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Bar Stool Buying Guide

Author: Evelyn y

Mar. 07, 2024

66 0

Tags: Furniture

Essential Information You'll Need to Know Before Buying a Bar Stool

Dimensions play a critical roll in your selection process when buying bar stools. Unlike dining and lounge chairs which usually have roughly the same seat heights within their categories, bar stools come in a variety of seat heights that correspond to different bar, table and counter heights. Also, since bar stools are typically placed at pre-existing, built-in structures, you need to determine the length of your counter or bar to determine how many stools you can fit in your space.

Bar stools also have a distinct set of features that you'll want to consider during your selection process. Choosing between details like swivel vs. non-swivel, back vs. backless and arm vs. armless will help you narrow down your choices.

STEP 1: Determine Which Seat Height You Need

  • Measure the height from your floor to the top of your counter or bar.
  • The height of your seat should be approximately 10-12 inches lower than this measurement.
  • Use the table below to determine the name of the height you need.
Your Countertop's Height Name of the Height You Need Typical Corresponding Seat Heights 29"-31" "Dining/Vanity" Height 17" - 19" 35"-37" "Counter" Height 24" - 27" 40"-43" "Bar" Height 29" - 31" 44"-46" "Spectator" Height 33" - 34"
  • If your counter is an abnormal height (i.e. not listed in the ranges above), we have a variety of stools that can be made in custom heights, or you may simply elect to use the closest standard seat height. Contact us for more help.
  • If your table or countertop has a large support structure (known as a "skirt" or an "apron") under the top surface, and you're afraid it might impact your leg room, please contact us, so we can work through this detail with you.
  • DIY Tip: If you're building your own home bar, it should be built to a height of 42" to the top. This is the industry standard for "bar height". It's a common mistake for DIY'ers to build their bars 45" high or more, which requires a 34" high seat. Fewer stools are available in this height and those that are available are more costly. Also, 34" seats are difficult for shorter people to climb into and they tend to be more dangerous than 30" stools, because the seat is so high off the floor.

STEP 2: Determine the Number of Stools You Can Fit

While you might think the width of your bar stool will be the primary factor in determining the number of stools you can fit at your bar or countertop, it's actually not the most important detail. Here's why. Think of your body and the bodies of your friends and family members. For better or worse, these bodies don't change based on the size of the bar stool they're sitting on. (If only that were possible!) That's why we focus on the width of a comfortable place setting when determining the right number of stools to set at a bar.

Bar Stools WITHOUT Armrests (and up to 22" wide)

Since most people (i.e. non-sumo wrestlers) need about two feet of personal space when eating, we recommend allowing 24" of space per bar stool for comfortable place settings.

The simplest way to determine how many normal-sized stools you can fit is to use the following calculation:

Length of Bar (in inches) ÷ 24 = Quantity of Stools

If you end up with a fraction, round down to the next whole number.
Example: 84" ÷ 24 = 3.5, so you can fit 3 stools comfortably at an 84" long countertop.

Bar Stools WITH Armrests (and/or greater than 22" wide)

If you end up with a fraction, roundto the next whole number.Example: 84" ÷ 24 = 3.5, so you can fitstools comfortably at an 84" long countertop.

When the width of the bar stool exceeds 22" (usually due to armrests), you'll want to allow more space for each place setting. We usually recommend 30" of space per stool in such cases, because people tend to flare their arms out more when given a place to rest their elbows.

The simplest way to determine how many arm stools you can fit is to use the following calculation:

Length of Bar (in inches) ÷ 30 = Quantity of Arm Stools

If you end up with a fraction, round down to the next whole number.
Example: 105" ÷ 30 = 3.5, so you can fit 3 arm stools comfortably at a 105" long countertop.

Exceptions to the Quantity Rules

If you end up with a fraction, roundto the next whole number.Example: 105" ÷ 30 = 3.5, so you can fitarm stools comfortably at a 105" long countertop.

Other than death, taxes and the need for bar stools, there are exceptions to every rule! A variety of factors can impact the number of stools you put at your countertop...

Say, for instance, you have a family of 4, all of whom need a spot at your counter, but it's only 84" long. That means everyone only gets 21" of space for their place setting. (Not ideal.) However, if you have an open-ended counter (without any walls, legs or cabinets closing in the leg space under the top), as seen in the diagram below, you can always scoot out the bar stools on the ends to give everyone a comfortable amount of space during use.

