Desk Chair Guide

Desk Chair Guide – Why & How To Buy An Office Chair

How many hours will the average office worker sit in a chair over his or her career? 85,500 hours. That’s more than 9 years!The fact is, using the (cheap) chair your employer provided or buying a desk chair on sale is a recipe to enrich your chiropractor.

The fact is that human beings are designed to move, not to sit all day. Therefore, if you need to sit, your chair needs to be ergonomic, comfortable and adjustable.

Buying the least expensive or ‘prettiest’ looking chair for your office is gambling with your health. In most cases, people spend far more money on their desk than the chair. Ideally, a chair should mitigate the negative effects of sitting as much as possible. Even if your employer doesn’t provide a good chair, consider it an investment in your health even if you have to pay for it yourself. Before we get started, it is important to acknowledge that a great chair can’t resolve every problem associated with sitting, but it can do wonders in combination with good posture, regular movement, and exercise.

The executive chair may look comfy but isnt always good for you

The executive chair may look comfy, but isn’t always good for you

My Office Chair Rescued My Back. Can It Do the Same for Yours?

Five years ago, I had just started the Gentleman’s Gazette with only $600, and I experienced chronic back pain from sitting in a cheap chair. It continued until I resolved to buy a good chair, even though it cost me a good chunk of my capital. I settled on an Aeron chair for “just” $300 from an office furniture company that specialized in Fortune 500 companies. Brand new, this chair would have cost $950, but it was a return from one of their clients, and it looked basically like new. More importantly, I was able to try it extensively before my purchase, and it came with all the adjustment possibilities one would want.

In the long run, it was worth every penny because I increased my productivity and reduced my pain significantly. For me, it was the right solution to spend $300 upfront and forgo years of potential chiropractor bills.

For example, last year, my freelance bookkeeper told me she had to quit her profession, despite enjoying it very much, because she couldn’t make enough to pay for her chiropractor visits. The constant sitting had destroyed her back, and she was in pain constantly. She really regretted never investing in a good chair. She could have afforded a better chair, but she always felt it was too much money for furniture. Don’t make the same mistake.

A Top Notch Office Chair Costs You Just $0.40 A Day

Most people I know roll their eyes when they hear the price of an office chair. How good can it be?

A highly adjustable office chair definitely has a high upfront cost, but if you do the math, it’s actually rather inexpensive. For simplicity sake let’s say you buy a $1,000 chair, and you sit on average 40 hours on it per week, 50 weeks a year, and you use it for just ten years. This means you sit 2,000 hours per year or 20,000 per decade.

Consequently, it costs you $0.05 cents per hour or $0.40 cents a day to own an ergonomic office chair.

Now compare that to how much you spend on coffee per day, or your smartphone bill or your cable TV. Or better yet, compare it to the cost of back massages and chiropractor visits over a decade. I am certain the chair will be a worthwhile investment if it fits you well.

On top of that, most good chairs have long warranties, and they will easily last 15 if not 20 years if you don’t abuse them.

Importance of proper chair at work

Importance of proper chair at work

Benefits Of A Quality Office Chair

Not only is a good quality chair going to save your back from wear and tear, but it also helps to maintain blood circulation, and it will make you more productive. Studies have shown that we’re far more productive at work when we’re comfortable and pain-free. Therefore, it’s an easy negotiating tool for your boss who thinks that price is king.

If you do have an employer who doesn’t see the need to provide you with an ergonomic chair, consider asking your physician for a note or investing in one yourself. Not only will you be more productive, but you’ll find you’re also in a far better mood by the end of the day.

In any case, your body will thank you for it!

Can’t Afford An Expensive Chair? Buy Used!

If your budget doesn’t allow for a new, state-of-the-art office chair, go with a used one. It is much better to spend $200 on a used higher end chair with more adjustment possibilities than a new office chair from stores like Walmart, Target, Ikea, etc. for the same price.

Craigslist is one place to look for used chairs. Specialized office furniture store that focus on corporate accounts are another good source because they will always have returns. You can find barely used chairs with a warranty for a bargain, and you can even test them before you buy.

Based on the calculation model outlined above, my used Aeron chair costs just $0.015 per hour or $0.12 per day!!! Even if it might seem ludicrous to spend $300 on a chair if you are short on money, in my opinion it pays to save up for a year or longer because it is a very small investment in your body, happiness, and health.

