Different Types of Office Chairs and their Ergonomics Explained

Charles Darwin First Office Chair

This is considered the first modern office chair

Office chairs are something that we all take for granted. They’re always there and we only notice them when they’re broken. But, in reality, they play an important role in our lives. Not only do they affect our productivity, they directly impact our health as well.

Today, there are endless types of office chairs to adapt to the various needs of different occupations and workplaces. In this post we’ll explore the most common types, plus how they fare in the ergonomics department.

Before we head on to our list though, here’s a fun fact. Did you know that the first record of a chair being adapted for office purposes dates back to 1849? In fact, the innovator is none other than Charles Darwin himself. Darwin wanted to reach his specimens more quickly, so added wheels on the feet of his wooden armchair – a bizarre but absolutely brilliant idea that many people consider the first office chair.

Ergonomic Chairs

HermanMiller Embody Ergonomic Chair

Ergonomic chairs are specially designed to encourage a neutral posture and to provide enough support while you work long hours in the office. Though they often cost a little bit more than other types of office chairs, you save more in the long run since many are optimized specifically for the prevention of disorders like cervical spondylosis, back pain, and poor posture and blood circulation.

William Stumpf’s invention of the first ergonomic chair, Ergon, happened in 1976. Unlike other office chairs of its time, it was designed with the purpose of providing both comfort and support. It had features like height adjustment and spine support.

Best for: The prevention of neck, back, and shoulder pain when sitting.

Common Features:

  • Lumbar support
  • Adjustable headrest, armrests, and seat height
  • Easy swiveling
  • Stable base
  • Padded seat and back
  • Sliding seat pan
  • Adjustable tilt tension and lock
  • Nylon carpet casters

Drafting Chairs

Drafting Office Chair

Modway Drafting Office Chair

Architects and artists often need to stand while they work. Just like sitting for too long comes with health consequences, standing for hours at a time has a negative impact on health as well.

This is where drafting chairs come in. Created to go with drafting tables and standing desks, drafting chairs allow people who stand while working to sit and rest without interrupting their workflow. Its height makes it easy to transition from a sitting position to a standing position. You can expect it to support your back, upper and lower limbs, and body weight.

This type of office chair is light, easy to move, and may come with or without a back. Its adjustable height also allows it to be lowered and be used with conventional desks. They almost always come with a foot ring as well where you can place your feet.

Best for: Employees who stand while doing their job to take brief respites.

Common Features:

  • Foot ring
  • Nylon casters
  • Swivel
  • Pneumatic height control

Executive Office Chairs

Gates Executive Office Chair

Gates Executive Office Chair

Out of all the various types of office chairs, the executive chair is usually the most opulent one. Just as its name implies, executive office chairs are often used by the higher-ups. Designed to look imposing in appearance, it has a high back, plenty of cushioning in the back, seat, and headrest, and is typically made of superior materials like fine wood and real leather.

These days, the line between ergonomic and other types of office chairs are often blurred. When it comes to executive chairs, expect however overstuffed seats, thickly padded armrets, and PU or real leather adorning the chairs. Some even come with extras like a recline function or massage head.

Best for: Company executives looking for a grand but comfortable office chair to match his/her position. Also great for people who prefer a plush sitting material.

Typical Materials: Leather (quality depends on price range), spring-cushioned or memory foam padding, fine wood for a timeless appearance, superior steel for a contemporary look

Common Features:

  • PU or real leather material
  • Thickly padded armrests
  • Wood finish
  • Waterfall edge
  • Thick contoured or layered cushions

Leather Office Chairs

Leather Office Chairs

Zuri Leather Office Chair

An offshoot of the executive office chair above, Leather office chairs are, well, as their name implies specifically any office chair covered with leather. They exude sophistication and command respect, but are often more expensive than other chairs that use vinyl, mesh, and fabric.

There are several types of leather office chairs:

  • Polyurethane (PU) Leather – PU leather, or faux leather, doesn’t contain leather components, though its appearance and feel are similar to that of the real deal. They’re the cheapest among the three types of leather office chairs and are usually fade-resistant, waterproof, easy to clean, and durable.
  • Bonded Leather – Also known as reconstituted leather, bonded leather is made by bonding leather byproducts with polyurethane. They’re cheaper than genuine leather, and ones that are well-made are hard to tell apart from real leather. However, bonded leather doesn’t last as long as genuine leather since it tends to peel. It shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight as well which can cause it to fade and dry.
  • Genuine Leather – This is the most expensive out of all the types of leather office chairs. It’s unbeatable when it comes to breathability, comfort, durability, and aesthetics but it’s also the hardest one to maintain. Like bonded leather keep your genuine leather chair away from direct sunlight to avoid fading.

