in the room return to their original relaxed position.
It is important to educate yourself, your team, and your clients on everything that is available to them. Don’t just provide the electronics — take advantage of the additional revenue streams that include room and acoustic design, seating solutions, and audio/video elements. They are all, at the very least, a critical component to achieve a superior outcome. A few of the manufacturers offer dealer/designer programs that will benefit all parties financially. Just ask. Don’t forget, you get what you pay for!
If you have questions on this topic, please feel free to contact me directly for further information.