Unfortunately many companies value appearance over health and safety

Unfortunately, many companies value appearance over health and safety

What to Look For In An Office Chair: Seven Things to Consider

Sure, appearance is important, but ergonomics is what matters in the long run. Even though I enjoy interior design, you’ll still find my Aeron chair in plain sight in my home office.

Since every person has a different body, it’s important to do your research before buying a chair.

If you already see a chiropractor or have access to see one, ask them to scan your back to determine the shape of your spine. By having this information, you can use it to find a chair that will gently force your spine into the right position. That’s why it’s critical that you only look at adjustable chairs.

A completely adjustable ergonomic chair

A completely adjustable ergonomic chair that helps you stay comfortable

1. Adjustability

Almost every chair on the market will be somewhat adjustable. For your chair, you want something that offers more than just height and armrest adjustments. Ideally, the chair should be five-way adjustable but some even go as far as adjusting in fourteen different ways. It can be tricky to figure out what’s best for you, but the only way to find that out is to physically test it. I assure you that if you take the time to examine chairs and to make the adjustments, you’ll be thankful in the end.

An example of a spinal scan that can help determine what chair you need

An example of a spinal scan that can help determine what chair you need

2. Lumbar Support Should Be Adjustable

Sciatica is one ailment that is not fun. The pain can be debilitating, and it can be caused by the lumbar support of your desk chair. Any decent chair is going to advertise lumbar support for your lower back, but a quality desk chair will offer adjustable lumbar support so you can change it according to the curvature of your spine and your body type. I suggest you adjust it to different strengths until you feel comfortable. Note that sometimes your lower back will hurt after a few hours of sitting if it is adjusted incorrectly.

3. Rolling vs. Stationary Chairs

If you sit at the middle of your desk and have to reach to be able to touch the furthest corner, you need a chair with wheels. Even if you have a small desk, being able to roll helps to prevent strain caused by reaching across your desk or to another park of your workspace.

Make sure you invest in a chair with a well-built wheelbase that easily glides over the floor’s surface. Some wheelbases are very hard and designed to roll easily on a carpet so if you work on a carpeted surface, consider investing in one of these chairs or a plastic mat for your chair to sit on. Good chairs also offer the possibility to exchange the wheels and add some rubber, which is better for hard surfaces.

A quick google search will tell you if you can get different wheels for your chair or if you have to invest in a rug or mat.

Young businessman with backache sitting in an office chair.

Young business man with aching back sitting in an office chair.

4. Swivel Base

As important as wheels are, being able to swivel is just as critical. If your chair doesn’t turn, your body will have to, and that can result in fatigue and stress to your muscles. Overextending to reach across your workspace can also cause injuries that a swivel base can easily eliminate. It’s important to make sure your chair works for your environment.

5. Fabric Is Important – You Don’t Want To Sweat

Most basic office chairs are made from synthetic materials. Perhaps one can argue there’s nothing wrong with that, but if we consider the facts, we know that’s not accurate.

Choosing the right fabric for our chair is like selecting the fabric for our suits. Something that’s breathable is going to be far more comfortable. You also want something that offers substantial cushioning to your rear, so you don’t feel the frame of the chair. This is based on your body type, weight and the way you sit. Choosing fabric is just as important as the other factors. However, it’s one area you can also improve. If you do happen to fall in love with the chair but don’t like the appearance or the cushion you can easily have the chair reupholstered and a more comfortable cushion put in. Often this can be far less expensive than upgrading to a more ‘premium’ fabric.

Mesh Beats Fabric

That being said, the most advanced office chairs on the market today often used special materials, that not only improve breathability but also help to regulate your body temperature. On top of that, they are designed to distribute your weight evenly, so you sit more comfortably all day long. Chairs like the Herman Miller Aeron, Mirra 2 or Embody are all designed in that way, and you will definitely feel the advantage over the course of a day.

You never want to sweat in a chair; that’s why most high-end office chairs will cool you because while traditional leather or cushioned fabric chairs will look great, but they are not ideal for sitting in them over extended periods of time.

6. Testing the Chair Is Essential

Would you buy a car if you weren’t allowed to sit in it first? Probably not.

