How to Choose the Right Bar Stool Height, Style, and Design

Updated on July 5, 2017

The Perfect Bar Stool

Bar stools are perfect for sitting around a kitchen counter, outfitting a basement game room, or for a tall dining table. Modern bar stools are quickly becoming one of the most popular pieces of furniture in the kitchen, due to their versatility in an open floor plan. You’ll find yourself using these stools everyday, between helping the kids with their homework and hosting happy hour.

Before you start shopping, here’s what to look for.

  • Modern bar stools come in four heights: short, counter, bar, and tall.
  • Find the right option for your seating area by measuring the height of your tabletop.
  • Leave 9 to 12 between the stool seat and the underside of the surface so everyone can sit comfortably.

How to Measure Bar Stools

  1. Measure the height of the counter where you'll use the stool, from the floor to the top of the bar.
  2. Subtract about 10" from that number to find the approximate height you'll need.

Short: A casual alternative for dining tables or breakfast nooks.
Seat height: 16-23 inches.

Counter: Designed for kitchen islands or home bars.
Seat height: 24-27 inches.

Bar: A taller bar-top option that you'll find in most restaurants.
Seat height: 28-33 inches.

Tall: The go-to choice for high surfaces.
Seat height: 34-40 inches.

Other Things to Consider

  • Bar stools come in three different seat back heights – full back, low back, and backless.
    Full back: If you’re planning on spending time in these stools, full backs are recommended.
    Low back: Very modern and stylish, and work especially well if you don’t want to block your eye-line with chair backs.
    Backless: These can get uncomfortable, but they save space and look great.
  • One popular style of modern bar stool is a swivel chair. These work well when you’ll want to face the TV one minute and face the table with your food the next. Swivel chairs can also save your floors since they don’t need to be pulled in and out in order for someone to sit. Bar stools can be heavy to move, so swivel chairs are better for your back as well.
  • If you have kids, watch out for stools that are too top-heavy or have a narrow base. Some swivel chairs might fall in this category, so test them out. Four-legged, high back stools with arms are usually quite sturdy and easy for kids to sit in. Make sure your child can climb into the chair on their own without risking a fall. Kids might also need footrests.
  • For small spaces, choose stools that are lightweight and can be stacked on top of each other. This gives you the option to move the stools elsewhere or store them away for parties or if you just need extra space.

What About Comfort?

  • If comfort is key, look for upholstered chairs. This is good if you’re using your bar stools as dining chairs, for frequent entertaining, or at a work station. Uncomfortable stools are unlikely to be used much, and will sit empty most of the time.
  • If you love a chair that isn’t cushioned, you can purchase tie-on cushions in a coordinating color for comfort when you need it. Upholstered chairs are more difficult to clean, however, so be wary if you think your guests will be prone to spills. Plastic, metal, or wood chairs with a finish are easier to wipe down.
  • You’ll also want to look for bar stools that have footrests. It can feel strange to sit in a chair where your legs dangle, and you might end up with too many shoo prints under your counter. Footrests make the stools more comfortable and functional.
  • Love the look of stools, but don’t have a kitchen island to put them next to? Consider buying a long and narrow tall table to place adjacent to your kitchen island. You’ll instantly create a bar space for snacks, drinks, and homework to use with your contemporary stools.

Still Not Sure?

If you’re not entirely sure what height you’re looking for, or if you want a transitional style, choose adjustable bar stools which are equipped with hydraulic pumps that allow you to move the seat up or down like an office chair. You can move these seats throughout the house.

I'm a big fan of Viesso. They're an L.A.-based company that knows furniture and I've been a fan of their work for years. I always find inspiration from their products and just the way they think about furniture. They provide some really great tips on finding the right furniture, stools, and everything else.

Questions & Answers

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      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        13 months ago from The Caribbean

        You seem to cover all the bases in this come-back bar stool article. Well done!

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