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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

A Seat at the Bar

“How about this one?” I show DC a picture of a bar stool on my laptop.

“I like arms,” he says.

“Arms get in the way,” I say. “I like to just sidle up from the side.”

“I like to lean back and get comfortable.” My husband pantomimes sitting in a tall chair lord-like with his arms perched on imagined rests.

“Plus, chairs with arms take up more room,” I add.

I am not winning.

“How about this one?” I show him another stool with arms.

“Does it swivel?”

“You want swivel, too?”

“So you can turn toward the kitchen then turn back and watch the game.” He twists in his imaginary chair.

“We don’t need swivel. This is a kitchen not a barber shop.”

And so the conversation went. For weeks.

When DC and I first discussed what we wanted in a new house, high on the list was the kind of kitchen where folks could sit at a counter on bar stools and visit with the chef. We started bar stool shopping right after we moved in Thanksgiving weekend. We wanted four stools in place before the family came for Christmas. That was where our united vision ended.

Come Christmas, the kids just perched on the counters, of course. By mid-January, we still could not agree.

We visited a few furniture stores to test drive actual stools. In one store, DC lit on a high-backed, cherry wood bar stool with a leather seat.

“That would be great,” I say, “in a steak house.”

I gravitate toward a two-tone woven rattan.

“Great,” he fires back, “in a French Bistro.”

So we surfed. We searched. We shared links, until we were as worn down as the French and English in the final days of the Hundred Years’ War. I narrow my search to a short list of swivel bar stools with arms that I could live with. I show DC.

He lukewarmly agrees to a bar stool I am lukewarm about, a bentwood rattan with a woven wicker back, so not as hulking as some. It has arms and swivels, and, possibly it’s best feature, a solid ivory chair cushion that would be easy to recover with a more interesting fabric. Fine. Fine.

Before I press the “Buy It Now” button, I take one more height measurement to check how far over the counter the back will extend. Six inches over, I find, much better than one or two inches, which looks, to me, like a mistake.

“Wait, how far will they stick up?” an inquiring mind wants to know. (Seriously?) I show him.

“I don’t want to see the chair back over the counter,” he says. “It could kill the view line to the television.”

“Look,” I say, “You got your arms. You got your swivel. I get my back height. And if you want to see the TV, you can move!”

He cracks up. He likes that he’s two for three in these negotiations. (A good settlement, says he, the lawyer, is when both parties walk away a little disappointed. Me, I’d rather win big or lose in flames. Compromise is overrated.)

The chairs arrive in four huge boxes. At his point, I am ready to sit on them. Each stool comes out of the box wrapped like a mummy. I line them up in the hall where they look like zombie army. Our puppy freaks out, high tails it to the back bedroom and won’t come out until I vanquish the invaders.

DC comes home, sizes them up, grabs a seat at the bar and tries out the arms and swivel.

“You like them?” he asks.

“I will like them more with a better fabric,” I say.

“What’s wrong with the fabric?” he asks. “I like the fabric!”


Decisions, decisions. When choosing bar or counter stools for your home, you have much to consider, not the least of which is what your mate wants.

  • Height. As always fit is first. Determine whether you want a counter stool or a bar stool. Counter stools are shorter, with a floor to seat height of around 24 inches, perfect for a 34-36-inch counter. Barstools have a 30-inch seat height, perfect for 40-42-inch counters. Measure. Don’t guess. You want 9-to-13 inches of clearance above the seat.

  • Spacing. When figuring how many stools to buy, be careful not to crowd them. Allow for the width of the stool plus six inches of elbow room between stools. If you choose stools that swivel or have arms, you’ll need a bit more space between.

  • Backs. Stools come with no backs, low backs and high backs. Backless stools are great space savers and easily hide under counters, but are less comfortable than stools with backs. Low-back stools provide a bit more support, and work well in modern settings. Full-back stools are the most comfortable. Consider how much of the back you want to see over the counter.

  • Arms. Stools with backs are available with and without arms. Armless stools offer a cleaner look. However, if you choose a stool with arms, consider getting one that also swivels, so maneuvering in and out is easier.

  • Traffic. If your stools are in a busy or narrow corridor or surround a central island, opt for backless seating that you can tuck away. But if you have space, and plan to entertain friends who will hang at your counter, go for a more lounge-worthy, broad-backed stool with deep seating.

  • Style. Once you’ve refined your needs, dial in your style: industrial, farmhouse, traditional, rustic, contemporary, Mid-Century modern, glam, coastal, pub-style. You’ll literally have thousands to choose from. Good luck.

CAPTION: Comfort and style -- When selecting bar stools, as for this kitchen designed by interior designer Ken Olsen, allow for at least six inches between stools, and 10 inches between the seat and the bottom of the counter. Photo courtesy of Taylor Photography.

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