Any store worth their salt is going to give you the ability to try the chair either in store or in your office with the opportunity to return it. You must be able to return the chair without any conditions. Even a chair that seems perfect in the store’s showroom might not work with your desk or flooring at the office. It may not glide well or perhaps the armrests prevent you from being as close to your desk as you’d like. Make sure you can try the chair for a few days before making a final decision. It might be a headache to pack it up and return it, but it will be far worse if you’re uncomfortable for years to come.

We highly recommend testing office chairs in person before you buy. Of course, buying it locally is the first thing that comes to mind but you can also buy it online if you can return it afterward. Places like Amazon are known for their 30-day return policy, and that gives you the opportunity to sit in your chair for a whole day and not just a few minutes at the store.

A well fitted chair is crucial to your health and wellbeing

A well-fitted chair is crucial to your health and well-being

7. How Your Chair Should Fit

When sitting in the chair you want it to fit like a glove and to feel like you just sat in a cloud. There should be no discomfort, no gaps, and you should have the feeling of not wanting to get back up.

The backrest should be adjustable and should follow the natural shape of your spine and support your lower back, curving along it rather than leaving gaps and spacing. It should come to at least the height of the middle of the shoulder blades but ideally should extend above the shoulders.

The seat should be measured by fitting two or three finger lengths between it and the back of your knee.

The armrests should gently cradle the body so the shoulder can relax without you having to extend your elbows, and your feet should sit flat on the floor with your arms at the same height as the top of your desk. This position prevents strain.

5 Adjustment Tips for A Good Fit

  1. Proper Seat Height: When you sit upright in the chair, your feet should rest flat on the floor. Your thighs should have a 90-degree angle to your calves
  2. Right Seat Depth: You should be able to fit 2 to 3 fingers between the back of your knees and the edge of the chair.
  3. Adjustable Back Rest: Lumbar support should flow naturally with the curvature of the back. Play with the adjuster and test what setting you like most.
  4. Adjustable Armrests: Your elbows should be supported, but they must never be higher than when your arms are bent and at rest naturally.
  5. Head Rest: Not necessary but if you have one, it should touch the base of your head comfortably.
An ergonomic chair reupholstered for a new look

An ergonomic chair reupholstered for a new look

What’s The Right Chair For You?

Chairs are very specific and need to be bought based on your body type and that alone. Just because you find them pretty, because they won awards or because it is expensive doesn’t mean it’s the right chair for you.

In an ideal world, we would all have custom made office chairs but the RD costs are simply too high to make that reality, at least at the moment.

Therefore, more adjustment possibilities will increase the chance of a chair to be the perfect choice for you. Of course, theoretically an office chair with few adjustment possibilities could just be right for you, but in reality it’s just like and off the rack suit. It will never fit you perfectly without alterations. So, the more adjustment levels of you have, the more likely it will work well for you.

Sometimes, chairs also come in sizes because a heavy 440 lbs / 200 kg person needs a different chair than a 110 lbs / 50kg person. Ensure you get the right size for your body.

We recommend purchasing your chairs from reputable companies. Try to avoid the large office supply stores as most of their chairs are very generic and of poor quality. Ideally you want to be able to sit in the chair before you commit to buying it.

However, that’s not always a possibility. Therefore, you must ensure that the store offers a money-back guarantee so you can return or exchange the chair if necessary. When you do find the chair you like, provided you’re not loyal to the merchant it might be a good money-saving opportunity to buy it online. You can often find a far better deal on sites like eBay or Amazon.

Aeron chair fully loaded with polished metal base

Aeron chair fully loaded with polished metal base

List Of 11 Office Chairs You Should Look At

Not each of these chairs will be perfect for everybody, but this list should have at least one chair for 99% of all people. Consider it to be a good starting point.

1. Herman Miller Aeron – Starting at $940 for the recommend adjustable version and $730 for the base model

Design in the nineties and released in 1994, this chair is the benchmark that all other chairs are compared to. When it launched, it was revolutionary in many ways:

  • It used a special mesh that keeps you cool and comfortable
  • It doesn’t have a straight line because human bodies are not straight either
  • The design was timeless, and it is one of the few chairs that made it to the MoMA in New York
  • It came in 3 sizes which meant it could be adjusted to provide the right fit for approx. 98% of the population

At $940 the Aeron it may seem expensive, but it is solidly built and will last you over a decade for sure. Based on our example above that’s less than $0.40 a day. Because of its popularity, you can also find used Aerons very easily. The most popular size is B, but taller or bigger persons should get size C, short or petite people size A.

