07 October 2010

Please take a seat!

Have you ever wondered what the difference between a counter stool and a bar stool was? I didn't know either, until I became a kitchen designer and learned about the different options for eating and working spaces. I've also happily learned that there are wonderful choices in both categories to coordinate beautifully with your space. You can even get counter or bar stools to match your dining chairs! (Not that you have to.)

Bar stools

Once upon a time, you would buy bar stools in a specialized store, and they largely went into dark, paneled rec rooms. No more! Now you can find them pretty much everywhere furniture is sold and they go into kitchens with breakfast bars, as well as great rooms, wine bars and even nooks with bar-height tables.

What distinguishes a bar stool from a chair or counter stool is its increased seat height. They're made to position the user comfortably at a 42 inch eating or drinking surface. A standard dining table is about 30 inches.

As a kitchen designer, the 42 inch surface is usually a built-in breakfast bar on the back of a work station. Many builders and homeowners liked that these raised bars hide unwashed dishes or pots in the sink from the open dining or great room areas.

I'm not a big fan of breakfast bars for two main reasons. One, those same builders often skimped on both counter and walk space so that using the bar can be somewhat uncomfortable. Two, their higher seats make bar stools challenging for anyone with balance or height issues. This often includes seniors and children - i.e., the extended family you want around you while you're cooking!

However, if you've got a raised bar in your kitchen and it's working for you and your household, there are some great options in just about every style and finish.

Counter stools

I had never heard of a counter stool before becoming a kitchen designer, but they sure come in handy now! For those kitchens whose countertops extend beyond the cabinet for seating on the other side, counter stools are the ideal height. Standard kitchen counters are 36 inches high, which makes them too low for bar stools and too high for dining chairs. This is why counter stools were invented.

I like them because the person sitting on the non-working side of the kitchen can socialize with the cook and still help out with food prep if they wish, having the full expanse of counter to work with.

One challenge for counter height seating areas is that they require more overhang than bar tops. This deeper counter keeps the person sitting at it from hitting his or her knees on the back of the cabinets. Sometimes, you simply don't have the extra three inches you need to make this a comfortable seating area.

If you're fortunate enough to have the space for a counter-height overhang, there are also great stools to choose from. In fact, most companies now offer stools in bar or counter height. Some also offer coordinating dining chairs if your kitchen is open to your dining area.

Planning note

This comes up more often with counter-height seating than bar tops, but I always recommend against designing your overhangs in work aisles, especially near a cooktop or range! When possible, plan your seating on the non-working end of the kitchen.

What's in store!

I've found some nice styles that will work with a range of kitchens. I've also included backless versions. If you're tight on space, a backless stool will park under the overhang and give you more walking room behind it when it's not in use. Just a thought...

Vienna Black Counter Stool at Crate & Barrel brings cafe style to transitional kitchens

Sister store CB2 jazzes up your contemporary kitchen with Phoenix Orange bar and counter stools

Add classic vintage flair to your space with West Elm's Overlapping Squares Bar and Counter Stools

Get rustic with these Iron Grate stools from NapaStyle

Get sleek with Room & Board's backless Emeco Stools

Bring affordable island bling to your space with Cost Plus World Market's Elana Banana Leaf Bar Stool pair

Williams-Sonoma brings back the classic diner chair as their Diner Stool, available with or without back, at counter or bar height

Ballard Designs
goes vintage transitional with their Constance Bar Stool

Another fun Crate & Barrel find -- the 30" Spin Bar Stool!

Bring rustic elegance to your home with another NapaStyle pick, their handsome Talavera Stool

Spunky style comes to your kitchen with Room & Board's Radius Counter Stool


  1. I agree, if you are planning a breakfast bar then it has to be planned properly. It should always be on the outside edge of the kitchen so as not to interfere in the flow of the working kitchen area.

  2. I have the Williams Sonoma bar stool in my kitchen and they are fantastic. I ordered 24 inch stools because I have a 24" counter. The 24" stools only have one footrest so keep that in mind if you order.


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