Dear Gail: I’m reconfiguring my island as it’s just too big. I currently have a raised bar area that I want to keep and adding a lower countertop area for my grandchildren. Right now I’m able to get matching stools to my nook set, but wondering if that would be too much. I’m not a big mix and matcher. I will be getting new bar stools for the bar area as they’ve never been comfortable — seems they’re not at the right height. What advice can you give me before I start shopping? — Marisol
Dear Marisol: There are so many factors and options for bar stools, which can make it challenging. You have to consider the height of your counter, height of the stool, style and overall comfort.
But where you need to start is knowing the proper height as it’s the most common mistake. Because you didn’t mention the height of your bar area, I’ll give you the guidelines for the different counter heights.
The standard industry guideline is to give yourself 9-13 inches between the top of the stool seat to the top of the countertop. I prefer about 11-13 inches as I like to cross my legs. Remember 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.
So what are the different heights? First, there are table height stools. These stools have the same height as your kitchen chairs. Most people use a matching kitchen chair, but I’ve had clients that are looking for a simple backless stool. Your typical kitchen chair seats are 18-19 inches from the floor to the top of the seat, tables are around 28-30 inches high.
Counter stools are designed to be paired with a standard-height kitchen counter, which is 33-36 inches high. So a counter stool seat would range in height from 20-27 inches, using the 9-13 inches standard clearance.
Bar stools are typically what you see at a bar or with a pub table. Their countertops range from 41-43 inches, giving you a bar stool seat height from 28-34 inches.
Another option, although rarely used in a home, is a spectator or stadium stool. Where you will see these are in box seating in a stadium or performing arts center, such as The Smith Center. The counter heights range from 44-47 inches, giving you a stool seat height from 31-38 inches.
With all of these ranges, always make sure you have at least 9 inches and really no more than 13 inches. So in the counter stool example, I wouldn’t use a 27-inch high stool with a 33-inch countertop as that will only give you a 6-inch clearance.
If you want stools with arms, you want to make sure they fit under the top. If you fall in love with ones that don’t, you need to double check how far away you will be from the edge of the counter. You don’t want to be leaning over the counter to pick up your glass.
So now you know the differences among chairs, counters, bars and stadium stools. The next measurement you need to know is the space between the stools, so you don’t buy too many. You want to allow enough space, so it’s for comfortable when eating, working and socializing.
So how many stools can you fit? A good rule is to allow 26-30 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 26-30 inches.
Another way to figure the number of stools is to leave a minimum of 24 inches for each person. So a 72-inch counter will allow for three stools. Although it does depend upon the width of your seat. Or to keep it even simpler, allow 6-10 inches between the stools.
If you’re looking at stools with arms or swivel, you are going to want 8-10 inches distance. You’re better off having more space than not enough.
Now with all of these numbers bouncing around in your head, you’re maybe more confused than when you started. Here’s a simple way to determine what you’re most comfortable with. Sit at your counter and stack books on a chair. Find the height that is most comfortable for you.
Then measure from the floor to the top of the seat. Now you might not find that exact measurement, so get a range where you’re still comfortable. Then place your chairs side-by-side and measure the distance between them that you prefer. Keeping in mind that arm and swivel stools will need a little more distance apart.
Now onto whether to match your stools with your kitchen chairs. Assuming you will have six stools and four kitchen chairs, I personally wouldn’t match them. As you’re not a big mix-and-match person, and I don’t know what your chairs look like, here are some suggestions. I’m also making an assumption that your stools will have backs as they are really more comfortable if you are sitting for any length of time
You can do two-tone stools. If you have painted chairs, use that color on the seats of the stools with the backs in a contrasting color, whether a wood tone or paint.
If your kitchen chairs are wood, flip the finishes as suggested for painted chairs. Go with a fabric, leather or solid wood tone or painted stool that coordinates with the other fabrics and finishes in the room. Use a metal chair and coordinate the seat with the other finishes or fabrics in the room.
One last thing I want to mention is swivel and hydraulic stools. Swivel seats normally cost more, but if the stools are going to be used daily, 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 as an important feature with a backless stool, although it does make it easier to get off; but if you want a back, it is nice. Otherwise, you will be adjusting the stools every time someone gets up. It’s worth the little extra over the life of your stools.
Hydraulic or adjustable stools are nice as they allow each person to adjust the height for their comfort. Now if having the stools at different heights is going to bother you, this is not an option as you will be continually adjusting the stools to the same height.
They do make adjustable seats that automatically reset, but I haven’t found many stylish options. But you can have anything custom made.
I’m also a proponent of being able to sit on them before buying. If you’re going to buy online, consider buying just one from a company that has free returns.
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.