Humanscale Freedom Chair with and without headrest

Humanscale Freedom Chair with and without headrest

2. Humanscale Freedom Headrest Chair – Starting at $1,000

The Humanscale Freedom Chair is definitely targeted at executives who want to sit well ergonomically but also ensure everybody knows who’s boss.

The concept of the chair is that you can move around freely and naturally. As such, you are unable to restrict the recline in any way. Likewise, the armrests move together at all times. Otherwise, it gives you the ability to make six intuitive adjustments, and it lacks visible knobs and levers as other chairs do. Unlike many other office chairs, it is available in various leathers but that brings up the price to at least $2,000.

Overall, it is a great chair if you like a hard chair and if you often work in a reclined position. Otherwise, I would not recommend it.

Hawworth Zody taken apart

Hawworth Zody taken apart

3. Haworth Zody – Starting at $637

The Haworth Zody is yet another executive chair and priced accordingly. With an elegant design that has mass appeal and plenty of adjustment options. What stands out is the asymmetrical lumbar support, which allows you to make adjustments for the left and right side independently.

So if you frequently cross your legs to one side, this might come in handy.

Unlike other executive chairs, it is not huge and hence might be a good option for smaller people as well. Also available in leather options though that brings the price up considerably.

Herman Miller Mirra 2

Herman Miller Mirra 2

4. Herman Miller Mirra 2 – Starting at $879

Even though the Aeron chair was hugely successful, bigger companies often found it too expensive and so Herman Miller designed its smaller sibling to be (slightly) more affordable.  In 2013, the design of the Mirra was revised and now it is sold as Mirra 2.

It comes with no less than ten adjustments, but unlike the Aeron it comes in just one size. So if you are taller or very short, this is probably not the right chair for you.

The seat is balanced and neither hard nor soft while the design is certainly more modern and futuristic. On top of that it is well designed in the sense that you don’t need tools to disassemble it, and the carbon footprint is quite low.

For the price, it is a great chair all around with few weaknesses except maybe the lumbar height adjustment and the seat depth adjustment. Compared to the Aeron, it sits a bit stiffer.

If you are on a budget, the original Mirra is still around starting at $639, and you might score a real bargain on the used market.

Like all Herman Miller Office chairs it comes with a 12 year warranty.

Steelcase Leap

Steelcase Leap

5. Steelcase Leap – Starting at $919

Some people call it the best ergonomic chair in the world – it is Steelcase’s #1 selling chair.

It was designed to enable your spine to move naturally and it does a great job of supporting your back. In fact, the back support is one of the best on the market. In addition, it adjusts very intuitively.

Sadly, some may find the seat pad to be a little too thin and hard making it uncomfortable to sit for extended periods of time. If you weigh less than 180 lbs / 80 kg you may not notice it, and this may be the perfect chair for you, but if you are above that, you will likely not find this chair comfortable to sit in for more than 2 hours.

It comes with an 8 year warranty and as a plus, it ships completely assembled and hence is a great chair to order online.

Herman Miller Embody Desk Chair

Herman Miller Embody Desk Chair

6. Herman Miller Embody – Starts at $1,229

The Embody chair is Herman Miller’s Ergonomic top model. It looks very different from other desk chairs and if you expect many levers and knobs you will be disappointed. The Embody’s back and seat cushion move with you and are designed to spread the weight evenly, making it very comfortable to sit in. The chair is so unassuming and natural that you almost forget you are sitting at times. Although it comes in just one size it adapts well to its user.

No matter if you sit upright or back, this chair is comfortable all day long. However, if you like a soft chair, the embody is not the right choice for you as it is rather firm. For a softer seat, consider the Aeron or Mirra chairs.

Same 12 year warranty as the other chairs.

Alera Elusion - Best Budget Desk Chair

Alera Elusion – Best Budget Desk Chair

7. Alera Elusion – $180

The Alera Elusion is the lowest budget chair in the lineup, and for that you get a lot for your money.

Of course, you will have to spend some time assembling this 50-pound chair. So, if you are short, this chair might feel too big or imposing for you.

