Countless times while working in retail furniture, customers would come into the store requesting bar stools. The next question I would ask is, “Where will you be using the stools”. The answer more often than not would be – at their kitchen counter. For the record, kitchen counter tops are 36” high in most kitchens in North America, therefore, a bar stool is too high.
Counter stools have a 24” to 26” seat pan (the thing you sit on). A bar stool has a 28” to 31” seat pan, so the user would have had to bend over too far to be comfortable at a kitchen counter. Know this height before you go shopping for stools so that you are prepared to make a decision when confronted with the choice of heights.
Pneumatic lift stools can be an asset in many situations because of the range of heights available to the user. Many will run between 24” to 31” so that one size fits all. The only set-back with gas lift stools is that sooner or later your gas lift will die and the stool will sink to its lowest position. You may be able to replace the gas lift in some models but most of the time it’s difficult to find a supplier of gas lifts that will fit your existing stool.
The foot rungs are very important to user comfort. It is always best to find stools that have consistent rungs from front-to-back and from side-to-side at the same level because it allows the user to sit in a variety of positions. Many stools will have front-to-back rungs that are at a different height than the side-to-side rails and the user has to have their feet in a higher position to sit with their feet on the rails.
One of the most important considerations with stools is the foot placement. Some of the rungs are very narrow pieces of wood or metal, which are extremely uncomfortable for you to rest your feet on for any length of time. It actually hurts your feet after a while. The wider the foot space, the more comfortable they will be otherwise you’ll find yourself needing to put on shoes or slippers so that they don’t hurt the bottoms of your feet. Some stools have little tiny footrests that look good but again are completely useless for long term comfort.
When the human body loses contact with the floor and we are supporting our weight with our derriere and feet, most people can only do this for a limited amount of time. The pressure created on the back of the legs starts to slow down the user’s circulation and your legs become weary. Lack of circulation also leads to your legs falling asleep, otherwise known as pins & needles. So many customers have asked me over the years if they should use a higher table in their dining rooms and I always say no. Not unless you are young and all of your guests will be young. It is very tough to find really comfortable long term usage stools that an older generation can be happy sitting in for a few hours.
The nice thing about buying stools with no back is they will usually fit under any standard height counter tops and will provide adequate comfort to almost all size users. One size fits all so as to speak. The downfall with backless stools is that most people can only sit on a stool or bench for a limited length of time before they are done. They need the back support in order to achieve greater comfort for long term seating. This detail deserves careful consideration before buying backless stools.
Having a back and arms will absolutely create a more comfortable stool but of course they can’t be stored under the counter top. The backs will always be higher than your counter so they will be in full view all the time. This will have an impact on your decorating scheme and so it must be considered.
The seat pans come in many shapes and sizes. I strongly recommend that you sit on the stool for at least 30 minutes to see if it feels right. Take off your shoes and see how the foot rungs feel on your stocking feet so you know if your body can take the size and position. If they do have backs, lean against it and see if the angle of the recline works well for you. Often manufacturers will have the stools or chairs leaning so far back that you couldn’t imagine trying to eat breakfast or sit comfortably with some guests for a long period of time.
Another major factor is the material. Wood frame or metal frame. Both work exceptionally well. The question you have to ask yourself is about the durability. Is it wiggly? If yes, then you need to pass on them. You need them to be sturdy and rigid so they can handle the weight of all your potential users.
Upholstered seats and backs can increase comfort and allow you to introduce other colours and patterns into your space, which is always a bonus. Be sure that the fabric is tough and durable. Can it be washed, scrubbed if necessary? The quality of the seat foam can come into play but most stools have slab foam in the seats and therefore will flatten out within a couple years of use, meaning that it will need to be replaced. The next question is “How easy would it be to replace the foam or the fabric on the stool?” If it looks like it would be near impossible to change the foam or the fabric, then it might be something worth considering when making your selection. Many wood stools come with non-upholstered wood seats, which will give great longevity to the product, but of course you lose a little comfort as the trade-off. If it is a quality counter stool, then they can last a lifetime.