My very first bar stools were a collection of the cap seat stools that can still be found at mass-market discounters and superstore groceries. These soft wood beauties taxed my budget at $20 each, and I can honestly say that I over paid.
I don’t, however, regret my time spent with these generics of the decorating world. Because of them, I was able to experience, up-close, personal and first hand, the physics of the barstool and how it must function as a workhorse as well as a design element.
First, a barstool or counter stool is made to the height that allows you to reach a kitchen or bar counter.
My 24-year-old self was naïve about practicalities so the boxes that I schlepped home in my Ford Pinto contained stools that measured 30 inches in height. My counters were 36 inches high so 30-inch stools would slide under them just fine, right? Wrong!
There are some things that we are born knowing, like how to breathe. There are some things that we learn in school, like 36 inches minus 30 inches leaves 6 inches. There are some things that we just have to learn by experience, like the fact that the human leg needs 10 to 12 inches to clear the overhang of the counter.
Not wanting to admit my mistake, I spent the next two years doing the bar stool straddle and acting as if it was perfectly normal and acceptable.
The first order of business when selecting stools is to get the height right. Counter stools, approximately 24 inches in height, are meant for use with average kitchen counter overhangs.
Bar height, approximately 28 inches high, are intended for bars and raised kitchen counters. Measure the area under your counter and allow 10 to 12 inches for legs.
The bases of stools are typically made of wood or metal. The key here is that the wood be hardwood and furniture grade if they are to last. No matter how good they look on day one, cheap stools are destined to behave like the ones I purchased out of naivety.
Stools can feature wood seats or be upholstered with fabric or leather. If upholstered stools will be used for meals on a regular basis, consider selecting an indoor/outdoor fabric for ease of cleaning. Leather is easy to wipe off making it a solid choice, as well
Stools should be solid enough to hold the weight of a hefty guest and solid enough to resist tipping over while hold a wiggling 6-year-old. Backs and arms give a more secure feel and add a bit of safety for children.