In our new advice column, Ask the Strategist, we take your most burning shopping questions and scour friends, call up experts, and draw from personal experience to answer them. As always, please comment with one of your own — we’re here to help.
Question: Help! I work from home and want a supportive office chair that doesn’t look like an exoskeleton or gym ball. Any options?
I know you didn’t ask for it, but I’m going to start here with something a little exoskeleton-y. You might be opposed at first, but I’m thinking that might change after you read Alice Gregory’s glowing recommendation and hear that this Work Smart kneeling chair is actually one of our best sellers here at the Strategist. It’s about the size of a fire hydrant and kind of looks like Pilates equipment but Alice and the commenters agree, with this you’ll never have back pain again.
Since you asked for a real chair, though, we went to my personal chair expert, who happens to be my dad, Marc Schwartzberg, a man who’s worked in office furniture for the past 30 years and now runs a company called Office Furniture Heaven.
As a general note he says that you should think of your office chair like you would your mattress: Chances are you’re going to spend around eight hours in it every day, so you better make sure it’s comfortable. At the same time, you don’t want something that’s going to get wobbly or start malfunctioning after six months, so it’s perhaps worth making it an investment. And when it comes to buying online, you want something to be the right scale for your body type, so avoid a big thronelike back if you’re five-foot-four, and pay attention to the measurements (both the chair’s and your body’s) so that it doesn’t end up cutting you off at the knees.
Now to the chairs. Conventional wisdom, he says, is that the Aeron chair by Herman Miller is the most comfortable, proven by 15 years of being one of the best-selling chairs on the market. It has a mesh back, all parts are incredibly adjustable, and “people who are heavy office chair users just love it,” he says.
But for something a little different than everyone else he suggests a chair from Humanscale, a New York City–based design studio who also have some pieces in MoMA. My dad says they’re generally very well designed and have very good ergonomics, which is the company’s point of focus. Humanscale’s most popular piece is the Freedom chair, which comes with a headrest or without, depending on what you prefer and how tall you are. They also have a mesh-backed option called the Liberty that comes very highly recommended.
For a little more color, because this is a home-office chair after all where you can avoid the staid office look and have a bit more fun with your personal style, there’s Steelcase, which is in the same league as both Herman Miller and Humanscale when it comes to ergonomics. Their Gesture chair, designed specifically to support how our bodies move as we interact with technology all day, comes in wasabi green, blue jay blue, and tangerine.
You’ll notice that all of those are on the pricier side, so for something small scale, good quality, comfortable, and cheap (for an office chair at least) he points to the Phelps by Wobi, which, full disclosure, is a company he also works for. Still, it is far far more affordable than the others.
Finally, if you prefer a cheaper way out, say a mattress topper instead of a brand new mattress, we’d also recommend this $20 hack for lumbar support. The Easy Posture Lumbar Back Support is a simple piece of mesh you can add onto any existing chair and it actually gets its ergonomic strategy from the Aeron chair.
We’d love to hear from you. If you have any burning questions, please leave them for us in the comments.
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