Some people take a strictly business approach to kitchens while others want a place to cook that doubles as party, or family-central. And, of course, there’s everything in between. But over the years I’ve been involved in designing kitchens and curating our look-books here at AM, I’ve seen eat-in kitchens include counter seating – often on one side of an island – become a default requirement, even with a dining table just a few feet away. Those of us who take cooking seriously know that today’s kitchens must do double duty as a public rooms where culinary theater sometimes takes place while the audience sits, sips and chews or maybe even gets into the act. So the choice of a kitchen stool style requires as much attention as any other feature.
Basically, stools come in two types: counter height, about 26 inches high, and bar height, about 31 inches high. For reference, chair seats are usually 18-inches high. So, sitting on a kitchen stool requires a stretch or a climb. This is important to understand in the planning stage since bar-height seating tends to be less comfortable for many people than counter height. Yet these spaces often are designed without any specific seating in mind. That can make the selection of multiple stools an afterthought, a treasure hunt, a budget nightmare, a style blunder, or perhaps a design asset — as these kitchen stool styles illustrate.
High Modern Designer – Harry Bertoia barstools for Knoll [top] are immediately recognizable by their wire-cage design. Created in the 1950s, this iconic look is a frequent pick for high-end kitchens. With originals in the $1000 range (there are less costly copies) this is investment seating with a serious commitment to an architectural style statements. And with flaring backs and seat cushions, they are comfortable.
Swedish Neo – Sweden’s 18th-century chairs have come to define informal elegance. One Neoclassical form with slatted back and straight tapered legs has been stretched into a popular bar stool style as well. Crate & Barrel carried these for a time in their “Village” line for a time. As simple wood stools with backs go, this is as classic and classy as it gets. A tie-on seat-cushion easily boosts the comfort quotient and I have never seen one of these painted any color that didn’t work — even pink and silver. Amazon.com carries Pottersville slat back stools which have a similar profile and upholstered seats.
Custom Upholstered – Stools with odd pie-shape upholstered seats, decorative nail heads, barley twist legs and glazed antique white finish broadcast “interior decorator was here.” These are certainly handsome and well cushioned. Stretchers on the sides make good foot rests. But these aren’t geared to kids or hunky relatives – the message is feminine and inviting enough for a single glass of wine.
English Saddle – Turn them sideways and these might easily be English saddles (sans stirrups) set on spindly forms. While the natural luggage color provides a dash of warmth in a gray kitchen that borders on sterile, they give off a vibe that is barely more cheerful and inviting than the penitentiary-style window. Here’s where a touch of country, mad color or an eccentric base would go very far.
Armchair – As singular examples of bar-height stools with arms and comfortable cushions, these bentwood babies were obviously chosen with eating meals and hanging out in mind. And because the color stays within the same tone as the floor, cabinets and knobs, they are well integrated into the monochromatic idea of this kitchen. But here’s what I don’t get: they completely block access and setting down space for someone cooking at the $8600 CornueFé range. So these are super stools on a barrier island in a kitchen with a very odd plan.
Pop Art – Cut-out dots on the fin-shape metal bases of these white stools are a mid-2oth century look popular when ben day dots were huge. Still, they are graphic and are nothing short of a style statement especially with six in a row. While the cooks conjures up Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon, guests can gaze at starburst chandys from the upholstered seats. These stools are as much sculpture as seating. Think dinner at the modern museum.
Reclaimed – Handsome and hefty right? Sure, the truck springs converted to stool bases are dynamically coiled and not only hint at one-off salvage origins, they are credited to a Sonoma, California salvage concern. One plus: they are well matched to the industrial cargo pendants and also are a nice contrast with the chippy rusticity of barn wood cabinets. No question they are fab yet I can’t escape the image of rogue upholstery springs poking up through an old sofa, or a kid’s toy used to bounce around the yard.
Country – Rush seats are standard on country-style furnishings. Combining natural fiber and the ability to give when you sit, they are perennial favorites for good reason. There are no backs and not much leg room under the counter of the New Hampshire Farmhouse Kitchen we toured a few months back. So if these are pulled out, they do just fine for perching.
Skirted – Skirting is making a comeback in country and suburban kitchens, laundries and bathrooms, or perhaps it just never went away. It surely looks like a celebration of our DIY sewing skills and it’s an inexpensive solution to concealing stuff, as well. To-the-floor slipcovers have long been used for dining room chairs. This is a super look that softens up a simple kitchen. Even with skirts as manageable as ballgowns, these stools are among the few that they make me want to run right over and sit for a while.
Industrial – This 1940s, French-style stool is gaining steam. Sturdy, no nonsense and practical due to the adjustable seat, there are many versions — from vintage in the Black and White Smallbone Kitchen, to handsome contemporary variations such as the Precision Bar Stool at Design within Reach. The seats are hard but ease of turning makes them well designed for the basic task. Plus they have the lines to move a traditional kitchen in a slightly more modern direction.
Low Rider – Cut down so the backs don’t interfere with sight lines, this stool is often the choice for super-cool minimalist hipster kitchens. Adjustable and nicely upholstered as well, they possess critical assets when a looks-are-everything choice is paramount. dCOR adjustable bar stools have a similar silhouette.
Elemental – Plain wooden stools come in many forms. I’m partial to this hand-rubbed-look blocky style that reminds me of Asian woodworking. Note the gently curved seats with contrasting joinery details. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether these are fabulously handcrafted and expensive or great knock offs like the Asian Style bar stool I found at Countryside Amish. In either case, they never intrude or assert themselves, which is part of their just-basic appeal.
Deco Chic – Lightweight and chic, galvanized steel stools are a popular choice for kitchens, plus they have a great backstory. Officially called Tolix Marais Counter stools, they come in chair-, counter- and bar-heights (18-30”) and were originally designed by French metal worker Xavier Pauchard in the 1930s. Still made in Burgundy for Design within Reach, they stack, have rubber feet and their utility and clean lines are uncontested. There are many knock offs including the Tabouret in the same finish. Best of all, they are affordable – the original reason industrial products came into use at home.
(Sources: Bonesteel Trout and Hall, House Beautiful, Hutker Architects, Nate Berkus, Ivette/Pinterest, Lucy Interior Design, Smith and Vansant, pinterest, pinkwallpaper, Jeff Andrews, Kitchen Lab, Gardenweb)
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