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The beanbag chair has grown up. Or not.

True, the leaking, polyester-covered crash pad of your college years is being replaced by leather "executive" models, with neck support and matching ottomans. But, really, is this seating for adults?

"It's for all ages," says Andrew Milligan of Toronto's Sumo Lounge, whose rethink of the classic form was stimulating some creative cuddling this week at a fundraiser at the new Century Room bar.

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Sumo is less than a year old, but has already made inroads into the hipster scene: It was a sponsor of Toronto Fashion Week and is a fixture on the set of MTV Hits. The colourful seating is also set to travel to next year's Sundance film festival.

More "beanbed" than beanbag, Sumo is a shape-shifter that comes upholstered in tough, PVC-coated nylon. If you plunk Sumo down at a certain angle and plunk yourself on top of it, it's cozy with back support. On its side, it's a mini couch for a couple of toddlers.

"They're great for a family," says Natasha Karfell, design consultant with Roots Home, which does a range of beanbag chairs, including fleece-covered versions that are ideal for lounging in the media room. They're also lightweight enough to move where seating is required.

Toronto designer Julia West put her imprimatur on a beanbag line a couple of years ago when she spied a niche for a more upscale version of the popular item. Today, her tailored faux suede beanbags are among two dozen or so available in that index of mass-market taste, the Sears catalogue. Meanwhile, EQ3, the hip furniture chain owned by Winnipeg giant Palliser, just added a beanbag to its line this fall. It comes in 14 colours and textures, including a cheeky camouflage-inspired pattern called Make Love.

West points out that the original beanbag, 1968's Sacco Chair manufactured by Zanotta of Milan, was a hip design that symbolized a new, laid-back aesthetic. Then, it was about loosening up society's strictures. Today, it's more about loosening up yourself.

Like a ball pit for a toddler, a beanbag demands a commitment to flaking out. "And if your muscles are relaxed, you are relaxed," says West, whose designs are manufactured by a Toronto-area company appropriately named Drop 'n' Flop.

According to West, they are essential equipment for teen videogamers, who like to sit close to the floor. "They're also quite popular for guy evenings, when guys get together to watch the game," she adds. "They are companionable and comfortable, and you have some support."

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Both West and Milligan also see exciting applications in the field of "therapeutic design." They are a natural fit for convalescents and Milligan reports that chiropractors like them. They are also being used for children with disorders such as autism, who find the cushioning hug of a beanbag calming.

Even offices are loosening up, according to West. "Today's small company office is not about boardrooms," she says. "For the breakout meeting room, the beanbag works just fine." After all, she says, "the workplace has a lot more people under 30 now."

Fill 'er up

"The down side of beanbags," says designer Julia West, "is you have to refill them." That's why you need to look for products that make the process easier -- with zippered covers. But you also need to request good-quality fill.

According to Andrew Milligan of Sumo Lounge, "We only use virgin material to fill our pieces. Most other manufacturers use 'regrind' foam, which has been reprocessed and will rapidly decompress."

Cheaper grades will turn into virtual powder. Although virgin fill is made of dense polystyrene foam, it will eventually lose some volume. You can order refill packs through the Sumo website ( http://www.sumolounge.com) for $25.

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When you do top up your beanbag, here's a tip: Spray the opening with Static Guard. But don't do it in a wind.

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