It is becoming increasingly clear that remote working could become the new norm. So if you haven’t already, now is the time to think about upgrading your home office. Whether you want to break up an existing setup or make a temporary situation permanent, one of the most important improvements you should make is to replace your dining room chair with a good office chair that won’t break your back.
In an effort to determine which office chairs are truly comfortable, we spent over a month testing 11 different options that range in price, function, and style. We compared key features, like back and lumbar support, and found out if the more expensive options are really worth the higher price tag. Finally there were two chairs upstairs for us to sit comfortably:
The steel chairs of series 1 came out on top and are among the most adaptable, high-quality and comfortable office chairs on the market. The Steelcase Series 1 At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beats most of its competitors in the test category, scoring less than a point lower than our top rated chair, the Steelcase Leap at $1,036, making it easily the best chair for the dollar and the clear winner of our best office chair.
The Alera Elusion Series Multipurpose Chair costs $146.55 and was our top choice – it outperforms office chairs that cost more than five times as much in stores, especially in the comfort and adjustability categories (in some cases, even by a wide margin).
Best general office chair: 1-Series Steel Case ($415; amazon.com)
PHOTO: Haley Saltzman/KNN
Steelcase has a lot of information on their website about what makes a good office chair. The fundamentals: It should bend with you and help you adjust your sitting posture; it should follow the natural contours of your back; it should move with you while keeping your hands straight on the table and your eyes level with the screen as you bend forward. After testing three different models over a nine-day period, we can say Steelcase knows what it’s all about.
Although all three steel chairs in our test group received high ratings, the Series 1, the least expensive steel bucket chair, combines exceptional comfort and value better than any other chair we tested.
The aesthetics of the chair are discreet at first glance, with simple, clean lines and compact dimensions. Compared to the other products we tested, some of which had sharp corners, oddly extended backrests, and unnecessarily wide armrests, we found the Series 1 to be one of the nicest office chairs in our pool.
But when it comes to chairs, it’s more important that they’re comfortable for the back than for the eyes. We are pleased to announce that Steelcase is bringing the features of this beautiful form together with the Series 1. After three days of sitting in the chair, we found that the seat had the perfect balance of softness and firmness. We were initially concerned that the thick plastic lumbar adjustment would be stiff, but it hasn’t proved to be a problem. The mesh backing was flexible and supportive throughout the test period. The backrest, which features what Steelcase calls Integrated Feedback Technology, may not look as structured as some of the heavily padded backrests on the market, but it performs better than padded ones because it moves with you as you work and change positions.
As we have found in our chair tests, if you cannot adjust the chair to your body, the comfort of the back and seat is negligible. This is where the One series really shines. While some other office chairs tested only allow you to adjust the seat height and back angle, the Series 1 lets you adjust almost every aspect. Plus, it’s easy to make adjustments with minimal guidance: While some other adjustable models require diagrams, videos and manuals to be set up correctly, the Series 1 moves and generally adjusts to the cabinet in a very intuitive way.
Arm height is adjustable over a range of 5 inches to prevent upper back and shoulder fatigue; arm width is adjustable over a total of 4 inches; arm depth can be pulled back 2 inches to allow the user to sit closer to the work surface and in tight corners; Seat depth is adjustable over a range of 2.5 inches to accommodate different leg lengths; lumbar height is adjustable over a range of 2.5 inches; armrest caps can be independently rotated 40 degrees in and out as desired; and seat height is adjustable over a range of 5 inches. If this list doesn’t tell you much, here are the essentials: This chair is very adaptable.
At $415, this chair is less than half the price of many others we’ve tested, but it offers more comfort and flexibility than almost any other chair we’ve tested, regardless of price, making it a clear winner in the expensive chair market.
Best buy at low price: Alera Elusion Series multifunction mesh chair ($146.55; amazon.com or $130.81, originally $179.99; walmart.com)
PHOTO: Haley Saltzman/KNN
The $415 Series 1 steel case may offer the best value for money, but at $415 it’s still a pretty big purchase. While most of the under-$300 chairs we tested were more like a pile of concrete blocks than high-end office chairs, the versatile Alera Elusion Series mesh chair offers superior comfort and adjustability (it finished third in this category, just ahead of our best general chair and the Steelcase Leap) at a very affordable price.
The Elusia was one of the most tested cocktail chairs. Its thick, padded seat could rival more expensive chairs, and its breathable mesh back was one of its best features.
