Long has the doom of sitting been forecasted. Published papers aplenty have argued that a stationary life is shorter and trouble-ridden, and the primary workarounds are many — standing desks, frequent breaks, stretching, taking walks and so on. But none address the simple fact that, sometimes, to get shit done, we simply need to plant ourselves in a chair and get after it.
Luckily, a number of companies are working to beat each other at building the best office chairs, even though they all know it’s not possible. No one chair is the best for everyone, so take our guide with plenty of salt. If you can, go to stores and showrooms in your area and sit down, lean back, lean forward, pull levers and ask questions about everything — your back, muscles, various joints and brain will thank you.
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What to Look For in an Office Chair
Every office chair should have some amount of adjustability because each chair needs to be able to accommodate different types of people, whether it's for height or weight. At a minimum, an office chair should have adjustable height. But if that's all the chair offers, it's probably not the best chair for you (or anyone). Look to see what other points of adjustability a chair has such as adjustable armrests, back height, tilt position and seat depth. Keep in mind that the more adjustable a chair is, the higher in price it's likely to be.
Lumbar refers to the part of the spine that's located in your lower back region. If you have lower back pain (or even if you don't), you'll definitely want to look for a chair with lumbar support. This usually refers to some sort of horizontal attachment — whether it's a cushion or piece of stiff plastic — on your chair that helps provide support to your lumbar region. The lumbar support should be adjustable so you can tailor it to where you need to focus extra lower back support.
From leather to fabric, office chairs can be made of practically anything. Upholstered chairs are generally cheaper, but harder to clean than their leather counterparts. Also, brands keep inventing new innovative materials that provide better support and breathability than more classic materials.
Ease of Assembly
While prior to the pandemic most of us probably did not have the experience of putting together our own desk chairs, home offices are much more common now — if not the norm. And the last thing you want to do after lugging a giant box to your door is spend hours studying a complicated manual, so buying a chair with simple, intuitive assembly instructions is more important than ever.
Office Chair Brands to Know
An extreme and praise-worthy focus on sustainable, eco-friendly design and gorgeous aesthetics come together with research-backed ergonomics at Humanscale. A through-line can be seen in all Humanscale’s more recent products — simplicity. Simplicity urged forward by the late American industrial designer Niels Diffrient in his partnership with Humanscale, which yielded two of the most notable and respected chairs ever — the Freedom and Diffirent World.
Herman Miller is the company behind many of the most iconic pieces in the era of mid-century modern but its catalog has far more to offer than famous lounge chairs. When Herman Miller released the Aeron office chair, it instantly became the, or at least one of the best makers of office seating the world over. The American brand’s most notable office chairs are likely the Aeron, Embody and the newly released Cosm, a fully passive ergonomic chair with a few unique-unto-itself features.
Where Herman Miller and others work in a variety of furniture areas, Steelcase narrows its gaze to furniture with a performance and sustainability bend. The 105-year-old company is unrelenting in its focus on research-guided design, and it is most known for the Gesture, Leap and its auto-adjusting (and fairly new) SILQ.
Like Herman Miller, Knoll was (and has become again) mid-century royalty. Also like Herman Miller, it didn’t fall off the face of the earth. In fact, the two brands became one when Herman Miller acquired Knoll last year. Knoll still peddles high-end, luxurious home furniture aplenty, but its office seating, the Generation line in particular, is a revelation. Ergonomic, good looking and sold at price points low and high, Knoll covers the spectrum of what you need now and in the future.
New and Upcoming Releases
Our recommendations are based off real-world testing. Here's a snapshot of new and unreleased office chairs our testers are considering for future updates to this guide.
Herman Miller Zeph Chair: A new release from Herman Miller, this simple yet design-conscious chair doesn't require any adjustment, according to the brand. You can choose the color of the polymer shell and 3D-knit seat pad. Plus, you can order it with or without armrests. And starting at $495 without arms, the chair is one of the more affordable offerings in Herman Miller's catalog.
Knoll Newson Task Chair: Designed by Marc Newson for Knoll, this chair features a flexible frame and a unique floating seat. You can adjust almost every part of the chair, including the recline, seat and armrests.
Flexispot OC15 Ergonomic Office Chair: Although not a new release, our team is testing the OC15 chair from Flexispot which offers an ergonomic S-shaped design for your back, tilt and height adjustability as well as eight vibrant color options. Regularly priced at $300, the chair is a relatively affordable option from a brand that makes one of the best standing desks and one of the best standing desk converters you can buy.
The Best Office Chairs
The features we test for are founded in notes gathered through interviews with experts in the category, including ergonomics specialist and President of Human Innovation Designs Dr. Brock Walker. To illustrate the need for a body friendly desk chair, Walker suggests you picture your head as a bowling ball. "How would your body hold that bowling ball up? If you lean backward, hunch over or slouch, you’re asking your muscles and soft tissue to hold up the bowling ball all day," he says.
Every office chair in this guide has been tested for at least a month's time by an editor or writer, but most are used for three months before being evaluated and, if scored well, added to the guide. Tester's notes on delivery, assembly, comfort, issues, strengths and any other quibbles they have are recorded and weighed against the product's price and warranty, as well as the brand customer service response times. We've evaluated more than 60 office chairs, and whittled down those to the 23 best.
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Each has been selected for its design, ergonomics and ability to toggle between sitting and standing positions.