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On a search for the best desk chair July 20, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Tools, Work-related injuries.

The Simple Dollar featured an article entitled “How to Buy a Mattress” today and prefaces it by saying “the only two things you shouldn’t skimp on are your mattress and your shoes.” I agree, but would also expand on that to include a good desk chair. As freelancers we sit at our desks for 8-10 hours (sometimes more) a day. A good desk chair makes the difference between a sore back and feeling good at the end of the day (and the hours in between).

I have been preaching the importance of a good desk chair for years. When I lived with my parents right after moving back to the U.S. from Germany I had to sit on their wooden desk chair with a worn-out cushion. My back killed me. I hated sitting in it to work, but I had no other choice. I went out and bought a cheap desk chair from Office Max, and the arm broke off the metal arm joist within a month.

One of my students at Kent State proudly reported that she bought a desk chair with a built-in massage and was thrilled. You don’t have to go that overboard, but you should definitely put some consideration into the kind of desk chair you want.

I have been through just about every incantation of a desk chair out there. I had an exercise ball, which forces proper spine alignment and is constantly making you change positions to balance yourself. It also ensures you don’t have constant shoulder and neck pain since you aren’t hunched over a desk. My exercise ball had knobs/teats on the bottom so it wouldn’t roll away when you walked away. I loved it, but I had to leave it behind when I moved to the U.S. I also bought a kneeling desk chair, which killed my knees. I hated it. A lot of my fellow German translators in Germany swear by a desk chair called The Swopper, which (like the exercise ball) encourages “active sitting” and is “designed to help strengthen your back and abs, help relieve lower back pain, promote mental acuity and assist with good posture.” If I had the room I would get a treadmill desk like Corinne’s. Maybe once I buy a house and am not living in a rental…

Anyway, my chair of choice is the Aeron chair. I bought my Herman Miller Aeron chair (used – thanks Susanne III!) several years ago. The Aeron chair features a “sleek skeleton of metal and mesh. All interlocking parts and ergonomic contours.” (Source) It comes in 3 different sizes for various body types and allows you to adjust the height, the tilt, seat, etc. I love my Aeron chair, but it died about a year and a half ago. Well, the tilt hydraulic died, but the chair itself was still usable. I sadly relegated it to the living room computer and bought another desk chair from the used furniture store downtown (after sitting in just about every chair they had). The seat on my Aeron chair cracked last week. I bit the bullet and contacted customer service, figuring I had a pricey repair ahead of me but knowing it would be cheaper than buying another desk chair. The customer service rep took my info and called me back to report that the repair will be covered by warranty (despite the fact that I bought it used) and the tech will be coming out some time this week to my house to repair it. Woohoo!

Other freelancers prefer standing up when they work and use something like The Stand Up Desk. Standing up while working alleviates back pain. I also think it saves space since you work up and not out (meaning spreading out stuff across the desk). I’m tempted to use this concept in my living room when I redo it soon just to save floor space (since I rarely sit at the living room computer).

So what about you, gentle readers? What desk chair or method do you swear by? Is there something revolutionary out there that I may have missed?



1. Thomas Bosch - July 20, 2011

I love my exercise ball. I have been using it for almost a year now and have not had any back trouble since. I love bouncing on it when I’m happy, bored, or am pondering something. Other than that, my kids love it too.

2. Rob - July 20, 2011

If you take chairs seriously and don’t mind opening your wallet wide, take a look at Herman Miller’s “Embody” Chair. It’s the Aeron chair, evolved.

3. Jordi Balcells Antón - July 20, 2011

The Markus chair from IKEA. It’s only 169 USD in the States and it’s good enough. Obviously, not as good as a 500 or 1,000 USD chair, but it works wonders for its price. It’s been heavily recommended by many Spanish translators at Pablo’s famous Algo más que traducir blog. I hope this is not considered spam, since I have no affiliation to Pablo or IKEA.

Jill (@bonnjill) - July 20, 2011

Not at all. Thanks for the tip. I’m sure plenty of people will look into that chair too.

4. Michael - July 20, 2011

I have been using the “Jersey” chair (http://goo.gl/gCjNY) for several years and my wife got it for her office as well. I don’t like arms (they make me put all my weight onto my elbows and shoulders), and I like the mesh back for air flow. It doesn’t have many controls, which I prefer. It is important though to have a desk or keyboard surface that fits the chair/body height and to arrange the screens so that you do not have to tilt your head too much up or down. I find the positioning of keyboard and screens equally as important as the chair selection. Another “trick” I am using: All reference books are out of reach so I have to get up frequently to do my research.

Jill (@bonnjill) - July 20, 2011

That’s a good looking chair, Michael! I prefer a mesh back for air flow as well.

5. Jeff Hershberger - July 20, 2011

I think my work chair is too comfortable. It leans back practically like a papasan. My feet dangle. I’ve been thinking about switching to a balloon some of the time just to iimprove my core strength.

6. Craig Morris - July 21, 2011
7. Fred - July 21, 2011

what an interesting post!

As Jordi Balcells Antón, i also use an IKEA chair, the VERKSAM, which i find very comfortable. Will try the exercise ball very soon for a change.
I like the Corinne McKay’s treadmill desk, very creative. Has anyone tried to use a speech recognition system and a headset combined with a treadmill ?
I remember seeing in a design furniture catalog a desk that is height adjustable (hydraulic jack or electric engine) – but with a really high price tag – so you can switch “on the fly” between the sitting and standing position.
My desk (also from Ikea) has adjustable legs so it is at the correct height (but stays at that height once adjusted :-)).
The Herman Miller Aeron chair looks awesome!

8. Carolina - July 21, 2011

Hi, it is true most of us forget our body is another tool… I totally understand and confirm Herman Miller as a great product.
My husband and I both work sitting most of the time. He bought his Aeron chair 9 years ago, and his back pain disappeared. I was lucky enough to get my Celle 4 years ago, a few months before it started to be almost impossible to get one through Buenos Aires customs! Both chairs look and feel almost new. And we feel good, too (we also added 2 or 3 Pilates sessions a week to help the chairs…).

(By the way, great blog, Jill.)

9. Tomasz - July 22, 2011

mine is Onda by Martela and looks like this http://bit.ly/pd2ZFN

10. A Argandona - July 22, 2011

Great post, Jill! We all need to be extra aware of taking breaks and at least walking around a bit. I used to sit for hours at a time. Not anymore. Ever since a lumbar disk injury forced me to work while lying on my stomach, I am always in the process of finding different options to sitting. Had to get used to a big screen laptop instead of a desktop PC. Also, any high-top surface helps to work while standing up. A soft mat is also easier on your feet if standing a long time. Now my back is doing a lot better, and I never stay too long in a single position while working. Don’t wait for your body to give you a wake up call, remember to stretch, exercise and take short breaks! 🙂

11. Alliandre - July 22, 2011

Hi Jill, great post 🙂
I love the Aeron, but when I started, 12 years ago, I didn’t have enough money to buy it, and after also checking the kneeling chairs (ouch, my knees!) I just ‘went Ikea.’
My chair is the Nominell, without armrests, it now has 10+ years and apart from being a little worn out (it’s in cotton, I chose that one because all the other Ikea chairs were wool – too hot in summer) it’s still very comfy for me. It helps that the desk is Ikea too, also regulable, so I fitted them to be at the right height.
Should buy another one, I think I’d buy this one again 🙂

p.s. I also have an exercise ball, but can’t stay in it AND work. I just use it for exercising 😉

12. Dave D - April 30, 2012

Virtu chair. Best unknown chair that moves with you as you lean forward.

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