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A complete History of the Bean Bag Chair

Posted by Dan Holmes on

Pizza, eyeglasses, the ice cream cone. All wonderful things, right? You can thank the Italians for those three items.

The bean bag chair too.

The first bean bag chair was invented fifty years ago by three Italians for a company called Sacco in 1968. A lot has changed since that first bean bag was mass produced. Today, most sensible people realize that it's much better to rest on a chair filled with foam. Beans aren't worth a hill of beans when it comes to seating.

The First Bean Bag Chair

First Bean Bag Chair

Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro were commissioned by Sacco in 1968 to design a new type of chair that would appeal to a young demographic that desired new materials and counter-culture. They called it the "shapeless chair" and it was completely different. The chair was tear-drop in shape with a spot for sitting and a tall back support. The Sacco shapeless chair was filled with synthetic polyvinyl chloride beads, or PVC.

The leather shell paid homage to the great leather craftsmanship that Italy was known for, and the stitching on the Sacco shapeless chair was superb, which assisted in creating a consistent seating surface.

The Hippie Chair

In the late 1960s, the hippie counter culture was in full swing. Hippies wanted to opt out of traditional society, seeking new experiences and new items for their lifestyle. The Sacco bean bag chair was popular with hippies in Italy: the young, apartment-sharing college students and dropouts who flopped themselves onto the new piece of furniture. It was also popular because it could easily be tossed in the back of a car or van.

The three Italian designers believed that their new chair would be popular because it created a symbiotic relationship with the user. When no one was sitting in a traditional chair it still held its form as a chair. It looked like a chair, it acted like a chair, and it was a chair once and always. But a bean bag wasn't truly formed into a chair until a person sat on it, when it worked in unison with their body to become a chair. It needed a person to become what it truly was.

The 1970s: The Golden Age of Bean Bag Chairs

Bean Bag Chair History

After its popularity in Italy in the late 1960s, the bean bag chair was soon available as soft seating almost anywhere in the world. In the 1970s, bean bags were popular in Europe, Asia, and in North America, where they boomed on college campuses.

But the first commercially successful bean bag chairs were not like the original Sacco bag created in Italy. The popular bean bags of the 1970s were cheaper products with lower quality covers and beans that flattened rather quickly. They were inexpensive, and millions were sold.

The bean bag chairs of the 1970s matched the aesthetic of that era: bold, bright colors and lively prints. 

The Great Exodus

In the 1980s many companies shifted their manufacturing to China and other foreign countries where material costs were very low and labor was cheap. The only thing manufacturers cared about was how cheaply and quickly they could make bean bags. Mass production of low-quality products was the craze.

During this period and into the 1990s, bean bags were stagnant. The sales of bean bag chairs flattened, just like the expanded polysterene (EPS) they were filled with.

It seemed as if bean bag chairs might go the way of lava lamps, pet rocks, moon boots, and other fads. But a big change was around the corner, and that resurgence was called...

Foam-Filled Bean Bag Chairs

Xorbee Bean Bag Chair

Most "bean" bag chairs are filled with polysterene beans. Those little "pellets" are cheap to make and easy to blow into any shape. But they don't last long. Eventually, after being squashed and sat on many times, they will flatten. It's science.

But quality furniture doesn't flatten that easily because the "comfort" part of a comfortable arm chair or couch is made of foam. About 20 years ago, a few companies realized that a "bean" bag chair was much more comfy without the beans. Foam also lasted much longer. The future was filled with foam. 

Once people realized that bean bag chairs could be very comfortable and last a long time, they wanted them made to high standards. Luckily, at the same time, there was a consumer-driven trend toward better quality, (often hand-crafted) products. In many ways consumers were forcing manufacturers to look backwards to find better ways to make things.

The high-quality foam-filled bean bag chair, like the one made by Xorbee, has furniture-grade, hand-sorted foam inside. It has an inner liner to secure the foam against spills and to allow the cover to be removed and washed. The covers are hand-stitched and expertly crafted so they stand up against wear and tear.

Bean bags of the 21st century offer many cover choices, such as twill, suede or microsuede, leather, and fur. These high-quality foam-filled chairs are more stylish, making consumers more likely to show them off. The modern bean bag chair has graduated from the kids room and the dorm room to the living room and home theater.

At the same time, foam-filled bean bag chairs with quality covers are more durable. That means the consumer has a choice between the cheaper $90 bag and the premium bags available from Xorbee and competitors.  

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