Review: Sumo Omni Bean Bag Chair

I was recently offered the chance to try out one of these cool Omni bean bags from Sumo, and as I am somewhat fascinated by the evolution of these chairs, I gladly agreed.

As a child in the 70s, I dimly remember a an orange bean bag chair that I once sat upon, finding it to be rather unpleasant an experience. It was sticky and worn in places, exhibiting a kind of “chair mange” that accentuated its fundamental ugliness and telegraphed the expected lack of comfort. When you sat in the chair, it tended to sag out in unpredictable and unsettling ways. For the next 25 years, I assiduously avoided sitting in bag-like chairs with great success until I visited the home of my best friend from High School, Mark, who had one of those Love Sac bean bags. The key innovations that I noted was the use of shredded spongy foam instead of hard little plastic beads. This made the chair quieter, more stable, and eminently more comfortable. Also in the Love Sac’s favor was sheer size, which made it a lot of fun to bounce on or use as a small bed. However, this also made it rather unwieldy for smaller rooms. I was hopeful that the charcoal green Omni I requested would work well in my own living space.

The Bag The image above shows the Omni laid out like a large pillow; you can see my first-generation iBook sitting on it for scale. It’s half-filled with what the Sumo FAQ calls “Virgin Polystyrene Foam” beads, rather small. Because they’re foam, the bag is quite light; you can very easily move the bag around. I must admit that when I first opened the box, I was rather disappointed with the material, which is ballistic nylon. This is the tough plastic fabric that’s used to make contemporary luggage, and it’s also used to strap guns and knives to the gear-bedecked legs of America’s SWAT teams. While it’s very durable and strong, it doesn’t exactly scream CARESS ME. On the other hand, this means that you can safely spill a whole can of Diet Coke on it and laugh with maniacal abandon.

As you can see from the photo, I ordered the beanbag in Charcoal Green, which is remarkably just like plain old Grey. I examined the material under different light sources to see if I could catch a glimpse of whatever green might have been present, including bright sunlight, and I believe I saw a very slight tinting of it in the thread used to stitch the bag together. The amount of green present in the material is so subtle in expressing its verdant nature that you might mistake it for French Grey. Or in other words, it isn’t nearly as green as the website would lead you to believe. I might have been shipped a Platinum model instead despite the markings on the box.

Bag Science

My enthusiasm somewhat deflated by both the material and color, I mustered up some energy and sat on the bag, not really expecting much to happen. However, I was surprised to note that despite the simplicity of the bag’s construction and the lightness of the foam bead material, the bag was incredibly stable. The bag is rectangular, not square, which means that in addition to using it just as a big crash pillow, you can also prop it up on either the short or long edge and sit directly on top of it. When you stand the bag on the short end, you create a very comfortable single-person chair. When propped up on the longer edge, you can create a somewhat-lower loveseat for two. The bag, being filled only halfway, readily shapes itself to whatever pressure is being put on it. What seems to happen is this: the small foam balls inside the beanbag are very light and move around very easily when there isn’t any pressure applied to them. The beanbag is only half-filled, which gives the balls plenty of space to move around inside. However, once you set the bag down and sit on top of it, the balls are compressed together, reach a kind of equilibrium in pressure, and stop moving. The result is that the bag conforms very readily to the shape of your butt and back as you settle onto it, the last few millimeters of movement nudging things into place. On contact, the weight of your body applies pressure to the bag and its content, and with no place to go the foam balls just stay put. The effect reminded me of finding really excellent snowball packing snow; this is the kind of snow that light but sticky, compacting well into an easily-rounded shape that is not dense enough to hurt someone.

The BoxStitchingFoam Beads I found the chair quite comfortable, and was impressed by how the combination of ballistic nylon, light foam beads, and ample sizing of the containing bag had lead to such a versatile solution. If the material had been something more elastic like suede or leather, the chair would not have had its excellent stability. If the material had been a hard leather or plastic, it would have been too stiff to readily conform to shape. The lightness of the beads and material also make the bag very portable, and the flatness of the design makes it easy to tuck out of the way against a wall or behind a chair. In that respect, it’s quite versatile. It’s not as stylish, in my opinion, as a more conventionally-styled piece of furniture, but it would be great for an informal family or TV room.

One interesting side effect of the design is that there is a lot of extra material that you have to tuck out of the way. The Omni is basically a pocket created from two rectangular pieces of ballistic nylon stitched together, and it’s only half-full. You can see this in the middle picture above, which shows one of the corners. That means that there is a 2-3″ flat ribbon of material going all the way around the beanbag, like the edges of a square ravioli. Aesthetically I don’t particularly like the look—the stitching is very basic—but functionally these give you something to grab onto when picking up the bag so I can’t argue with their utility. If you aren’t as fussy as I, you probably won’t even notice.

This is a pretty neat chair concept. If I had a large rec room I would certainly consider getting 3 or so of them, in bright colors, to crash on. They would also be useful for stocking a play room for kids, where the mucus- and drool-proof ballistic nylon will be a blessing to all cleanup staff. I am going to try sleeping on it this weekend, when I give up my room to invading relatives, as an alternative to the rock-hard futon I have spread out on the floor of my office. With a mix of traditional furniture, though, I’m not quite sure just where to put a single Omni so it “fits in.”

I wasn’t able to get any good shots of me sitting in the chair in the various positions, but you can check out the gallery on the website yourself to see it in use at various hip events. If you are particularly diligent in your research, you will also find pictures of wholesome girls demonstrating the myriad ways in which one can get comfy with the product.