Knowing what height, what fabric, finish, material and how many bar stools can fit your particular installation before hitting the stores can greatly enhance your bar stool shopping experience. Many people expect to find just a few styles of bar stools and are overwhelmed at the thousands of options available. This article should help you in selecting the perfect stool for your home or business.
1. Height. Know What Height You Need.
Most people require either a 26″ or a 30″ bar stool. If the counter you wish to furnish is 36″ high, you will need a 24 or 26 inch stool. Most standard kitchen counters are 35-37 inches high. If you have a standard slide-in cook top, standard dishwasher or other standard size appliances that are level with your counter tops, chances are you have a standard height counter top.
30″ bar stools are commonly used for a raised eating surface in the 40 to 42 inch height range. Many homes and apartments today are built with a standard 36″ high counter, then have a back splash and raised eating area. In most circumstances, if the eating area is HIGHER than your standard kitchen counter, you will need a 30″ stool.
34″ and larger bar stools are used for counters that exceed 42″ in height. Please double check your measurements before ordering a 34″ seat height. These are common enough for manufacturers to produce them, but most customers will need a bar stool in the 24″ to 30″ range.
2. Arms or Armless, Back or Backless?
Stools that will be used frequently or for long periods of time (dining, game rooms, commercial bars, etc.) should typically include arms AND backs to increase comfort and decrease stress on your back and shoulders.
If your horizontal (floor space) is limited, you may choose armless. Arms generally add 3 to 6 inches to the overall width of a single bar stool and can add up to 18″ in width on just 3 bar stools. (See “How Many Do I Need?)
Backless stools are great when you need occasional extra seating or in situations where you don’t want to obstruct a view with tall backs. Example: You may have an open floor plan and do not want to obstruct your view from one room to another. Also consider any outside views. If your game room or kitchen faces a lake or river, for example, you may not want backs extending above your counter that may obstruct your view.
3. How Many Do I Need?
Most newer homes and apartments with a raised counter are built to accommodate 3 bar stools. As a general rule of thumb, allow 24″ from the center of one seat to the center of the next seat. A 6 foot long counter can generally accommodate 3 stools. An 8 foot counter, 4 bar stools. This obviously depends on the measurements of the particular stool in which you are interested. You can always buy an extra and use it for additional guests.
4. Metal or Wood?
This is a good question. If you ask 10 retailers, you’ll get 10 responses. In my opinion, wood bar stools are prone to problems not encountered with welded metal bar stools. Due to the soft nature of wood (when compared to steel), screws and joints tend to come loose over time- especially wood with arms. The constant outward stress on the arms can loosen the attachment points resulting in a loose feel. Legs and stretchers (horizontal support bars) can also become loose over time resulting in an unstable and potentially dangerous bar stool. Still, there are decorating situations in which only wood will work.
Metal bar stools which are welded at all joints are far less prone to these problems. In addition, many companies have dozens of finishes, fabrics, and options available for a given style. For example, you may like a stool that is shown on our retail floor as a stationary (non swivel) stool with arms. In many cases you can custom order the same style as a swivel armless, swivel with arms, stationary without arms, or even a backless.
5. Price…What Should I Expect To Pay?
You can buy a bar stool for as little as $9. Typically bar stools less than $100 are “RTA” or “Ready to Assemble”. This means that the bar stool must be bolted together by the customer. Using as many as FIFTY (yes, I once sold a stool that required 50 bolts) bolts, legs must be attached, seats must be attached, arms, back, seat frame, etc. Every bolt used to assemble a bar stool is a potential problem. Everyday use will loosen bolts over time resulting in a potentially dangerous situation if you do not periodically check the tightness of all the bolts. Even worse, many RTA stools use thin-walled metal with no additional support for the bolt’s threads to grasp. I have seen hundreds of these lower quality stools that will easily strip threads simply by being assembled. Additionally, lower priced stools are typically sold one way: one color, one fabric, no options.
Even if you plan to purchase a bar stool that is pre-assembled, ask the salesperson if it is an RTA bar stool. Many retailers will pre-assemble the bar stool and sell it at a perceived “UNBELIEVABLE PRICE”. Look for bolts holding legs and other parts together. Avoid these bar stools if they are going to be used on a continuing basis.
“Nicer” metal bar stools typically have all-welded frames. The only bolts you may see hold the seat to the swivel mechanism and there may be a few screws holding the seat pad to the metal frame. This type of construction is far more sturdy than “RTA” stools.
As for a dollar amount, the average higher-quality bar stool should be in the $199 to $349 range regardless of where you shop. Stools with special features such as tilt-swivel mechanisms, real leather seating, casters or custom heights may cost as much as $400 to $600 each. Some designer hand carved wood stools with multi-step finishes can cost $1,000 to $3,000 each. If your budget allows you, try to upgrade from the RTA bar stools to welded construction. They will last longer, be safer for you and your family, AND should allow you the ability to customize the height, fabric, and finish you want.