While some adjustments in this chair are easier than others (though none are as smooth as the Series 1), the Elusion has all the adjustments you need in a chair. During the test it became clear that the height and width adjustable levers were essential, and this is another area where Elusion excels. The Elusion’s armrests are very adjustable, but not as easy as the steel body armrests. To adjust the width of the Elusion armrests, reach under the seat and turn the knob until you reach the desired position. The armrest height adjustment knobs also seem a little stiffer and harder to adjust than the mechanisms on other steel-framed chairs, but with a little effort they’re easy enough to move around. While the Elusion was not the most adjustable product we tested (especially in terms of the angle of the armrests, which were not adjustable), the height and width of the armrests were ultimately more adjustable than some of its more expensive competitors.
One of the least desirable aspects of this chair is the assembly process. Of all the chairs we had to put together, the Elusion took the most time: 43 minutes (after unpacking) to put together, not counting the adjustments. Since so many chairs come fully assembled, you can save money with Elusion with a little elbow work. The instructions were incredibly vague and we spent a lot of time trying to get the armrests in place. But when you consider that the assembly is only a one-time inconvenience that results in a very comfortable chair, it’s not a hindrance, especially at this attractive price.
While the Alera Elusion has significant limitations in terms of adjustment options (particularly in the angle of the armrests and the height of the backrest), it is one of the best options at this price in terms of overall comfort, even when you factor in the somewhat lengthy assembly process.
The testing process for these office chairs took almost two months. We unpacked and assembled each chair, paying particular attention to the time each unpacking and assembly process took. For the chairs that needed to be assembled, we noted the time it took to assemble each chair. Once each chair was built, we checked all the fitting material supplied and adjusted the chair to the correct specifications.
Once the chairs were properly assembled and adjusted, we sat on each chair for three consecutive nine-hour workdays in the same office environment and under the same conditions. We carefully recorded how each chair performed different tasks (typing, writing, telephoning and video conferencing) during the working day. We also noted the overall comfort after several days of sitting and working in each chair. Overall, we rated it based on what was most important to the user: Comfort and adjustability, manufacturing and warranty period.
To determine the most accurate overall scores for each of these three broad categories, we divided the tests into 10 subcategories:
Comfort and adjustability
- Seating comfort: We paid attention to the feel of the chair during the first session and re-evaluated it at the end of the three days.
- Backrest comfort: We noted how the back felt at the first session and evaluated it again at the end of the three days.
- Armrest comfort : We noted what looked like armrests when we first sat down in each chair and evaluated again at the end of the three days.
- Adjustment possibility : To assess the adjustability of each chair, we noted the various adjustability features of each chair, ranked the individual adjustability of each component on a scale of 1 to 15, and then calculated the average of these numbers to arrive at an overall adjustability score. We analyzed the adaptability on a scale of 1 to 15 for each of the following characteristics of the office chair: Seat height, seat angle, seat depth, armrest height, armrest width, armrest angle, backrest angle, backrest height.
- Support for back and loins: We have noted the degree of lumbar support (if any) for each chair when you first sit down. We also analyzed the degree of back support for each proposed chair, paying particular attention to how the back is supported at different angles and positions of the chair. As with the other tests, we assigned a new score at the end of the three-day evaluation to determine the final score.
- Easy to adjust: First, we noted whether each chair allowed the user to recline. Next, for the chairs with tilt adjustment, we checked that each chair was set to the lowest or lightest tilt position, and then we noted how easy it was to tilt the chair while sitting in the normal position.
- Simple assembly: For chairs that require assembly upon delivery, we have recorded the time it takes to unpack and assemble the chair from start to finish (excluding the time it takes to adjust the chair correctly).
- The quality of the materials of the chair: We have included a first impression of the fabrics, armrest materials and construction of each chair. We paid particular attention to how sturdy each chair was at first glance (did it squeak or look like it was falling apart?) We also noted these details after sitting in each chair for three days.
- General Aesthetics : We compared the appearance of each chair with others on the market and in our test group. We also looked at the different colors of upholstery, metals, plastics and other materials used to make each chair.
- Is it guaranteed? We evaluated the duration and effect of the warranty on each seat.
We determined the maximum score each product could receive for each category and subcategory of the tests listed above, including the highest overall score for the features we deemed most important to the overall user experience of an office chair.
Comfort and adjustability scored a maximum of 80.
- For comfort and support a maximum of 65 points was awarded: Seat comfort (15 points), back comfort (15 points), armrest comfort (15 points), back and lumbar support (15 points) and reclining comfort (5 points).
