Office Chairs - Buyer’s Guide

Office Chairs Buyer’s Guide

The office chair, or ‘Task Chair’ is arguably the most important item of furniture in the workplace. It’s the one item that physically ‘connects’ with its user, having a major impact on their comfort, wellbeing and productivity.

Even accounting for agile working patterns and the introduction of sit/stand desks, it’s likely that most occupants will spend 30 – 60% of their office time sitting in such a chair.

So what are the qualities of a ‘good’ office chair?

1) Adjustable

People come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s vital that the model you select has a wide range of adjustments, to allow each user to find a comfortable working position.

The most important is height adjustment, which should be set so that an individual’s thighs are parallel with the floor (or raised up to 5 degrees) when their feet are placed flat on the floor. (If this is difficult to achieve for smaller people, they should be provided with an appropriate footrest).

Perhaps surprisingly, back-height or lumbar-height adjustment is not particularly important, because the distance of the 4th/5th ‘wedge-shaped’ vertebrae from the coccyx varies by only a few millimetres between the shortest and tallest of people.

However, many experts argue that the ability adjust the depth of a lumbar support to fit individual spine curvatures is of some benefit.

A seat-depth adjustment is beneficial; taller people will not feel comfortable if the seat feels too shallow and they are ‘perching’. The seat should be adjusted so that there are two or three fingers of depth between the end of the seat and the back of the knee; blood circulation problems can occur if the seat is set too deep.

An optional seat-rake adjustment / forward-tilt adjustment can also help users find a comfortable ‘starting point’ for the articulated action, allowing them to alleviate pressure under the knees when in a task-focussed position.

Arm-height adjustment is necessary, not only to accommodate physical variants, but to provide support for the lower arm when typing or writing. The arm height should be set at approximately the same height as the worksurface, after the other adjustments have been completed.

Incidentally, most of these adjustments should be undertaken with the chair away from the desk. We find that people tend to sit too high because of the height of their monitor screens. The correct approach is to set up the chair first (apart from arm height), then reduce the height of the monitor screens until the top of the screen is at around eye-level.

Arm-depth adjustment is desirable; allowing the user to get close enough to their desk and monitors to find a comfortable working position without having to lean forwards.

Arm-angle adjustment is also desirable for those that do a lot of keyboard work; hands are typically positioned closer together than elbows, so this angle adjustment provides support along the natural angle of the lower arms, helping to avoid RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury).

Arm-width adjustment is optional, but can be useful to accommodate particularly large or small individuals.

2) Articulated

The chair should provide effective and continuous support through a wide range of natural working postures. Such ‘articulated’ or ‘dynamic’ mechanisms actually encourage movement, which is ergonomically beneficial and encourages good blood circulation.

Perhaps the most recognised is a ‘Synchronous Knee-Tilt’ mechanism, where the rear of the seat falls by approximately 1 degree for every 3 degrees of back recline. Importantly, these mechanisms do not raise the front edge of the seat, which would restrict blood flow behind the knees and give the user a ‘falling back’ experience.

Such mechanisms need to provide resistance based on individual body weight; and many incorporate an automatic weight-sensing function, which can in turn be ‘fine-tuned’. We tend to prefer the Synchro mechanisms with a tension control that can be set by the user, which in our opinion provides a more naturally responsive experience over a wide range of movement.

A more recent trend is to provide a back that supports ‘twisting’ movements, allowing it to flex with the user when they leant to the left or right. Any innovation that allows a chair to follow its user more closely is beneficial.

Most suppliers incorporate a back-lock or back-stop mechanism which allows the user to either lock the back in a range of positions or restrict its range of operation. In our opinion, these functions should not be required if a chair is set up correctly, although subjectively a user may feel more comfortable if they can ‘lock’ the back upright for short periods of task-focused work.

This Link to Viasit’s ‘Impulse’ online animated manual provides a useful visual reference for all the adjustments discussed above.

Dynamic seating
Dynamic seating

Some suppliers offer a different approach to ‘dynamic’ sitting, using natural materials flex or other mechanisms to encourage natural movement and correct posture. These can be a good choice when work positions are shared by a number of people, and complex adjustments are undesirable.

Others offer innovative features like ‘active rocking’ and sliding arm assemblies. These are all worthy of consideration depending on the nature of work undertaken, and the time periods over which a chair is used.

3) Foam or Mesh?

The seat foam is the main point of weight-supporting contact; it is vital to provide long periods of comfort without restricting blood flow.

