Seat height, depth key to comfortable chair

DEAR DESIGNER: My husband is tall and I am short. We wish we could find two matching reading chairs that fit each of us comfortably so our master bedroom sitting area can look uniform. Do you have any suggestions? — Danielle

DEAR DANIELLE: Finding a chair that fits your body type and height is important and even more so when the chairs are used often and/or for relaxing. It’s smart that you don’t want to sacrifice comfort in order to have a savvy look. I have a few solutions to make your different sized chairs look good.

To begin, you will each need to find out what size of chair feels comfortable to your individual body type and purpose. The process of finding a suitable chair is simple but takes a little time and research on your part. This is not a task that you can hand over to your designer and say, “I need a comfortable chair that fits me, go find it.” What feels right for one person will not feel right for another.

Start by going shopping and sitting in several occasional chairs. If you are looking for a reading chair, take a book or a laptop computer with you. Prop yourself into the chair as you would at home … holding your book or computer. You will find that comfortable arm heights on chairs used for reading need to be lower than those that are used merely for looks. This also bodes true for a family room sofa that you might recline on. Save the fancy tall armed chairs and sofas for formal living rooms and sitting rooms.

The most important factors in selecting a chair for a person that is tall vs. short is the seat depth (measurement from the front of the seat to the back cushion) and seat height (measurement from the floor to the top of the seat). If either of these measurements is too large, a shorter person will not feel comfortable in the chair. The opposite goes for tall people. If the chair is too close to the ground or the seat depth is too shallow, he will feel as if he is sitting in a child’s chair.

The standard seat height on an overstuffed chair is 15-16 inches. The standard seat depth is 20½-21½ inches. However, with the many oversized sofas and chairs on the market today, it is easier for a tall person to find a suitable seat than it is for a shorter person.

When you find a chair that feels good to you, write down these measurements: seat depth, seat height, seat width (measurement between the arms), arm height (measurement from floor to top of arm) and back height (measure from floor to top of the chair back). For a comfortable seat width be sure there is a fist-size space on each side of you.

Some furniture stores are limited in the custom changes they are allowed to make on your chair order. Start by asking how many things about the chair can be changed. There are usually tons of fabrics to choose from.

Stores that offer custom orders will usually allow you to select the softness of your seat cushion. The way the seat cushion feels to each person is personal and important. The seat cushion can be made of down (feathers) for ultimate softness or a mix of down and poly fibers to add stability. If you have back problems, you might choose a very firm foam cushion. You and your husband can choose the same style and fabric, but use different seat fillings.

If you are purchasing your chairs from a retail furniture store that offers various fabric choices but can’t make changes in the size, each of you could select your own style of chair in the same fabric. Add kidney pillows (rectangular pillows about 11 inches tall by 22 inches wide) made of coordinating fabrics to distract the eye from the differences in the chair sizes and coordinate the overall look. If one chair is taller than the other, arrange them so the tallest one is closest to the wall. If you put a tall plant or tree near the chair, the tall plant will dwarf the chairs’ height and the chairs will look closer to the same size.

If you find a chair that suits one of you perfectly and the store does not have any other options for the coordinating chair, you can purchase that chair, purchase extra fabric, take your measurements and fabric to an upholsterer and have a second chair made. Many upholsterers can make a customized chair to match an existing chair.

The final option is custom chairs. Designers and furniture stores have access to companies that specialize in custom fabrication. Once you find a style you like, you can specify every aspect, every measurement of each chair. Maybe you will want your chair to swivel and your husband will want his to recline. You will select a chair style and fabric. The chairs are fabricated to your specifications. Adjustments are made by the manufacturer in order to be sure the chairs are made to a proper scale.

Although customization can be a little pricey, the benefits of quality and daily comfort will last a lifetime.

Cindy Payne is a certified interior designer with more than 25 years of experience, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, as well as a licensed contractor. E-mail questions to her at deardesigner@ or send them to her at Project Design Interiors, 2620 S. Maryland Parkway, Suite 189, Las Vegas, NV 89109. She can be reached online at

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