Proper maintenance of leather is essential to to prevent it from looking worn out or even peeling. Here is how to properly clean the three types of leather materials mentioned:

  • Cleaning PU LeatherCleaning PU Leather Chairs:

    Wet a soft sponge with warm water and wipe the surface area. If you encounter some stain or tougher grime, use unscented soap or dish detergent to remove it. Then, wipe again with a clean rag to remove any soap residue. Leave it to dry or speed up the drying process by wiping it with a dry cloth.
  • Cleaning Bonded LeatherCleaning Bonded Leather Chairs:

    • Regularly wipe down your bonded leather office chair with a dry cloth.
    • Every now and then, deep clean it using a wet cloth and some mild detergent. Just make sure that you do a spot test first to ensure that the detergent you’re using is compatible with the material. Rinse cloth and wipe again. Wipe up excess water with a dry cloth.
    • Once or twice a year, treat the bonded leather with leather conditioner to extend its lifespan and maintain a smooth texture.
  • Cleaning Genuine LeatherCleaning Genuine Leather Chairs:

    • Leather cleaners which are specially formulated for genuine leather should be used to regular cleaning.
    • Use a mixture of two parts linseed oil and one part vinegar to condition your genuine leather chair every few weeks. Apply it and leave it to dry. Once completely dry, use a soft, dry cloth to buff the leather to a nice shine.
    • Just like with bonded leather, you need to treat your genuine leather chair one to two times a year with leather conditioner to keep it soft and to add a layer of protection on it.

Best for: Anyone that love the supple feeling of leather or elegance it exudes.

Mesh Office Chairs

Herman Miller Areon Mesh

Herman Miller Areon Mesh

Mesh office chairs are the epitome of breathability, making them a great choice for anyone who tends to sweat a lot while working. The backrest, which is lined with this net-like fabric, is paired with cushioned seats for comfort. Quality mesh office chairs are also designed with ergonomics in mind, coming with a waterfall edge for better blood circulation and lumbar support to minimize lower back pain.

One of my favorite ergonomic mesh office chairs is the Aeron Chair. Designed by Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf in 1994, it features 8 different tension zones to provide customized support to different parts of your body while keeping you cool. The Aeron can be considered the world’s first smart mesh chair.

Best for: People who tend to sweat quickly or work in hot climates.

Balance Ball Chairs

Gaiam Balance Ball Chair

Gaiam Balance Ball Chair

Also, called yoga ball chairs and stability ball chairs, balance ball chairs consist of a giant inflatable ball with a secure base at the bottom. Some balance ball chairs come with casters and even a backrest to mimic the design of traditional office chairs.

When used for short periods of time (20-30 minutes), balance ball chairs can provide the following benefits:

  • Strengthens the core muscles and the leg muscles
  • Boosts blood circulation
  • Improves concentration and productivity
  • Helps burn calories

Balance ball chairs come with drawbacks as well.

The key takeaway if you choose to use a balance ball chair is to use it short bursts to engage your core and potentially improve blood circulation. It is not a replacement for a regular office chair or for prolonged sitting..

Another major benefit of balance ball chairs is that they faciliate constant movements and even simple office exercises without leaving your chair.

Best for: Getting a mini workout while working, engaging the core and promoting better blood circulation (when used in short bursts).

Common Features:

  • Removable, inflatable yoga ball
  • Wheeled base for easy movement, some lockable
  • A sturdy frame or stand for stability
  • Some stands come with a backrest

Kneeling Chairs

Sleekform Kneeling Chair

Sleekform Kneeling Chair

Kneeling chairs are characterized by an angled knee rest that divides the body’s weight between the bottom and your shins. By leaning forward as you sit, stress is decreased from the back while the core is engaged.

The main benefits of kneeling chairs are:

  • Helps ease back pain by reducing lumbar lordosis
  • Maintains the standing lumbar curvature better than conventional office chairs if set at +20° inclination
  • Strengthens the Psoas muscle and the core muscles, giving the back more support
  • Prevents lower back stress and spinal compression

A kneeling chair isn’t meant for long term sitting however, which may lead to the following issues:

Since kneeling chairs can cause discomfort if used for a long period of time, they shouldn’t be used as a permanent replacement to ergonomic office chairs. Alternate between the two types of chairs to avoid staying in one position for too long.

