Why is it so hard to find a good ergonomic office chair?

A few years back, I set out to start working from home, and part of that transition involved setting up a good work station. I’d be spending a lot of time sitting in the same chair, at the same desk, all day long, and it needed to be as comfortable and efficient as it could get.

The desk was easy. I picked up the 2nd-cheapest desk I could find at Ikea, and I’ve been happy ever since. It cost me $35, and it’s still going strong.

The chair, however, turned out to be entirely different. It wasn’t just a simple process of finding something affordable and never having to worry about it again, as there simply wasn’t anything affordable out there that didn’t hurt my back. I could feel the problems everywhere; the non-adjustable areas, the pressure points sticking out in weird places, the backrest that didn’t follow any human contour I had ever seen, and so on. I kept digging around for months, hoping to find something cheap, and just gave up.

So I started looking into the world of high-end office furniture, from brands like Herman Miller, Steelcase, Humanscale, Knoll, Haworth, HAG, and others, thinking there must be something out there that’ll work. Some of those chairs cost up to $1,000, and they’re featured in corporate headquarters all over the world. They must be doing something right. Right?!

Well, kind of. As I soon found out, plenty of those are garbage too. And I didn’t want garbage. I wanted something breathtakingly flawless, that I could use all day long, and only get tired when I wasn’t sitting in the chair. Was that so much to ask?

Turns out, it is. The system currently in place isn’t as straightforward as you might think. For the most part, you can’t just go to a showroom and try out every top-of-the-line model from every brand, all in one place. It’s more like a car dealership. You have to go to each individual brand’s local office and try out the chairs one brand at a time.

That’s when it really starts to get weird. As far as I can tell, these offices are set up for corporate buyers, who buy maybe 1,000 chairs at once, so they don’t often get individual customers showing up at the door hoping to pick up just one chair for themselves. So they don’t, for example, have chairs available to test. At least, not usually.

The system currently in place (and I am not joking at all) is that you show up to the front desk, and tell them you’d like to try one of the chairs. They’ll ask you which one, then they’ll tell one of their employees to leave his desk, and wheel out that guy’s chair to the front entrance, where you can fiddle with all the knobs, ruin all the adjustments, and try it out.

I’m sure the guy’s happy to get a break, but why don’t they just have a conference room near the entrance where they have one of each model they currently produce? Well, some of them do, but some isn’t really the way it should work.

What’s even more difficult is how it’s practically impossible for someone in a smaller city to find all these places. If you live in a big city, you’ll have branches of these companies available nearby. If you’re in a small town, and you just can’t find something comfortable at a local big box office retail store, it’s practically impossible to try these things out in advance.

Retailers can ship these products to your door, and in some cases they’ll handle the return process if you don’t plan to keep it. That’s a good policy, but it would be nice if you could absorb as much information as possible ahead of time, so you don’t get stuck having to test out too many chairs and deal with giant boxes and return shipping over and over again.

And that’s what this site is going to be. I want to help people navigate the options available as best they can, so they don’t have to go through the nonsensical experience of sending employees away from their desks and ruining all the delicate adjustments they had set up. I want to fill people in on all the details, especially the ones that you don’t really notice until you sit down in one of these things. You don’t want to spend $1,000 on something that’s only sort of good, and I don’t want you doing that either.

After years of shopping around for high-end office chairs, I’m…ahem, “proud” to say I’ve accumulated an incredibly dorky amount of knowledge on the subject. I can spot an office chair and call it out by the brand and model name just by catching a glimpse of the backrest contour for a fraction of a second on TV. Kind of like cool people do with cars, when they just see the headlights or something.

And I want to help you make the right decision. It’s a weird world that’s currently not set up for individual, work-from-home types, and someone saying “it’s super comfortable” simply isn’t good enough information for people who want to know exactly what they’re getting into before they make a purchase that significant.

So I’m here to help, and I hope you’ll be happy with what I have to say.

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