- A maximum of 15 points were awarded for recruitment, based on 8 individual tests with scores ranging from 1 to 15, after which an average score was calculated: Adjustment of seat height (1-15), seat angle (1-15), seat depth (1-15), armrest height (1-15), armrest width (1-15), armrest angle (1-15), backrest angle (1-15) and seat height (1-15).
- The building had a maximum of 15 points: The ease of assembly (5 points), the quality of the materials of the chair (5 points) and the overall aesthetics of the chair (5 points).
- The guarantee had a maximum of 5 points: Five years or more (5 points), three to five years (2 points), zero to two years (0 points).
Ikea Markus Chair ($229; ikea.com)
While this is one of the cheapest chairs in our test panel, it is also one of the least comfortable chairs we tested. It was even better than the dining chair, but the thinly padded seat became uncomfortable after two days, the armrests were incredibly thin and rubbery, and the lack of adjustment was a big problem. We also felt that the backrest was unnecessarily high and, given the lack of adjustment, it was not suitable for us.
Aeron Herman Miller chair ($1,395; amazon.com)
It’s one of the most aesthetically pleasing seats we’ve tested, and it scored high marks for comfort and fit. The main drawbacks are the high price and the relative lack of customization options.
Long Ignition 2.0 Chair ($309; amazon.com)
Although this seat received a relatively high score for adjustability, it lacked lumbar support and had an uncomfortable backrest. Although the back angle is adjustable, this chair is one of the lowest rated in terms of the ease with which the backrest can be adjusted. If you want to move comfortably from a seated to a reclined position, this may not be the best chair for you.
Steel Cabinet Gesture chair ($970.38, originally $1,036; amazon.com)
Steel chairs are among our favorite products to test. The steel case gesture received high marks in terms of design, ease of assembly and quality of materials. The lifetime warranty is also a good score, although it’s not as comfortable as other tubular steel chairs we’ve tested. If you like very structured and supported backs, this model may be a good option for you. If you prefer a more flexible network (and a lower price), use the Steelcase Series 1.
Steel Body Chair ($823.15, originally $978; amazon.com)
As we mentioned earlier, this steel chair received the highest rating in our tests and remained exceptionally comfortable even after three days of use. But despite costing more than twice as much as the 1, the one area where the Jump Chair did better was in the comfort of the backrest and armrests. Ultimately, the cost of a product is a major factor in the recommendation process, and Leap’s much higher price prevented it from being our first choice.
AmazonBasics, leather executive chair with high backrest (from € 135.39; amazon.de)
The best thing that can be said about this chair is that it has very comfortable armrests. Also, the inability to adjust the armrests (and pretty much every other aspect of the chair) made it one of my least favorite products. This chair also scored poorly on assembly: it started squeaking the first day and after three days of use, several screws fell out of the chair. While we accept that this was due to user error during installation, this has never happened to any other chair we have assembled, so poor quality and assembly instructions are at least partially to blame.
Human Freedom Chair ($935.20, originally $1549; wayfair.com)
This chair was comfortable and soft without the need for thick, heavy padding. The overall aesthetic is impressive, and the seat depth and back height are more adjustable than most products we’ve tested. Unfortunately, the width and angle of the armrests are not as adjustable as I would have liked, so this chair was relatively uncomfortable after three days. The preset width of the armrests was too wide for our personal comfort, even in the narrowest position. If you don’t mind wide arms and are looking for a chair with quality construction, this is a solid option.
In-scope human Varying overall goal President ($583.20, originally $898)
It was another first-class seat. The mesh was very easy to carry, and overall it felt incredibly supportive yet light. This chair received an excellent rating for seat and back comfort, and we were impressed that the three-piece back also provides excellent lumbar support. The backrest, which can be set at any angle, is also easy to adjust. The seat depth and back height are adjustable, which is a plus, but the armrests can only be adjusted up or down. If you think you need to adjust the width and/or angle of your chair’s armrests, you should buy a product with a steel frame. Despite the high score, the problem with the armrests and the fact that this chair normally costs almost twice as much as a series 1 chair are the two main reasons why the Diffrient World Task Chair did not make it to the first place on our list.
President of Xihu’s Office ($209.99, originally $239.99; amazon.com).
For almost every category of testing, our scores on this seat included a version of not great, but not terrible. In short, that’s how we should have summed up this chair. This chair received very low marks for the one-year warranty and average marks for fitting, comfort and adjustability. The seat and back are comfortable enough and the chair is adjustable in all the usual ways, but the armrests are wide open and contain a few bumps, making it one of the least comfortable we tested.
Message: The above prices correspond to the sales price at the time of publication.
For more on the field test, check out CNN Underscored:
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