Best for: Short-term tasks, people with chronic back pain

Common Features:

  • “x” based metal frame with thickly cushioned memory foam seat and shin rests
  • Some kneeling chairs such as the Balans are made of wood and come with a rocking base.
  • Casters for easy moving
  • Some kneeling chairs come with a backrest

Here’s a video demonstrating the Varier Balans, a kneeling chair based on the original design by Hans Christian in 1979:

Saddle Chairs

Salii Split Saddle Chair

Salii Split Saddle Chair

Designed and named after equestrian saddles, saddle office chairs encourage a riding-like sitting position and is used with a high desk. They are higher than conventional chairs, placing the thighs at a 135° angle to maintain the lumbar curve and relax the muscles. On top of that, this forward sloping chair improves muscle strength, relieves back pain and prevents musculoskeletal disorders, as documented by several studies, such as this one.

There are two types of saddles chair – solid and divided. Divided saddle chairs are said to be better for men for their ability to reduce perineal pressure and keep the genital area cool.

Best for: People with chronic back pain or strain in the chest. Also, office workers wanting to develop their core muscles and retain the natural curve of the spine.

Common Features:

  • One piece or divided seat
  • Height adjustments
  • Tilt mechanism

Check out this video for a posture comparison of saddle chairs and conventional office chairs.

Active Sitting Chairs

CoreChair Active Sitting Chair

CoreChair Active Sitting Chair

Active chairs is a relatively new term given to chairs that promote movement even while seated. This is accomplished usually thanks to an unstable seat or base.

Active chairs spawned from the multitude of diseases and early death linked to prolonged sitting. The instability of the active sitting chair forces you to move and engage your core muscles. There are now a multitude of active sitting chairs in the market.

The Core Chair, an active seating chair with an unstable seat, is found by several of the company’s commissioned studies to have benefits like enhanced cognitive function, reduced pressure points, and increased caloric burn. Our hands on time with the Core Chair found it to be excellent at encouraging constant movements.

The Swopper Chair, another popular example of this type of chair, is found to provide good posture for the cervical region.

Stability balls like the Zenergy are considered active seating chairs as well. Studies on stability balls support the statement that they  increase energy expenditure during work hours. On the flip side, stability ball chairs are found to increase discomfort and promote poor sitting position over an extended period of time.

Pick an active seating chairs that match your individual needs. They come with both benefits and drawbacks, and are best used in conjunction with ergonomic office chairs.

Best for: Alternating between a regular office chair for increased movements.

24-Hour Chairs

Svenstol 24-hr Office Chair

Svenstol 24-hr Office Chair

Also known as intensive-use chairs, 24-hour office chairs are designed for long hours of work. They stand out from other office chairs because they undergo rigorous testing and need to pass certain limits before they can be labeled as an intensive-use chair. Some of the tests conducted are for the back tilt, back load, vertical arm load, seat and base load test, and swivel bearing fatigue test. Simply put, they are significantly more durable than other types of office chairs.

Aside from having robust mechanisms and extra strong frames and bases, intensive-use chairs often come with standard ergonomic features such as adjustable height, headrests, and armrests, and lumbar support, all essential features for long term sitting.

Best for: Round-the-clock work areas like hospitals, call centers, control rooms, and police stations.

Typical Materials: Thick padding, Soft materials for the upholstery like fabric, leather, mesh, and vinyl

Here you’ll find a short video featuring the unique features of 24-hour chairs:

Leaning Sit Stand Chairs

Varidesk Leaning Sit Stand Chair

Varidesk Leaning VariChair

Leaning chairs have become a popular accessory with standing desks and in work environments where standing is common, such as banks and retail stores. They provide a way to take short respites while standing, by supporting your bottom as you lean backwards. Also called sit stand chairs, they are also height adjustable to allow you to fully sit down for short periods.

A European Journal of Preventive Cardiology study found that standing while working can help increase your energy expenditure, in turn burn calories. On the flip side however, according to the 2018 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, standing for long periods of time is linked to an higher risk of heart disease. So if neither sitting nor standing for too long is healthy, what’s the alternative?

A leaning sit stand chair can be a solution to help facilitate different kinds of sitting postures for optimal health. It lets you quickly switch between sitting, leaning, and standing positions. It comes with either an adjustable seat tilt or an articulating pedestal which make these changes in position possible. The height of the chair can also be adjusted to suit the different heights of its users or complement the height of standing desks.

There are two types of leaning standing tools – ones that come with built-in anti-fatigue mats like the Ergo Impact, and ones that don’t like the VariChair . The mat provides you with a soft surface to stand on which is said to reduce the joint soreness and fatigue that come from standing for long periods of time.

Best for: Standing desks, Art studios, bank tellers, labs, and offices

Typical materials: Padded seat covered with either fabric, vinyl or, leather. Steel base.