Style Tip: Try to make sure the total width of all the stools together doesn't exceed the length of your base cabinet. For example, the stools in the diagram above are 18" wide, so the 4 of them total 72", which is well within the base cabinet's 84" width. (When not in use, it really looks best to have the stools parked within the confines of your counter.)

Conversely, if you have a 96" countertop that is closed in on the end(s) by walls, legs or cabinets, you might only be able to fit 3 bar stools, as seen in the diagram below. In this example, there's only 78" of space between the legs, so there's not enough room for 4 comfortable place settings.

Of course, these aren't the only scenarios that might require an exception to quantity rules. If you have a unique situation in your own home that you'd like to discuss, feel free to contact us. We're always ready to put our 20+ years of experience to work for you!

STEP 3: Check the Space Behind Your Bar Stools

  • If you're worried about the "tuckability" of your stools, measure the depth of your overhang. Most overhangs tend to be 10" - 12" deep, and most bar stool seats tend to be about 16" deep, so they usually won't push all the way into the edge of your countertop. That's OK, unless you have a really tight space with an active walkway behind your stools.
    • If you need your stools to tuck completely under your counter's overhang, you'll have to go with backless saddle seat bar stools. This is the only type of stool with a depth of around 12". Why, you ask? Click here for an explanation.
  • Measure the distance from the edge of your countertop to the next obstruction in the room. (It could be a wall, cabinet, appliance, another piece of furniture, etc.) We recommend having a minimum of 24" of space here to allow average-sized people to sit in the stools while providing enough space for average-sized people to pass behind them. (See the right side of the diagram below.) If you have more than 24", great! 30" - 36" of space will feel very spacious for most people.
    • If your bar stools back up to another chair or bar stool (as seen on the left side of the diagram below), be sure to allow an extra 24"+ of space from the edge of that table or countertop so both chairs can pull out comfortably.
    • If you're a starting offensive lineman in the NFL (i.e. bigger than an "average" human) you'll probably want a little extra room. One way to figure out a comfortable amount of space is to sit normally at an existing table in your home (as if you were eating a meal) and, while seated, measure the distance from the edge of the table to the front of the backrest of your chair. Then double that figure. (See diagram.) If the distance between your countertop's edge and the next obstruction in the room is greater than this number, you should have enough space for your bar stools.

STEP 4: Decide Which Features You Want

  • One of the first decisions you should make is whether you want swivel bar stools or non-swivel bar stools. If you're trying to narrow down your options, this decision will just about cut the field in half. The pros and cons of each style are highlighted below.

    Swivel
    • PRO: It's easier to get on and off the stool, especially if your legs aren't long enough to touch the floor when seated.
    • PRO: There's less wear and tear on your floor, because you don't have to move the entire stool as much to get on and off the seat.
    • PRO: You can spin the seat around without getting up, so you can watch TV in another room, have a conversation with someone behind you, turn your back to an insolent family member, etc.
    • CON: Backrests are more prone to banging into your bar or counter top.
    • CON: Children sometimes like to spin around wildly, which can result in damage and injury.

      Swivel bar stools can be made with different kinds of swivel mechanisms. Some of our manufacturers give customers the option of selecting which type of swivel they prefer, while others only offer one type for each of their models. The two main types of swivel mechanisms are "360 degree" and "memory return".

      360 Degree Swivels

      As the name implies, this type of swivel allows a bar stool to make full 360 degree rotations. This is ideal for folks who want to be able to swivel 180 degrees to join a conversation or watch TV in the opposite direction of their counter or bar.

      Memory Return Swivels

      These swivels turn 90 degrees to the left and 90 degrees to the right, and they have a spring mechanism which turns the bar stool back to its forward position automatically. This is helpful for "OCD" folks who want their stools facing the same direction after people get up. (You might still have to tell those careless family members to push in their stools when they're done with them though!) Memory swivels also prevent people from spinning wildly in circles like a carnival ride, because they only turn 90 degrees in each direction.

      Shop Swivel Stools
    Non-Swivel (a.k.a. Stationary)
    • PRO: Usually less expensive than their swivel counterparts.
    • PRO: Backrests are less prone to banging into your bar or counter top.
    • CON: There's more wear and tear on your floor from scooting the stool in and out.
    • CON: It's difficult to push yourself into the counter if your feet don’t reach the floor from the seat.

      Shop Non-Swivel Stools
  • You probably already have an idea about whether you want a stool with a back or without. Nevertheless, if you're not completely sold on a style, here are a few pros and cons to help you figure it out.