Many major chain stores now offer bar stools. While most are very nice looking and affordable, many are RTA. The following link from the Consumer Product Safety Commission contains just one example of the consequences purchasing this type of stool may pose: http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PREREL/prhtml06/06247.html
6. Finish and Fabric- What You Need To Know.
Wood Bar Stools: Wood bar stools are typically offered in a few stains or painted colors. Look for chip-resistant finishes and/or stains which are sealed to protect the wood as well as the underlying finish. Look for metal protectors on the foot-rest as any painted or finished wood subject to the wear and tear of people’s feet will wear through over time. Many manufacturers intentionally distress their finishes to provide a used or worn look. Some more expensive wood bar stools feature rich, multi-step finishes that can be custom matched to you particular needs.
Metal Bar Stools: Metal bar stools are often available in dozens of finishes. Look for a powder-coated and baked on finish. These finishes are by far more chip and scratch resistant than “spray painted” finishes. In addition to a more durable surface a powder coated finish is much less likely to be damaged by cleaning products than a painted finish.
Fabrics: Both wood and metal bar stools may have countless fabrics to choose from. Look for high quality fabrics that complement your home’s decor, as well as a fabric that works well with the finish you have selected AND the style of the bar stool. An “Antique Tapestry” is a beautiful fabric, but NOT on a silver modernized frame! Synthetic suede fabrics are very durable and easy to clean. They simulate the look and feel of suede, but are far more easy to care for than cotton or other natural coverings. Some manufacturers offer the ability to use your own fabric. These are commonly referred to as “COM” or “Customer’s Own Material.” If you choose to use your own fabric, make sure it is an upholstery grade fabric and check with your salesperson to see how much material will be needed for each stool. Stools with backs generally require 2 yards per stool, whereas backless or metal back stools generally require 1 yard per stool. If your fabric has a repeating pattern that you want to match, it may be necessary to provide more fabric so the factory can match the placement of a design from one stool to the other.
Leather: Most “Leather” that you will find in your bar stool search is actually fabric-backed vinyl. Due to the extra time and cost required for real leather seating, the price of the bar stool will generally be $50 to $150 MORE than a comparable vinyl but will last much longer and feel much better due to its ability to “Breathe”. Vinyl is prone to tearing, cracking and warping more so than fabric or leather. Synthetic suede fabrics are a much better option if this is a concern. Sun, dry air, excessive heat and cold as well as exposure to certain chemicals or cleaners can also destroy vinyl.
If you decide to cover your bar stool with leather, keep in mind that leather is a natural product made from the skin of cattle. As such, there will be variations in color and texture just as there are variations in texture and color of your own skin. Generally, the more expensive the leather, the more of these imperfections you will see. The “Cheaper” leathers used in furniture are often “corrected” leather. Corrected leathers are treated, sanded and dyed to remove these imperfections. Many are even stamped with a simulated grain pattern. Corrected leathers will most often match very closely from one piece to the next and may actually look more artificial than many vinyls! Consider it a unique trait if you happen to get a barbed wire scratch mark or even a “brand” mark. Many people pay extra for these imperfections that prove the authenticity of their leather.
7. Where to Shop
You can purchase stools just about anywhere at any price. Many of the major “Big Box” stores offer different styles and heights at very competitive prices. They typically are ready to assemble and have few, if any options.
Many full service furniture stores will offer bar stools that match popular furniture groups however may not sell them apart from high-top dining groups. If they do not offer stools by themselves, you should consider looking for a specialty store.
Specialty stores carry higher end stools with virtually countless options in frame styles, fabrics, finishes, heights and other options. Specializing in customization, these are the types of stores you will want to find if you desire a designer look and higher quality than the mass produced items offered elsewhere. Because specialty stores specialize in custom stools, expect to pay more than mass produced furniture. Your bar stool will be made to order in the fabric, finish, height and other options you select. Typical turn around time is anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks and may be even longer during the winter holiday season. Let your retailer know if time is a factor in your decision so they may direct you to manufacturers with quicker lead times.
Internet stores sell everything from shoelaces to automobiles. Many offer name brand bar stools at incredible discounted prices, but offer very little in terms of personal service, servicing warranty issues, and assisting customers in selecting the proper fit and finish for their particular application. Remember that every monitor displays colors differently. Fabrics shown on screen may not match the actual fabric. Additionally, you cannot try them out by sitting on your computer screen! For these reasons, it often pays to spend a little more to deal with an actual brick and mortar store who will take care of any issues locally as well as provide value-added services such as in home design consultation, delivery and setup of your furniture.
Knowing what to expect before hitting the streets can simply your shopping experience. Remember to take your measurements, photographs of your room and fabrics or wood samples you are trying to match with you. Know what your budget is and above all try them out!