Big and Tall Chairs

Sadie Big and Tall Office Chair

Sadie Big and Tall Office Chair

Just as its name suggests, big and tall office chairs are designed for the big and the tall. They are characterized by their high weight capacity that ranges from 300 pounds up to 1,000 pounds. This means that everything about the chair is designed to safely handle heavy loads.

This type of chair comes with higher and wider backrests, higher seat height adjustments, thicker padding, wider seats, and reinforced frames, bases, and armrests.

Best for: Tall and heavy people.

Common Features:

  • Heavy duty frame
  • Extra wide and deep seat
  • Tall backrest
  • Long and wide armrests

Conference Chairs

NBF Mid Back Conference Chair

NBF Mid Back Conference Chair

The conference room is the place where you brainstorm with your team, make important decisions, and entertain guests. To create a more open area and avoid obstruction of people’s line of sight, conference chairs are usually designed with a low or mid backrest. Unlike other types of office chairs, many conference chairs promote a forward-leaning posture, by tilting the seat forward slightly. This is to encourage people to participate and contribute to the meeting.

Best for: Conference rooms, meeting rooms, and boardrooms

Typical Materials: Leather or fabric upholstery, memory foam padding, mesh

Common Features:

  • Adjustable seat height
  • Low or mid height backrest
  • Forward leaning chair
  • Adjustable tilt tension
  • Swivel
  • Nylon casters

Petite and Small Chairs

Bodybilt R2406 Petite Chair

Bodybilt R2406 Petite Chair

If there are chairs for the big and the tall, then it’s only natural there are chairs for petite and small people too. Petite chairs have a smaller seat, a small base, and a lower gas lift so that smaller people can rest their feet on the floor.

Even the ergonomic features are tweaked to address the needs of people with a small build. With standard office chairs, petite office workers may find it more difficult to maintain a proper arm alignment because of the higher armrests. A petite chair solves this issue because the height of the armrest is much lower. The same goes for the headrest, lumbar support, and seat depth.

Best for: People who are on the small side or have a petite body size

Common Features:

  • Correct seat height and angle for people who are on the small side
  • Proper seat width and depth for petite people
  • Adjustable lumbar support
  • Lower range of armrest height
  • Lower gas lift

Reception Area Chairs

Hon's Reception Chair

Hon’s Reception Chair

Reception area chairs, or what is sometimes known as guest chairs, are stationary single person chairs that are located in waiting rooms or reception areas. Since they’re not made for long-term seating, they often don’t come with many ergonomic features. This type of chair comes with either a four leg base, cantilever base, or sled base.

Best for: Waiting rooms, reception areas

Typical Materials: Leather, fabric, vinyl, mesh

Sofas

Cyl office Sofa

Cyl office Sofa

A sofa or a couch can accommodate more than two people at a time. It is often used in private offices and work areas where employees tend to move around to do their tasks. This type of seating offers comfort in places where people can get together to brainstorm, socialize, or do group activities.

Aside from offering soft comfort, some sofas come with ergonomic features like headrests and stress-resistant foams. When buying a sofa, it should be soft enough to be comfortable but still firm enough to cradle your body. Sofas that cause your body to sink will cause spinal and pelvic strain.

Available in different colors and designs, sofas are designed to be aesthetically pleasing and often match the overall theme of the work area. The sofa frame is typically constructed using metal, steel, or wood. For the padding, you can choose between innerspring, foam, and down. Finally, the cover can be leather, fabric, or vinyl.

Best for:  Private offices, waiting rooms, lounges, lobbies, and third spaces

Tablet Arm Chairs

Steelcase i2i Tablet Arm Chair

This type of chair stands out for its fixed or swiveling tablet. The size of the tablet varies. There are smaller ones which are only suitable as a writing surface while some tablets are wide enough to accommodate a 17″ laptop.

The seat and tablet of table arm chairs used for long training sessions and lecture areas are often made of either wood or plastic. On the other hand, those that are placed in lounges or lobbies usually have an upholstered chair. These come with a padded seat, backrest, and armrest which are covered with either fabric or leather. They are comfortable but do not have ergonomic features that make them suitable for long-term seating.

Best for: Lecture and training areas, lobbies, lounges

Armless Chairs

Mack & Milo Armless Task Chair

Mack & Milo Armless Task Chair

An armless chair is basically a conventional office chair that does away with the armrests. Some people prefer this type of chairs, as they feel less restricted, especially when doing certain activities such as playing the guitar.