    Stools with Backrests
    • PRO: Usually much more comfortable, because they provide back support.
    • PRO: Somewhat safer for young children (and drunkies) who might fall off if there were no backrest.
    • CON: Can potentially bang into your bar or counter top.
    • CON: Take up more room in the area behind your counter. (This is really only an issue in tight rooms.)

      Shop Stools with Backrests
    Stools without Backrests
    • PRO: No potential to bang into your bar or countertop.
    • PRO: Take up less overall space than stools with backrests.
    • CON: Not great for sitting long periods of time. Even if the seat is super comfy, the lack of back support strains your spine over time.
    • CON: Riskier for unbalanced sitters (i.e. young'uns, the elderly and the inebriated)

      Shop Backless Stools
  • There are a variety of pros and cons related to stools with and without armrests, but in general, we only recommend them to customers who plan on sitting in them for long periods of time while facing the opposite direction of their bar or countertop (e.g. to watch a ball game on a living room TV). When facing your countertop, you'll find that you tend to lean forward most of the time and rest your arms on the counter.

    Stools with Arms
    • PRO: When sitting for long periods of time, especially when turned in the opposite direction of your countertop (watching TV in another room, chatting with friends, etc.), armrests make the stool much more comfortable, because you have a place to rest your elbows.
    • PRO: Welded metal armrests can be used to help yourself into and out of the stool. (See note about wood armrests below.)
    • PRO: Can keep fidgety toddlers from falling off the sides of the stool.
    • CON: Require more counter space than stools without arms.
    • CON: It's much more difficult to get in and out of these stools because the arms prevent you from entering and exiting from the sides of the seat. You have to push the stool far away from your counter to make room for your body.
    • CON: While the arms will usually slide under your countertop, the backrests are much more prone to banging into the edge because you have to move these stools so much to get in and out of them.
    • CON: There's more wear and tear on your floor from scooting the stool in and out.
    • CON: Unlike their welded metal counterparts, wooden arm stools tend to be the most problematic stools we've ever sold. Even well-built models tend to see their arms loosen from moderate use. It's simply the nature of the material and the joinery. If you buy a wooden arm stool, please know that the arms are intended to be used strictly as armrests! Using them as supports to get in and out of the stool will cause them to loosen up and eventually break/fall apart. Shop Stools with Arms
    Stools without Arms
    • PRO: Less potential to bang into your bar or countertop and less wear and tear on your floor, because you don't have to move the stool as much to get on and off.
    • PRO: Require less counter space than stools with arms.
    • CON: Not as comfortable when sitting for long periods of time. (This mostly applies to situations where you're turned in the opposite direction of your countertop.)

      Shop Stools without Arms
  • Through the years, we've noticed that an overwhelming majority of our customers begin their bar stool search looking for wood stools. However, after we explain the pros and cons of wood vs. metal, the vast majority end up buying metal stools. (Special note: We only sell metal stools that have welded frames.) While the beauty, warmth and richness of wood can't be denied, the durability and value of metal beats wood every time. A welded metal frame is inherently stronger by nature. (This is especially true for swivel stools. See below.) Nevertheless, aesthetics are sometimes more important than practicality, and sometimes the space simply calls for a wood stool, so we've included a list of the pros and cons of both to help you evaluate which choice is right for you.

    Wood Stools
    • PRO: Visually and physically warmer than metal.
    • PRO: Usually the best option for traditional, formal and country style decors.
    • CON: Much more prone to scratches, chips and dents in the finish than metal stools.
    • CON: Much less structurally durable than welded metal stools. Glued and/or screwed joints can't hold a candle to quality welded joints. This is especially true when considering the amount of stress that's placed on the footrests of bar stools. It's even more true when we're talking about swivel stools, because the jarring motion of the swivel can be extremely stressful to the framework of a bar stool.
    • CON: Virtually all wood swivel stools priced under $300 (no matter where you buy them) are made with inferior machine screw joinery. It's easy to put together, and it allows the stool to be packed in a small UPS-friendly box, but it's guaranteed to fall apart from even moderate use. Proper mortise and tenon joinery is much stronger, but it's more costly to produce, and it requires a fair amount of skill, experience and finesse to assemble, not to mention quality wood glue. As such, only higher-end manufacturers use mortise and tenon joinery to assemble their stools, and they usually pre-assemble the joints in the factory, so the stools will ship in much larger boxes that their "knocked-down" machine screw counterparts.
    • NEUTRAL: If you're worried about your stools banging into and thereby damaging your countertop, wood stools will usually bear the brunt of the impact. Unfortunately, this also means you'll see much more wear and tear on wood stools.

