What Height of Stool Do You Need?
By Jeff PelletierJuly 18, 2017
Let’s talk about the height of stools, shall we?
Yeah, really, I’m going to write a whole post about the height of your bar stool. And I'm going to power through doing it while sitting on a terrible stool. I keep a long list of topics to blog about – far more than I actually have time to write these days. Every now and then, though, something strikes me while I’m away from the office (like an encounter with a poorly-chosen stool) and I get fired up. There are arbitrary issues that design-oriented people like myself love to complain about, and then there are just things that are wrong.
Let me set the scene... We are a company that values the benefits of vacation, so I'm setting a good example and have been taking a lot of vacations this summer. Some with kids (and let’s be honest, those are trips, not vacations) and, and some kid-free. This most recent one was on a houseboat with a bunch of friends on Lake Roosevelt. This was my third year doing this, and I can’t recommend it enough. Even with our less-than-amazing weather, it was relaxing, fun, and a reminder of what a gorgeous state we live in here in Washington. The only upsetting thing about the whole trip, though, was that the awesome rooftop deck on the boat had eight completely useless spots to sit, thanks to bad stools. Horrible.
First, check out those pictures of me at the rear bar and the outdoor bar table.
Notice how I can't get more than just the tips of my knees under the counter or table? Everyone has probably come across this at some point, but why?? This isn't rocket science, people.
For whatever reason, there is a lot of confusion about bar stools. I can’t even tell you how many stools I’ve sat at that are the wrong height. There isn’t just one, fail-safe stool to buy that works. So, what do you look for? The basic concept is simple: you need enough space between your legs and the table top to actually pull in and sit comfortably.
Let’s just review the options so you can go ahead and select the correct stool for your situation.
Table Height Stools
I know, tables come in different heights. But when you see the term "table height" it means 30” above the ground. Table height stools are not super common, as most people prefer chairs for these situations, but they do exist. Seat height should be around 18” to 20” off the ground leaving at least 10” between the seat and the table surface. As a good rule of thumb, I tend to prefer a 12” difference in pretty much all scenarios, thanks to the giant legs that the Pelletier genealogy has cursed us all with.
Counter Height Stools
Here’s where the trouble really starts. This is always where I see the biggest conflict between seat height and the height of the table or bar. Counter height is 36” off of the floor, and that means that you need a stool height of around 24”. These are fairly commonly available in many styles, but you need to confirm the height. This height of stool is often used at kitchen islands that are the same height as the adjacent countertops.
Bar Height Stools
Bar height is 42” off of the floor, and this is by far the most commonly available stool. The seat height should be around 30”. When you take a bar height stool and put it next to a standard counter, then you only have 6” of difference between the seat height and the counter. That will make everything awful. This is the scenario I'm experiencing right now as I type this, and I can feel my back seizing up since I’m forced to sit farther back to avoid squishing my legs and my computer is too low. Fail.
So that’s pretty much it. Buying a stool isn’t as straight-forward as you may think and I encourage you to spend the extra time to not screw this up. I’ve had to struggle through this vacation awkwardly drinking margarita after gin and tonic at a bar not meant for my legs (please note the sarcasm). The struggle is real on this trip, and if more people were educated in "stoolology" we’d all be living (and sitting) in a better place.
And yes, I’m going to coin the phrase “stoolology” and just leave that right there. Happy sittin’.