Armless swivel office chairs make it easier to get closer to your desk. In this case, the place where you’ll be resting your arms is the desk, so you can still maintain a neutral position for your arms, hands, and wrists. As for the chair itself, the ergonomic features is often limited to seat height adjustment and a waterfall edge.

 

Best for: Short-term sitting, work areas where you need to get close to the table or desk

Benches

Moe’s upholstered Office Bench

Moe’s upholstered Office Bench

Benches can be placed anywhere in a commercial space, be it outdoors or indoors. They can often seat 2 or more people. Its design and color are matched to the overall theme of the area where it is placed and are made to withstand years of use. They are not meant for hours of seating so they do not possess a backrest.

 

Upholstered benches are often covered with vinyl, fabric, or leather. For the base and frame, wood is used to exude warmth while metal ones offer a contemporary look.

 

Best for: Short-term seating, Often placed in hallways, waiting rooms, reception areas, lounges, foyers, entrance ways

Folding Chairs

Flash Furniture Hercules Folding Chair

Flash Furniture Hercules Folding Chair

Folding chairs shine for their convenience and portability. Often used for events or wherever there’s a need for temporary seating, folding chairs are lightweight, easy to set up and store. The frame and seat are often made of either metal or plastic, but there are some folding chairs with an upholstered seat to make it more comfortable.

 

This type of chair is available in a myriad of colors and designs. But, since folding chairs are used as a convenient seating solution, they come with little to no ergonomic features.

Best for: Short-term seating, events, anywhere where extra seats are needed

Stacking Chairs

Knoll Stacking Chair

Knoll Stacking Chair

Stacking chairs are very similar to folding chairs when it comes to being portable and convenient. This type of chair has a design that allows it to be stacked to save storage space. This lightweight chair is ideal for social occasions, since they come in a multitude of shades and design.

Unlike folding chairs, stacking chairs focus more on aesthetics. Some possess ergonomic features like a flexible or curved backrest and a gently sloping seat edge. They also sometimes come with narrow armrests.

Best for: Short-term seating, anywhere where temporary seating is required, events

Typical Materials: Plastic, metal, vinyl

Beam Seating

Vitra Beam Seating Chair

Vitra Beam Seating Chair

Also known as tandem seating, beam seating is comprised of multiple chairs that are welded together by a long metal bar for stability. They’re a good choice for any area where a lot of people need to wait patiently for something. This includes waiting rooms, receptions, airports, and hospitals.

Available in different color options and stylish designs, tandem chairs are usually made with a combination of plastic and metal. Some come with armrests while others have a small table attached to the beam in place of a seat.

There are beam seatings that offer support and comfort. These usually come with a high back and a seat with foam padding covered with either PU leather or high-quality fabric.

Best for: Waiting rooms, reception areas

Loveseats

Koger Chesterfield Loveseat

Koger Chesterfield Loveseat

Loveseats are two-person couches often used in private offices and reception areas. They can be bought as a set with other sofas or paired with another loveseat to save space. They come in an endless array of colors and designs so you can easily match them to the color scheme of a certain room.

The frame of a loveseat is usually made of metal or wood. For the cushion, materials like down, innerspring, high-density foam, or memory foam are used. As for the upholstery, you can choose between leather, fabric, and vinyl.

Just like with sofas, a good loveseat isn’t too cushy. Firm cushioning is a better choice since it does a better job of supporting your body. If you’re buying a loveseat with an eye for ergonomics, a unit that uses memory foam is ideal since it can conform to your body for optimum support.

Best for: Private office, reception areas, lobby, other places where people gather and socialize.

Egg Chairs

Fritz Hansen Egg Chair

Fritz Hansen Egg Chair

Just as its name implies, an egg chair has a shape that is similar to that of an egg. The first egg chair was designed in 1958 by Danish architect Arne Jacobsen for the Radisson Collection Hotel, a historical hotel located in Denmark. Because of its unique appearance, which goes well in both casual and formal settings, it became popular and many other chairs were made in its likeness.

An egg chair has a high curved back, which not only nestles the body, but gives a semblance of privacy to the user as well. In work areas, egg chairs often come with thin armrests, a padded seat and back, a swivel and a stable, stationary base. There are hanging egg chairs as well, often found in lounges and homes.

Best for: Lounges, living and bedrooms.

Typical materials: The upholstery is usually either fabric for comfort or leather for a more luxurious look. Some egg chairs come with a hard, fiber glass exterior.

Choosing the Right Office Chair

As you can see, there are a myriad of office chairs in our modern era. Which one to go with really depends on the setting, how long you’ll be sitting in it, and your budget. Did we miss any other types of office chairs? Let us know in the comments below.

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