By now, we’re all vaguely aware that sitting all day will kill us. It’s like smoking or drinking or any other unpopular cause before it — we understand, but we don’t really want to acknowledge it. Doesn’t matter what the science says (things like people who sit all day are 54 percent more likely to die of a heart attack than people who don’t), we’re still not listening. How could we, anyway? Most of us work jobs that require us to stay perched for eight hours a day, often more. Well, we’re not here to tell you to quit. We’re not even here to compel feelings of guilt or to condone alternative lifestyles. We’re here to offer the most practical solution we can think of: a good desk chair. Our theory? If you’re going to be sitting all day — and unless you want to creep your coworkers out by being the weird guy with a standing desk peeking over his cubicle wall — you might as well have a good place to sit.
Not all desk chairs are created equal. Some — the best — have particularly heightened ergonomic benefits. These include the usual lumbar supports and breathable mesh seats, but as the prices get bigger so do the benefits: think customized size and suspension, extra supports, aesthetics for any office. These 13 great desk chairs might not be the cure for sitting down all day, but they’re a pretty good start.
Freedom Task Chair
If Gordon Gecko was a real person, this would be his office chair. Created by renowned designer Niels Diffrient, the Humanscale Freedom Headrest Task Chair is comfortable, functional and strikingly beautiful. It features a unique self-adjusting recline mechanism that “uses the sitter’s body weight and the laws of physics to perfectly and automatically adjust recline support for each individual.”
The Alera Elusion could be misconstrued as another simple office chair — that is until you sit in it. The mesh back panel offers supreme comfort and allows for great breathability. The seat cushion features a waterfall edge designed to eliminate pressure on the legs. The Elusion is also infinitely adjustable and even offers forward tilt.
The strength of Soma’s signature chair is the back. The tall, weirdly shaped spine is manufactured to reduce upper back, neck and shoulder tension while still supporting the lower back; that is, this chair is all about improving your posture. On the downside, it’s not nearly as attractive as some of the other options on this list.
Office Star Air Grid
The Office Star is nothing if not a good value. Sure, its base price of $400 is still a little more than you’ll pay for something from IKEA, but what price can you really put on your health? (Also, the chair — and therefore, your health — are currently on sale.) This chair is fully adjustable — up-and-down, side-to-side, a few other ways you didn’t know existed — and even better, it comes with mesh siding for increased breathability (and decreased back sweat).
This is not a good looking chair. But it’s $200, which is dirt cheap for a chair that won’t slowly kill you. The lumbar support offers ergonomic comfort and the mesh back makes it an airy, breathable option. Plus, because IKEAs are nearly everywhere, you can take it for a test drive before you commit — a very big selling point considering how much you’re about to use it.
Herman Miller Sayl Chair
The Sayl Chair is Herman Miller’s attempt at an affordable desk chair — which means it’s a huge cut above most other desk chairs in its price range. It was designed by Yves Behar and comes in a few striking colors; it’s made right here in America; it’s cradle to cradle certified (so that the whole thing is more or less recyclable). But because it sits decidedly lower on the spectrum compared to other Herman Miller models, it lacks a lot of the adjustments and customizable features you might expect from the brand.
Humanscale Diffrient World Chair
Niels Diffrient was one of America’s best industrial designers, a pioneer in ergonomic design whose Freedom and Liberty chairs are almost iconic. The World Chair is not his masterpiece, but it is a lighter, more approachable evolution on his previous designs. It’s Humanscale’s first-ever mesh chair, and they made it count: the whole thing weighs just 25 pounds and is made from 97 percent recycled material. Plus, it’s completely self-adjusting, which means you can sit back and recline without making any mechanical adjustments.
The Aeron is the chair against which all other chairs are measured. First released in 1994, its status is still more or less unchallenged, even by the valiant contenders on this list. In fact, the Aeron is so iconic it has a permanent place in the Museum of Modern Art. The chair has no straight lines because, well, neither does the human body. And it’s mesh — one of the first chairs to employ the breathable ergonomic material. It’s made out of recyclable materials and is itself 94 percent recyclable. And then there’s the best part: because the Aeron has been around for 20 years and is no longer the top-end model, it’s relatively affordable at $900.
Did we expect that the only chair ever to be endorsed by the American Physical Therapy Association would be exciting? No, we expected it to put function over form at every turn. That’s almost entirely true in this case. It wants to look good — Haworth even commissioned upscale German design shop Ito Design to help — but the result is rather bland. Instead, focus on the science behind the chair, especially the asymmetrical adjustment system designed in conjunction with the Human Performance Institute at the University of Michigan that lets sitters target problem areas and conform the chair to their natural body shapes.
The Steelcase Leap is one of the most popular desk chairs in the world. Designed in 1999, the Leap is the culmination of four years of intensive research on how the back is impacted by long sitting sessions. The result of all that research is the LiveBack system, a method by which the seat and back of the chair adjust independently, allowing for complete support. Add that it’s 98 percent recyclable and blanket-wrapped for domestic delivery (instead of boxed, to reduce shipping costs) and you have an explanation for its popularity.
Herman Miller Embody Chair
The Embody is an expensive option, for sure, but you get what you pay for. The chair was designed by one of the original designers of Herman Miller’s flagship Aeron chair. To achieve its goal of helping the body move naturally, rotation points on the seat and the back keep your back in one stable position while everything else moves. Like other Herman Miller chairs, the Embody is sized, so it fits you perfectly, and it comes in a few fun color options.
The Acuity hits a sweet spot missed by a lot of chairs on this list: it’s both ergonomically sound and aesthetically excellent. This adherence to the tenets of good design resulted in a few cool features, like controls on the side that eliminate the need for cumbersome and hard-to-reach levers. And the leather jacket, which can be placed over the mesh body, dresses it up for the office (even if that makes it a bit warmer to sit on). There’s not a lot of recline, but then again, everyone always told us to sit up straight anyway.
Knoll is the undisputed leader in office furniture, in part because they invest so much in design and research. The ReGeneration is un update on the classic Generation chair, which was originally designed by Formway Design, a New Zealand-based firm that took inspiration from the bridges of architect Santiago Calatrava. The result is a chair that curves and flexes to support its load, offering more or less support depending on how you’re sitting: the chair is said to adjust to 270 degrees of posture. Plus, the whole thing clocks in at less than 30 pounds and is environmentally friendly, using corn- and soy-based materials wherever possible. All that comes at a cost, of course — especially if you want add-ons like a lumbar support or aluminum base.