The mesh back does a good job, but it is not an Aeron. Although the seat back has some height adjustments, you will not find an adjustable lumbar support in this price bracket, and the lumbar support it provides is minimal even though you can adjust the seat height.

Altogether, you get a lot of quality for the retail price. If you want a taller chair, you can invest just a few dollars more and get a higher back version as well.

If you want a new chair and you are on a budget, this is the chair you should buy. Personally, I’d rather go with a used Aeron or Mirra, but if you really cannot spend more, this gets you a decent quality chair that is better that other chairs in this price bracket.

Herman Miller Sayl

Herman Miller Sayl

8. Herman Miller Sayl – Starting at $489

The motto of the Sayl chair could be summed up with one word: reduction.

At first, you can see the reduced price. Now one might think that was achieved by using either cheaper materials or off-shore production, but Herman Miller provides the same 12- year warranty and at first it seems like it does not compromise on the materials.

Likewise the chair is made in Michigan, but due to a complete redesign by Yves Behar, certain features were removed or reduced, leading to a modern and fresh design that costs considerably less than other high-end desk chairs.

Now that all sounds good, and you will not get all the bells and whistles of the Aeron or Mirra, but at that price it seems like a great offer. However, some people have reported constant squeaking after a while, and although Herman Miller provides a fix, it can be bothersome. Others have complained about the longevity of the armrests and the seat cushion. I have not tested the chair long enough to experience this myself.

If you are concerned about these things, you may want to invest in a used Aeron or Mirra instead. Those chairs have a proven track record.

Humanscale Diffrient World Chair

Humanscale Diffrient World Chair

9. Humanscale Diffrient World Chair – $769

Designed by renowned industrial designer Niels Diffrient, the Diffrient World Chair was Humanscale’s first mesh chair. It is self-adjusting and weighs it at just 25 pounds. Made from 97 percent recycled material, it takes a different approach but once you sit on it, you are not convinced the self-adjusting idea actually works in  real life. It is also not a wide chair, so if you are a bigger person, this chair is definitely not for you.

For the price, I think you have better options out there.

Herman Miller Eames Executive Chair

Herman Miller Eames Executive Chair

10. Herman Miller Eames Executive Chair – Starting at $3199

Designed in 1959 by Charles & Ray Eames, this executive desk chair is also known as the Time-Life chair because it specifically made for the then modern lobbies of the Time-Life Building in New York City. While it is not state-of-the-art ergonomically speaking, it feels great to sit on 26″ inch wide foam that is 4.5″ thick. An adjustable seat height and a tilt-swivel mechanism is all you get here for adjustment.

Although very comfortable when you don’t have to sit all day, it is more of a representative design piece that can be used rather than an ergonomically desirable office chair. If you are an executive that loves mid-century modern, and you do not sit a lot, you should take a closer look. Otherwise, the other 9 chairs will perform better for you.

Conclusion

When it comes to your office, there is no piece of furniture as important as the chair you spend your entire day sitting in. It’s an investment piece, so choose wisely and take your time. Of course, no chair in the world is designed to sit in it for 24h a day. Even if you have to sit a lot, you should still get up in regular intervals, and walk around, but that goes without saying.

What desk chair do you use and why?

This article was written by Sven Raphael Schneider and J.A. Shapira

Summary
Article Name
Desk Chair Guide - How To Buy An Office Chair
Description
A buying guide and what to look for in a desk chair for your office. Including Must Have Features & Top 10 Buying Recommendations
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Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette
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16 replies
  1. Phillip Infelise says:

    Sven

    Interesting and useful article. Few people are using the right chair for their body. Surprised that the Knoll Generations Chair isn’t in your list. I frequently hold “Chair Fairs” for my clients top see what Ergonomic Chair they prefer and the Generations wins more than 70% of the time. After 10 years in my Aeron, I finally changed and I love it. I also work mostly at a electronic height adjustable surface, so I try not to sit much beyond the first few hours of the day.