      Shop Wood Stools
    Metal Stools
    • PRO: All of our welded metal stool frames are exponentially more durable than any wood stool frame, regardless of price or perceived quality.
    • PRO: Extremely durable finishes. Most of our metal stools have electrostatically-applied powdercoat finishes, which are indeed the most durable finishes you can get on a piece of furniture. They're not indestructible, but they're the strongest on the marketplace. Even hand-applied metal paints tend to be more durable than the finish on a wood stool.
    • CON: Some feel that metal stools are aesthetically and physically "colder" than wood stools.
    • CON: Few options work well in traditional, formal and country style decors.
    • NEUTRAL: Metal stools (some more than others, depending on the construction of their backrests) have the ability to cause damage to your countertop if they're slammed into it hard enough. However, because of the extreme hardness of today's stone countertops, it's still more likely that your stool will incur the damage. In most cases, mild impacts won't cause damage to either surface. So the question we pose to you is: do you want to buy based on what could happen or what will usually happen?

      Shop Metal Stools

Other Questions?

If you have a bar stool related question or concern that we didn't cover in this guide, feel free to contact us! Yeah, we pretty much know everything there is to know about bar stools. ;-)

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Date Posted

Picking bar stools and counter stools can be easier said than done, and we get a lot of questions about how to do it right.

There are a lot of guides out there on how to choose the right height and style of bar stools and counter stools. But, in our opinion, the hardest part about picking bar stools and counter stools isn’t measuring, but knowing what will work well in your kitchen.

So, we decided to spill a few of our secrets to create a simple, step-by-step guide with tips from our design team!

Here is our guide to picking the right bar stools and counter stools:

From our Crestview House

Step No. 1: Pick your height

First, let’s cover the basics. One of the most frequently-asked questions we hear is:

“What is the difference between counter stools and bar stools?”

Counter stools are used under countertops, measuring at a standard of 34-39 inches, and bar stools are used under bars, measuring at a standard of 42 inches. The standard counter stool height is 24-29 inches tall, allowing it to fit directly underneath the countertop. The standard barstool height is 29-32 inches.

Although, of course, there are exceptions, typically, any bar stools or counter stools at standard heights should fit under any bars or countertops at standard heights.

Once you measure your countertop or bar, double check the measurements of the stool you are looking at to make sure it falls under the standard sizing.

Counter stool favorites:

Bar stool favorites:

Step No. 2: Consider function

When we’re picking bar stools or counter stools for our clients, we always talk to them about function.

“Think about how you will use the stools in your home. If our client wants more flexibility, we use a swivel stool or a backless stool. If they’re prioritizing comfort, we look at stools with arms or upholstery.”

- Kelsie Lindley, designer

There are many reasons to choose one type of stool over another. Some of our clients with little kids want to avoid swivel or backless stools, while others want to be able to move them throughout their home for multiple uses. Whatever your reasoning, make sure you love the function of your stools just as much as you love how they look! After all, chances are you’ll be using them every day!

From our SM Ranch House

Step No. 3: Choose your style

Although this is the most fun part, it can also be the trickiest. Like so much in interior design, there are countless ways to think about the “right” way to do something. When it comes to choosing bar stools or counter stools, that couldn’t be more true.

What works well is so dependent on the style of your kitchen. It’s hard to put our finger on what we “always do,” when picking bar stools and counter stools, (or anything for that matter) but here are a few things our design team recommends:

From our Cabin on the Lake

Style tip: Try juxtaposing styles

We are all about a good dichotomy, especially when it comes to kitchen design.

“In a lot of instances, we contrast more traditional spaces with modern pieces. Of course, there are cases where we’ll do a traditional stool in a traditional kitchen, but we love the way different styles balance each other out to create interest. Say, for example, your kitchen is traditional in shape, style, and elements; adding a modern, iron stool can change the entire space.”

- Kelsie Lindley, designer

Style tip: Add texture

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, but texture is crucial in creating interest! We love to put an unexpected twist on the usual, and bar stools and counter stools provide the perfect opportunity to bring an interesting element to the kitchen.

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Bar Stool Buying Guide

How To Pick Bar Stools & Counter Stools

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