Proper height is essential when selecting barstools

“You choose, you live the consequences. Every yes, no, maybe, creates the school you call your personal experience.” Richard Bach (1936- ), American writer, “Running From Safety” (1994)

The invitation to “step up to the bar” can take on unexpected consequences. And, no, I’m not talking about having too much to drink at the bar; I’m talking about being able to reach whatever is on the bar.

Bar and barstool heights have long been a source of confusion and frustration for folks trying to furnish that very important spot in their kitchen, game room or family room — the bar. And your choices do have consequences.

I’m sure that each of you has experienced this. You happily climb up on that stool and several things can happen. The best result is that you land in a comfortable stool or chair, your legs fit nicely under the bar, and the bar itself is situated in just the right place so you can easily reach and partake in whatever is there.

Then there are these circumstances.

You climb up in the chair/stool and your legs won’t fit underneath the bar. The bar top is basically in your lap. Or, you climb up in the chair/stool and the bar is so high that you feel like a little child at the adult table. You need to reach up to get your drink or food.

Neither of these are good places to be. And I know we’ve all been there.

To avoid this uncomfortable situation for you and your guests, we need a little primer on bar and barstool heights. Stools and tables that are “bar height” generally have seats that are 30 inches high, and a table top that is 40-42 inches high.

Stools and tables that are “counter height” generally have seats that are 24-26 inches high, and a table top that is 36 inches high.

Designer Joanne Lucia agrees these are the standards and adds, “There should be approximately 10-12 inches between the top of the bar and the seat. That gives ample room for your legs to fit comfortably under the bar.”

Unfortunately, I know people who have purchased the wrong size and then it’s too late. If stools are special ordered, chances are slim for an exchange without lots of cash. And if you buy from a retail outlet, getting replacements can still be tough.

Now let’s talk about comfort. I’m a fan of a barstool with a back. Regardless of what you have to drink, it’s just nice to be able to relax and lean back into some kind of support for your back. Even in public places, I think there should be a back. I wouldn’t want the liability of someone falling over backward from my barstool. And you don’t have to have too much to drink for that to happen.

Now that you’ve decided on a bar height, the choices of finishes, fabrics, etc., are endless. Just with any other seating, this can be a tough decision also.

Upholstered barstools dress up any space and contribute to the comfort factor. Leather is very popular for barstools but you have to be sure of the design of the stool. All stools, just as chairs, are not created equal. The tilt of the seat is important — leather seats that might tilt a little down could cause, let’s say, slippage.

Swivel or fixed seats present another option. Spinning around obviously gives the person sitting more flexibility, while a fixed seat keeps them focused in one direction.

So, explore all of your options before buying barstools. Measure well and try out a lot of different styles. Who knew sitting at a bar could get so complicated. Sliding, slipping, spinning — and this is furniture we’re talking about. We haven’t even had that drink yet!

Carolyn Muse Grant is a founder and past president of the Architectural & Decorative Arts Society, as well as an interior design consultant/stylist specializing in home staging. Send questions to

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