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Love of Chair

February 2, 2010 2 comments

What’s the first thing you think about when you start a new job?

As an information worker — and doesn’t that sound better than desk jockey? — I spend a good amount of time in the saddle. Add to this my chronic lower back pain and you might understand why whenever I start a new job, my main concern — before finding out whether I’ll have a window, free coffee, or a garage space — is where I’m going to be parking my butt.

But unlike the guy in the picture above, I’ve never had the perk of getting whatever chair I wanted — otherwise I’d be luxuriating in an Aeron right now. And when I’m shopping for a home-office chair, it all comes down to what’s on sale at OfficeMax and making the necessary tradeoffs between price and comfort. So it helps me to think about what’s worth spending extra for and what’s just a frill. Here’s what I look for in an office chair, in order of importance:

  1. Back support. And by this I mean the whole back, especially the lumbar. Chairs with just the little thing that goes across the mid or upper back? Pure agony in half an hour.
  2. Adjustable height. Even though desktops are generally a standard height (about 28″) I find that, because of my long torso, ordinary chairs make my wrists come down at a sharp angle. That gets uncomfortable pretty fast. Adjustable height is also good if you use a table as a workspace because tables tend to be a few inches higher than desks.
  3. Armrests. Yeah I know this moves most office chairs from the “nearly stylish” to the “fugly” category but then I don’t get paid to look good. The rests should be wide enough to support an arm, and at least somewhat height adjustable.
  4. Swivel. I like to work in an “L” formation, with my keyboard and monitor slightly to my left and room to spread out papers on my right, so being able to turn is nice. But if I’m just working at a desk, I can give on the spin.
  5. Casters. When my desk was in the same room as the office fridge, rolling was a definite plus. Otherwise I can give on this. But if there are wheels, there need to be five and not just four because I have a tendency to lean back and stretch from time to time. Speaking of which…
  6. Lean-back. Another nice-to-have but only if I can adjust it to make it very firm. Frankly I’d prefer a non-wheeled, non-leaning chair that was well built enough that I could rock onto the back legs — just like my mom always told me not to — but you can’t really find those with adjustable height.

I tend to spend a fair amount of time in office supply stores with someone who enjoys hanging out in the pen aisle so I’m looking forward to test driving the chairs soon. But no matter how much planning or sampling I do, I won’t know if I’ve got the right chair until I can go an entire day without even thinking about what’s keeping me off the floor — besides the coffee.

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