    Cheers,

    Phillip

  2. Joe says:

    Joe are absolutely spot-on with this article my friend! I have spinal stenosis so when I sit 10 hours a day at my desk, having the right chair is no joke! I too have an Aeron chair in gray which I bought directly from Herman Miller at full retail, and I have no regrets at all. I’ve had it a few years, and it is in perfect shape even with years of Day-in, day-out use, seven days a week and usually ten hours at a stretch… with some breaks for walks in-between, thankfully. 🙂 You are so right to recommend the fine chairs above. While I like the Aeron, there are many others and what you say is true, get one that works with your body and try it out first. I’m about 240#, and I use my Aeron with an adjustable footrest that has a fan and a heater in it. A welcome, inexpensive addition. It’s funny, people don’t mind spending thousands on the right mattress but pinch pennies on a chair they may spend as much or more time in. And for those who think chairs like the Aeron are ugly, consider that the Aeron is in the Museum of Modern Art: http://www.smartfurniture.com/products/Aeron-Chair/in-the-museum.html.

    Happy sitting!!

  3. Ben says:

    Herman Miller chairs are definitely the way to go. I sat in the cheapest one some day and my butt and back refused to let me leave the store until I bought one.

  4. Brian says:

    I’ve had a fully loaded Aeron chair with chrome base for close to a decade now that I picked up off Craigslist, though not nearly as cheap as I recall spending $500-600 or so. But as you say, well worth it and one of the best investments…and that’s truly what it is, an investment.

    I work remotely so have the benefit of using it everyday, but even if I didn’t, I still sit in it enough “off hours” to be worth it.

    Frightening though probably not unique, my prior chair was a very basic, no-arm office chair purchased most likely from one of the big box office supply stores when I went off to college and had continued to use it for around 2 decades…and it’s now in the workshop in the basement. I can’t imagine sitting in it for too terribly long now, but to it’s credit, it has really held up over the years. I’m not sure I would expect the same longevity from most current chairs.

    The cost of good office chairs seems astronomical–ok, is astronomical, but far less so after you’ve used a really good one, and then you understand. While the Aeron chair is still very popular and continues to command top dollar, it is almost guaranteed to find one that meets your needs on Craigslist or eBay for at least half the retail of a new one.

    Like Sven, when I bought mine cash was very tight as I was starting up my own business, but I can honestly say that I’ve never once regretted or second guessed that decision.

  5. Owen says:

    Here is Sweden it is commonplace to have adjustable desks where the height be electronically raised or lowered. This allows you to work both sitting and standing and easily alternate throughout the day. I’m always leaving my desk to speak to people or carry out tasks and it really saves energy by not having to stand up and sit down 40+ times a day. The desks are also lower than a standard desk on their lowest setting and rise up to well over 1.2m making them perfect for shorter or taller people.

    So where can I buy one of these? Yes you guessed it…IKEA 🙂

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Adjustable desks are a separate article. I have seen those in Sweden and we also have them in the U.S. On average, I would say a Swedish office is much more ergonomic than those in most other countries.

  6. Andrei says:

    I work on my ikea markus for 5-6 hours per day . I find it gentle for my back and it’s on a budget side .

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      There you go, if you find something that works for you great. In my experience, the pads of ikea office chairs are not that great, and I like the airy touch of an Aeron. I’d rather spend $200 on a used quality office chair than $200 on an IKEA chair but each to his own.

      • Andrei says:

        The pads are decent for my 20 yo back, which is quite tolerant, however, I must confess that it was a fast purchase. I will certainly consider for the next one brands from above, especially Aeron for the torrid summer days . Again, thank you for your feedback.

  7. Quentin says:

    This is not quite the sort of article I expected to read on this site, not that I’m complaining, it was very informative and many of the chairs you list are very affordable.

    While the chair makes a huge difference, people neglect to have their monitors and desks properly set up for them, making for bad posture. Staring down at your screen causes a lot of strain over time. Perhaps we need chairs that shock us when we have bad posture. It might bother us at first, but at least it would save our backs and bodies from further harm.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      I chose this topic because it is close to my heart and it had a huge impact on my life. The setup etc. should be a separate article. It was already a very long piece but you are absolutely right that it is always the system as a whole that counts. Monitors set up properly, a few breaks here or there etc. It will make for a good follow up.

  8. Steve says:

    I’ve a Humanscale & find it easy to adjust, & the gel/Alcantara seating still very comfortable after 15 years. The Aeron was good too, but the mesh *can* wear your trousers.
    Another excellent chair is the Giroflex G64, but I think that’s mainly a European supply

Comments are closed.