How to Find the Perfect Modern Bar Stool

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By Diana Budds / Published by Dwell
There’s no denying the appeal of a seat at the bar; it’s where everybody knows your name, after all. As a design element at home, it offers a more casual and space-efficient alternative to formal dining. Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, principals of the New York design firm Roman and Williams, dispense expert advice on how to shop for a stool. Then we review the six seats that earned the Dwell seal of approval.

What do you like most about bar seating in the context of restaurants and residences?

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For The Standard Grill in New York City, Roman and Williams designed stools that feature metal legs and wood seats.

Bar seating is spontaneous. It’s a very social and interactive location—you can see and chat with the bartender or the chef in a restaurant, or with your family over breakfast in your own home. There’s an informality to it, and that informality transfers onto the piece of furniture itself.

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LEM Piston stool by Shin and Tomoko Azumi for Design Within Reach, $750

The classic LEM—shown in a lacquered wood version—is tricked out with all the bells and whistles we like to see in a bar stool. It swivels to make sliding in and out easy. The sleek seat toggles between counter height (26 inches) and bar height (31 inches). Plus, the footrest is on the same vertical plane as the deep seat’s edge—a must for balance.

When shopping for a bar stool, what are the essential qualities you look for?

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Babila by Odo Fioravanti for Pedrali, $204

A simple silhouette will ensure your bar stools don’t overwhelm a room—save the grand gestures for a different piece. Babila is made from FSC-certified ash and features a die-cast aluminum footrest. It is available in a 25.5-inch (shown) or 29.5-inch height. It doesn’t have a back, so it’s best for short sits. Philosophical debates or four-course meals are for the dinner table. Available from thechairfactory.com.

We look for great lines and some [visual] interest. It’s a tall element in the room. You can really see the legs, so it should have great proportions. We don’t feel strongly that it needs to swivel or have a back. Bar stools should be sturdy and have some weight; otherwise they can feel insecure and flimsy. They should always have a footrest. We like a wood seat, something made from a natural material. There’s something comfortable about that. When there’s food involved, it’s nice to sit on a warm surface. 

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Cannery Bridge counter stool by Sauder, $99

For (slightly) less than a Benjamin, Sauder offers a no-frills, wrought-metal, counter-height stool with an industrial flair. Its base is slightly wider than the seat, which gives it a sturdy feeling. It weighs about ten pounds, making it easy to move around. Rotate the circular seat to adjust its height—it’ll go as high as 27.5 inches, just a bit shy of a comfortable bar height.

What material do you recommend for upholstery?

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Broom stool by Philippe Starck for Emeco, $350

When we think of good design, manufacturing processes along with functionality and aesthetics factor high on our list. Broom is 75 percent waste polypropylene and 15 percent reclaimed wood shavings, and it is made in the USA. The back rises about a foot taller than the rounded seat, offering support. It comes in six colors and in bar and counter heights.

If we have to use upholstered stools, we like to use leather or even canvas. They’re easy to clean! The bar stool should be a very utilitarian piece of furniture; it’s not highly decorative. It’s a workhorse stool. Buying a bar stool isn’t like buying a signature chair for a room. 

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Branca stool by Sam Hecht and Industrial Facility for Mattiazzi, $1,049–$1,069

Introduced at the Milan furniture fair in April 2014, the Branca stool channels the natural beauty of trees. The gently curved seat is angled slightly higher in the front, which helps you feel balanced. The low back gives lumbar support. It’s available in natural, white, and black finishes and with a black or white footrest.

Name your favorite stool from design history.

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Saddle bar and counter stool by West Elm, from $369

Upholstered chairs offer more cush for your tush but take up more room. It’s 20 inches wide, so you won’t be able to squeeze in as many stools, but those who manage to snag a seat will be rewarded with a plush perch. The back rises 11 inches from the seat (set on a swivel) and offers contoured arm rests. westelm.com

Jean Prouvé’s stools are so simple and beautiful. There is wonderful, earnest detailing, and they have a great mixture of metal and wood—warm on the butt, sturdy on the legs.

What contemporary design do you like most? 

We make exceptions for people, but for objects, we only trust anything over 40 years old!

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"Prouvé’s stools are so simple and beautiful," says Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch of Roman and Williams. "There is wonderful, earnest detailing, and they have a great mixture of metal and wood—warm on the butt, sturdy on the legs." Jean Prouvé’s Tabouret Haut, pictured, dates from 1942; Vitra now produces the piece.

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