All foams should be of the CMHR (Combustion Modified High Resilience) type – essential to meet commercial standards and not always provided for ‘domestic’ specifications.

Ideally, such foams should be ‘multi-density’, providing a softer upper layer and denser lower layer. Some manufacturers provide a foam/pocket spring option, which is arguably even more comfortable.

Others provide ‘sculpted’ shapes to match the human anatomy more closely.

Some suppliers now provide a mesh seat option, which, it is argued, is better for air circulation, less prone to staining and less likely to host dust and microbes. However, these are far from equal in effectiveness and can subjectively feel rather hard over time.

Traditionally, the fabric and foam approach has been used for chair backs, although now mesh backs appear to be gaining in popularity.

Using high-technology designs and materials, most mesh backs readily adapt to the user’s back contours in a natural way, obviating the need for a lumbar support. They are aesthetically light in appearance and often preferred for this reason alone.

However, only a few mesh-back chairs offer effective lumbar-depth adjustment, so this may be a point of focus if considered important.

4) A good warranty

Most credible suppliers will offer a product warranty of 5 – 10 years. But such warranties often exclude those parts of the chair most vulnerable to failure. The common exceptions are gas-springs for height-adjustment (often limited to 2 years) and the selected fabric (often limited to 1 year).

All warranties will exclude wear and tear, and misuse (Often at the discretion of the manufacturer)

So what does a good office chair cost?

Please note that these indications are based on pricing in August 2021 – expect annual price increases of between 3-6% from 2022.


Quite good £200 - £300 Ex. VAT

All the basic requirements including Synchro Mechanism and minimum 5-year warranty. Some chairs in this category ‘punch above their weight’ and could justifiably sit in the ‘very good’ category.

click on the thumbnail below to enlarge
  • Forma 5 Dot Pro Fabric Back
  • Forma 5 Dot Pro Mesh Black
  • Haiken Stirling Fabric Black
  • Haiken Stirling Mesh Black
  • Haiken Webb
  • Interstuhl Every
  • Okamura Portone
  • Workstories J1
  • Forma 5 Dot Pro Fabric Back
  • Forma 5 Dot Pro Mesh Black
  • Haiken Stirling Fabric Black
  • Haiken Stirling Mesh Black
  • Haiken Webb
  • Interstuhl Every
  • Okamura Portone
  • Workstories J1

Good £300 - £450 Ex. VAT

More durable Synchro Mechanism and structure, better foams, 8-10 year warranty, more colour choice, some optional extras

click on the thumbnail below to enlarge
  • Forma 5 Eben
  • Humanscale Different World Mesh
  • Interstuhl Joyce
  • Okamura Sabrina
  • Okamura Sylphy
  • Senator Clipper
  • Senator Ousby
  • Viasit Toleo
  • Forma 5 Eben
  • Humanscale Different World Mesh
  • Interstuhl Joyce
  • Okamura Sabrina
  • Okamura Sylphy
  • Senator Clipper
  • Senator Ousby
  • Viasit Toleo

Very Good £450 - £700 Ex. VAT

Top engineering and innovation, 10 year+ warranty

click on the thumbnail below to enlarge
  • Flokk Hag Sofi Mesh
  • Humanscale Freedom
  • Okamura Choral
  • Okamura Contessa
  • Okamura Finora
  • Viasit Scope
  • Vitra ID Mesh
  • Wilkhahn AT Mesh
  • Flokk Hag Sofi Mesh
  • Humanscale Freedom
  • Okamura Choral
  • Okamura Contessa
  • Okamura Finora
  • Viasit Scope
  • Vitra ID Mesh
  • Wilkhahn AT Mesh

Summary

Who thought office chairs could be so complicated?

We’re here to guide you through the process of selecting the right chair for you, at the right price. Not only can we arrange a showroom tour to see and test the available options; we can also arrange for a shortlist of comparable chair models to be delivered to your premises for evaluation by you and your team.

Interion provides unsurpassed knowledge and impartial advice; let us help you to make the right decision!

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 0203 815 9400

CLICK HERE FOR RELATED ARTICLE

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD OUR CHAIR COMPARISON CHECKLIST

Contact Us

Talk to us - We are knowledgeable, friendly and trustworthy. We look forward to working with you.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

I agree that my details will be emailed to the website owner for the purposes of this contact.

Get in Touch

Interion 15 Clerkenwell Close London EC1R 0AA

info@interion.co.uk

+44(0)20 3815 9400