Dear Gail: We’re going to be adding an island in our kitchen with a breakfast bar and will need bar stools. What should we be looking for? — Reba
Dear Reba: The most important thing you need to know is the proper height of the stool, and then you can think about style and operation. The height is where many make a mistake.
Per Merriam-Webster, a bar stool is a high stool that usually has a round seat fixed permanently on a central post. Well things have really changed over the years.
There are many options, which can make shopping overwhelming. You didn’t mention the height of your breakfast bar, so I’ll give you the guidelines for the different surface heights.
A standard industry guideline is to give yourself 9 to 13 inches between the top of the stool seat and the table top. This allows you to comfortably sit and even cross your legs.
If you are considering stools with arms, keep in mind that the arms may or may not fit under the bar top. If it is important that they do, make sure that you take the measurement from the floor to the bottom of the counter top. Also, double check them to make sure that if they do fit under, you’re not too far away from the top of the counter. You don’t want to feel like you’re reaching up to the countertop to pick up your glass. If the stool is too low, it reminds me of Lily Tomlin sitting in the big chair on “Laugh-In.” So now I’ve dated myself.
Now before setting off shopping, make a rough sketch of your counter area and mark the following dimensions: floor to bottom of counter, floor to top of counter, width and length of the top, how much clearance you have underneath from the back of the counter wall to the front edge of the counter and how much room you have from the edge of the counter to what is in the room around the breakfast bar.
So, if your nook table is behind the counter, how much room do you have from the edge of the counter to the back of your chair when it is pulled out? You want to know this so that if you have people sitting in both areas, they have enough room to get in and out and are not hitting each other as stools do come in different depths.
First, there are table-height stools. These stools have the same height as your kitchen table. Your typical dining and kitchen chair seats are 18 to 19 inches from the floor to the top of the seat and your tables are around 28 to 30 inches high.
Counter stools are designed to be paired with a standard-height counter, which is 36 inches tall or the height of your kitchen counter. So a counter stool seat ranges in height from 24 to 26 inches. Remember again we’re looking at seat height, not back height. When shopping online always confirm the seat height measurement if they don’t have it listed.
Bar stools are typically what you see at a bar or with a pub table, hence the word “bar.” A bar stool is 29 to 31 inches from the floor to the top of the seat with a countertop of 41 to 43 inches from the floor.
Although rarely used in a home, a spectator or stadium stool is what you see in box seating in a stadium or performing arts center, such as The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. This stool is 33 to 36 inches from the floor to the top of a seat with a counter height of 44 to 47 inches. Where I’ve used this stool is when we’re looking for extra height to view a television over a seating area, although a bar stool really is sufficient.
So now you know the difference among a chair, counter stool, bar stool and stadium stool; it’s the seat height from the top of the seat to the floor. The next measurement you need to know — so you don’t buy too many — is the space between the stools to allow for comfortable eating, working and socializing.
A good rule is to allow 26 to 30 inches between the centers of each stool seat. So from the center of the first stool to the center of the second stool should be about 26 to 30 inches. Another way to figure is to leave a minimum of 24 inches for each person. So a 6-foot counter will allow for three stools. If you’re looking at stools with arms, you are going to need to leave extra space to be able to get in and out.
One option you might consider is a swivel seat. Swivel seats normally cost more, but if the stools are going to be used on a daily basis they are nice.
With a swivel, look for one that has a memory return versus just a 360 degree swivel. With a memory return swivel, the seat automatically returns to the original position when you get up. This isn’t an important feature with a backless stool, but if you want a back, it is nice because otherwise you’ll be adjusting the stools every time someone gets up. It’s worth the little extra over the life of your stools.
With that said, I do need to give you one word of caution if you have children, is that a swivel stool with a back may not clear the countertop if they are spinning around and you can have damage to both the stool and, worse, your counter.
Footrests are absolutely crucial to comfort, especially for adults. Most have them but I want to bring it to your attention. No one is comfortable sitting when your legs dangle with no support.
Reba, you are going to have many other options offered and decisions to make as far as style, shape, material, finishes, fabrics and price, but I hope that I’ve help with what type of stool you need to make your shopping less stressful.
Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by email to: GMJinteriors@gmail.com. Or, mail to: 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is: www.GMJinteriors.com.