Bar seating is highly convenient. If you want to sit and have coffee and enjoy a quick breakfast, there's no reason to set the whole dining room table. Picking bar stools is a lot different from picking chairs. Most chairs and tables will work together without incident, but bars are installed at all different heights. Before you buy bar stools, you need to measure the area. The wrong size bar stool will be essentially unusable if you cannot easily access the bar from your seat.
Outside of measurements, there are other considerations to make. How comfortable do you want to be? How do you want your bar stools to look? Do you even need bar stools, or are you actually looking for counter stools? Start your planning process with these things in mind.
Measuring for Bar Stools
Bars come in two height ranges. The standard bar will sit between 41 and 43 inches high. A tall bar will sit somewhere above 44 inches tall, usually not higher than 47 inches high. Measure from the floor to the top of the bar to determine how high your bar sits. If it falls within standard parameters, shopping for bar stools is going to be very easy.
When trying to determine the proper height of the stools, you'll want to consider the height of the bar and how much space you'll need to leave for lap room. You don't want people to squash their thighs under the bar.
Standard bar stools should be anywhere between 28 inches and 33 inches. Taller bars will require stools between 34 and 40 inches. It is not necessarily the height of the total bar stool that you should be focused on - it's the depth of the bar stool. A stool that only measures 33 inches high because it has a very tall back won't do you much good if the person sitting in it can hardly reach their drink.
The ideal distance between the seat of your stool and the top of your bar should be 10 to 12 inches. This is the measurement you should pay the most attention to. If you aren't a mathematically minded person, all of these measurements might seem like a nightmare. It doesn't have to be terribly difficult. There are two easy ways to find the number you need. One involves a simple measuring job, and the other involves simple subtraction.
If you have two people, a ruler, and some measuring tape, you can get to the right number without even thinking. Hold a ruler level with the surface of the bar. That will give you a 12-inch measurement. Have someone else measure from the floor to the ruler. You'll then know exactly how many inches from the ground the seat of your bar stool needs to be to comfortably accommodate the person who will sit in it. This measurement is called the seat height.
Alternatively, you can measure your counter height and look at the specifications of the bar stool you want to buy. Many online furniture retailers make these specifications available on their product pages. Subtract the seat height from the height of your bar. Does the difference work out to be between 10 and 12 inches? Congratulations! You've found a stool that will fit perfectly without ever having to leave your house.
When Your Bar Measurements are Irregular
Before you start researching custom furniture, look at your other options.
You will sometimes encounter a middle ground. Depending on your home's design, your eating area may not measure out to be a counter or a bar. Irregular heights happen all the time, and you may not know what you're supposed to buy to fit an unusual surface. This may also be the case if you've converted an arch, a window, or another feature of your home into a bar.
When counter stools seem too low and bar stools seem too high, opt for adjustable stools. Counter stools that can be made taller or bar stools that can be made shorter will help you create appropriate seating for the space. Measure the counter height and consider the adjustable heights of either seating option.
As long as the stool can be raised up or down to fit the dimensions beneath the surface, you're free to choose based on comfort and aesthetics.
The Right Amount of Stools
Once you've established the proper measurements for your stools, you'll need to take another set of measurements. The next measurement will help you determine how many bar stools you can comfortably fit at your bar. Jam packing your bar with as many stools as possible will make the seating arrangement feel congested and uncomfortable. You need to be sure you're leaving enough space for multiple people to sit without constantly knocking elbows or brushing thighs.
You'll want anywhere between 26 and 30 inches of space between the center of each bar stool. If the bar stool doesn't have arms, you'll be fine on the lower side. If it does, you'll want to move towards the higher side. The final gap should be about 6 inches between each seat.
Measure the length of your bar. Divide that by the width of your seats. That will tell you how many you can jam-pack in that space. Then, subtract six inches for every seat. If the remaining number is the same as the seat width, take away a seat. If it's closer to two or three seats, take away two or three seats. It's always better to leave more space than you need than to try and cram in an extra stool that will barely fit.
My Bar is Much Shorter!: The Difference Between Counter Stools and Bar Stools
You may use your bar like a counter or vice versa, but it's ultimately the height of the surface from the ground that will determine whether the feature is technically called a counter or a bar. Counters are shorter than bars, so counter stools are shorter than bar stools. If you have a traditional style eat-in kitchen, you likely have a counter instead of a bar.
A counter will sit 36 inches high, give or take a few inches. Counters are flat all the way across. Bars have an elevated platform that raises above the counter height. If you're not sure what you have, that's the easiest way to tell. If you're working with a counter instead of a bar, that won't significantly change the process of finding the right stools.
Counter stools and bar stools should be measured for and placed the same way. The only difference is that they come in different standard sizes. A counter stool will always be shorter than a bar stool. Don't make the mistake of believing the terms are interchangeable. If you're looking for counter stools instead of bar stools, you can follow the same instructions using your counter's measurements. You still want the same 12 inches between the seat of the stool and the bar, and you still want to make sure the stools have about 6 inches of free space in between them.
Choosing the Perfect Bar Stools
When all the math is right, it's time to make some aesthetic choices. Do you want traditional wooden bar stools, or upholstered bar stools with a metal frame? Beautiful high backs or minimalist low backs? Arms, or no arms? Swivel stools, or fixed position? Do you want adjustable stools to make it easier for children to sit at the bar, or fixed height stools for an adult-only eating and drinking area?
Swivel bar stools are easier to get in and out of. No one needs to rock or push their stool back if the seat will simply turn to allow for an easy exit. Bar stools with arms are more comfortable to sit in, but the arms can get in the way if the space is small and multiple people will be sitting next to each other. Upholstered bar stools are stylish and comfortable, but they're more difficult to clean than wooden or metal bar stools.
The bar stools you choose should be the right fit for your lifestyle. A low maintenance minimalist home will look beautiful with simple metal or wooden bar stools. A home built for entertaining and gatherings might do better with softer upholstered bar stools. Even though they're a little more work to maintain, they make the space feel warm and cozy.
Bar stools seem like they should be simple, but they're one of the most complicated forms of seating you can have in your home. They require a lot of measurements and a lot of considerations. When in doubt, just shop Whom's collection of bar stools. All the measurements are posted and there are tons of dozens of upholstery options since all our furniture is custom made right here in North America. We've done most of the work for you - all you need to do is take them out of the box!