Finding a Good Office Chair Was Tough, But Worth It

Pay for it now, or pay for it later

Key Takeaways

  • A good chair will cost more than you want to pay.
  • Testing chairs can be almost impossible for home workers.
  • The right chair is good for your arms, neck, and back—not just your butt.
Someone sitting in a desk chair in a home office, petting a dog.

devn / Unsplash

The only thing more expensive than buying an office chair is not buying an office chair.

When you work in a regular job, in an office, with rules about not ruining employees' bodies, getting a proper chair is easy. You either already have one, or you ask. Unfortunately, for home workers, there's a good chance you will have to pay for it yourself, which is when you realize that you're not going to get much change out of a grand.

That's crazy money for a chair, but if you continue working from a kitchen stool or a cheap Ikea chair, you'll end up spending a lot more than that, either on medical bills or in pain and suffering.

This article is not about choosing any particular chair. Instead, it's about what the right and wrong chairs can do to your body and your mind. 

The Wrong Chair

I’ve worked from home for years. I used to have a proper office chair, the Steelcase Leap, which ended up never getting returned after a product review. That was a real throne of a chair, but I moved and had to give it away.

As my body aged and the pandemic meant that even non-work time was spent at the desk making music, the limits of even a good non-office chair became clear.

I ended up using a series of (excellent) plywood task chairs. These are highly adjustable and surprisingly comfortable chairs that are perfect for short-term sitting. They even can extend high enough to work at standing workbenches. 

But as my body aged and the pandemic meant that even non-work time was spent at the desk making music, the limits of even a good non-office chair became clear. If you’re working from home, you’ll know the drill.

Even if you get up and stretch every half hour, your butt bones soon get sore, your thighs get painful from pressure points, and your shoulders, forearms, and even your chest start complaining. 

These effects soon can become irreversible. Wrist RSI (repetitive strain injury), for example, is something most sufferers can only manage, not cure. 

A few weeks back, I decided to fix things up. I ended up with a nice Wagner chair, an ex-floor model from a local store, for under €500. It’s a life-changer. But the specific model isn’t the point. How can you shop for an office chair for the home when you have to do it all yourself?

Testing, Testing

In an office, you can sit in somebody else’s chair to see if it fits you. It’s easy enough to test an Aeron or a Steelcase Gesture (the Wirecutter’s top picks). But for an individual, that’s tricky. I live in a big city, and I couldn’t find a Herman Miller dealer open to the public.

I did manage to try a Steelcase Gesture, but I had to suffer an old-school salesman who refused to give me the lowdown on prices. I had to guess whether the light yellow fabric would cost the same as the dark yellow or $200 more. Also, the Gesture was quite uncomfortable for me.

The point is, you need to try before you buy. Internet research is great, but nothing beats butt-in-seat experience. Read the reviews, but then forget the specific models unless you can try them. Keep an open mind, and sit in those test chairs for as long as you can.

Game Changer

Once you get your new chair, play with all the adjustments. There are guidelines for chair setups. Read them, but remember that your body may not quite fit. For example, I sawed a few inches of my desk legs to get my keyboard at a comfortable height.

A desk chair sitting in front of a computer with dual monitors in a home office.

amr taha / Unsplash

Having a good chair makes a huge difference. I can work for longer, with less forearm pain, and my thighs no longer need to be revived at midday. And I easily can lean back, grab an iPad, put my feet on the desk, and read source material in comfort. Try that with a dining chair. 

One final concern is looks. In an office, aesthetics matter less. But if your desk is in your living room, you may not want to drop a monster throne into it. Obviously, the most important concern is comfort, but some good-looking, less imposing designs are out there.

Good luck, and don’t dally. Buying a good chair may be the best money you spend this year.

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