It’s hard to imagine any kitchen these days without some sort of bar stool. Bar stools have become the norm, and for good reason. They allow family and friends to get together around the kitchen for casual dining, pot lucks, or just to chat over a drink and keep the chef company while they cook.
The bar stool as we think of it now, has been a part of society since the early 20th century, and was initially designed to seat more people at a commercial bar in the most economical way. It was an evolution from the traditional stool, which can trace its origins back as far as the Byzantium Varangian guard, and beyond.
If you are lucky, your home will have a standard height bar or kitchen counter so finding a stool should be more straightforward, but always check before you buy. However, you may find that your home was custom built to the owners preferences rather than to any international building standards.
There are many different styles of bar stools available today, but there are only really three basic designs—a seat as the base with a low back and short arms, a seat as the base with a low back, and the most simple of all being the seat only.
But first, let’s cover a bar stool basic: height. In my years of helping people furnish their homes, I learned there is lots of confusion about this subject, so let’s try to clear that up.
“Bar stool” is a general term that refers to stools that come in two primary heights: counter and bar.
Counter stools, are designed to be paired with a standard-height kitchen counter, which is 36 inches tall. So counter stool seats range in height from 24 to 26” from the floor.
Bar stools are meant to be used when a breakfast bar for example, is stepped up (usually by 6”) from the rest of the counter. Usually this portion is 42” high rather than 36”. Bar height stools are also the most common match for pub tables. Their seat height is normally about 30”. It’s also a good idea to measure the space from the floor to the underside of the bar as well, just to ensure you have the necessary 10” to 12” clearance for your leg room. Some tiled bars can be on the bulky side!
Different stool seat height options are great—sometimes. Often we’ll love the style, colour or comfort of a stool just to find it only comes in one height, and that is not the height we need! The industry has figured this out. Adjustable height stools are becoming increasingly popular in the bar stool market. With an adjustable stool one size can fit all, because its height can change from shorter to taller. These are particularly useful if your kitchen was not built using ‘Standard’ dimensions.
Swivel stools also remain very popular. Well-made stools can be heavy, so choosing one that swivels saves having to pull it away from the counter to get in, and then having to scoot it back up to the counter so you can reach your plate – a process that’s hard on your back, the floor, and sometimes your dignity.
If you are not sure how many stools you can fit along your bar, allow between 22” to 25” for each stool. Those with arms will take a bit more space between them.
What Style to Choose?
Ask yourself if you want to make a design statement or do you want more discreet seating? Do you want to match, or layer materials in your kitchen? And do the stools you really want actually work in the space you have? Your answers can help you determine the style and height of stool that will ultimately work in your kitchen or great room.
If your stools are in a busy or narrow corridor or you don’t want a tall profile that overwhelms your island or breakfast bar, choose low back or backless seating that can easily tuck under and away. But, if you love to entertain and want something more lounge-worthy, choose a broad-backed stool with deep seating. You will want to consider low-maintenance materials, especially if you rent out your home. There will be food and drinks around so keep things practical.
Brushed stainless steel is a very hot look in bar stools because it works well in many homes, as opposed to chrome, which may be more narrowly suited to contemporary homes. Stainless steel is also a better option for the coastal areas here in Costa Rica as it will not pit or rust. Modern materials offer wide choices in stool styles including clear Lucite, stylish moulded stools, as well as retro and funky ones. Traditional rattan is a good tropical look as long as the joints are leather wrapped, and upholstered seats should have low maintenance fabric.
Another popular trend is rustic urban. This style can feature mixed materials like wood and metal. The rough, unsophisticated finishes bring the rustic, and clean, spare lines bring the urban, and all with a bit of a vintage feel. These bar stools would feel equally at home in a vintage, farmhouse or rustic urban setting.
What About Comfort?
Comfort will depend on your personal taste. Backless stools can be perfect where space is limited, or where a minimalistic look is wanted. But bear in mind that most adults will not want to sit there for long, and you may get anxious if playful youngsters will be using them. Footrests offer comfort and convenience, and upholstered seats will offer more comfort than solid wood or metal. Consider the angle of the back when you sit and whether you prefer an arm or armless style.
Finally, if you have a kitchen that does not have an overhang for stools, but you love the concept. Think about another imaginative solution. Put a tall table up against your counter and voilà! You have created an instant bar, instant office or homework station, instant wine and pot luck headquarters—and an instant welcome!
Yes, we have come a long way from the basic wooden stools of yesteryear.
Until next time…