How Bar Stools Went From Stiffs to Twists
No one really knows who came up with the first swivel bar stool. It's another one of those modern conveniences that have become a fixture in everyday life to the point that no one can remember a time when they did not exist.
One thing is for sure—these marvels of innovative furniture design really took off in the 50s and 60s. They were an instant hit because, well, people just liked them. They looked cool, they were fun to sit in, plus the instant swivel action made them great for socializing with members of the opposite sex. Business owners quickly responded by installing millions of them in diners, bars and restaurants all over the country.
Over the decades their popularity has endured to the point where they are now common in many homes, especially kitchens. Families have discovered that the kitchen has become the new social networking site and kitchen designers have responded with innovative layouts that include breakfast bar areas with room for several stools. But unlike 50 years ago, they now come in a kaleidoscope of materials, styles and sizes. So where do you begin?
This article will take you through the basics, from measuring for the correct height all the way to selecting fabrics and materials. A swivel bar stool can really add some magic to your home or business. They have stood the test of time and that's nothing to get in a twist about.
Size Matters: How to Find the Perfect Fit
There's nothing worse than sliding onto a bar stool and feeling like you're a 5 year old because the stool is too low relative to the bar. Things aren't much better when it's too high and you find yourself crammed in like a sardine. Bar stools are sized by seat height. A 30 inch bar stool refers to the distance from the floor to the top of the seat. (measurement 'C' is Fig 1). Since a standard bar is approximately 41-43 inches high, to correctly pair the stool to the bar you should allow 10-12 inches from the top of the bar to the top of the seat (measurement 'B' in Fig 1). In this case a swivel bar stool height of 29-33 inches would provide a comfortable fit for a 41-43 inch high bar.
Some bars are higher than the standard size, measuring 44-47 inches. In this instance a swivel bar stool height in the range of 33-36 inches would be good.
Spacing: Don't Crowd Your Guests
Now that you have your stool height calculated it is time to figure out the correct spacing. This is based on the length of your bar. The industry standard is to allow 26-30 inches measured from the center of adjacent stools (see Fig 2). For end stools, the center should be 13-15 inches from the end of the bar.
This standard is only a guide and you will need to make adjustments based on your particular layout and needs. For example, if you decide to go with a bar stool design that has armrests you should allow more space to avoid swivelers from banging into one another.
Swivel Mechanisms: Thanks for the Memory
The most common swivel mechanism has a standard 360 degree rotation. This should be fine for most applications, but there are a few other choices for more specialized situations. One of the most unique developments over the years has been the memory return mechanism. This will automatically return the chair to the forward facing position when the seat is empty. It's great for neat-freaks who like to see all their bar stools line up with military precision.
The other swivel mechanism is the 'partial rotation'. These swivels will only allow the chair to rotate a fixed number of degrees, usually between 90 and 180. Unless you have a very specific need I do not recommend this type of swivel mechanism. Hey, people like to swivel, so let them.
Designs & Form Factors
Gone are the days when the only choice was three legs and a wooden seat. Today the range of styles and materials to choose from is mind boggling. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover everything available, so let's narrow the field by taking a look at different seat configurations. Swivel bar stools can be broken down into three main underlying forms:
The basic stool consists of a leg frame and a simple seat platform, usually circular in shape, and able to freely rotate 360 degrees. This is the most common configuration.
Stool With Backrest
The addition of a backrest makes the swivel bar stool more like a rotating chair. These designs tend to have padded seats and provide more comfort and back support. Note that the swivel plate under the chair could include an incline of a few degrees to allow the user to lean back into the chair easily.
Stool With Backrest and Armrests
Stool designs with both back- and arm-rests are about as comfortable as you are going to get in a bar stool. They're more suited to upscale environments where you can justify the wider spacing necessary to avoid swivel collisions.
Take A Seat
It was a simple idea back then but the swivel bar stool has now become a ubiquitous fixture in American culture. Their popularity has continued to gain in the last 10 years as more and more restaurants and homes are opting to install them. They're the new social networking hub and a lot of fun for children and adults alike. So get a few swivel bar stools for your project. And may the swivel be with you.
konacoop on January 24, 2011:
one question left: Can you have a 360 degree swivel with memory?
FrankM1150 on February 07, 2010:
Your post was fantastic! I think you answered everyone of my questions in 1 article. The height and spacing information was extremely helpful.