Whether you’ve moved into a home with an eat-in kitchen or you’ve built a bar into a family room, finding the right bar or counter stools is absolutely essential when creating your dining room checklist. In a small space, a counter may be your only formal eating space. For others, it may simply be a more casual dining location. But either way, it’s important to find the right seating for this area to make it function at its best!
Feel a little lost when it comes to picking out bar or counter-height stools for your space? Keep reading for our complete bar stool guide. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about bar-height and counter stools to make sure you end up with the perfect seating at your counter!
Bar vs. Counter-Height Stools
When looking at bar and counter seating options, you first want to consider the height of your bar or counter. And it’s important to note that bar-height and counter-height stools are seats of two different sizes—not two names for the same thing.
Counter-height seating is made for a traditional counter-height surface that’s about 35-37 inches high. The seat height of counter-height stools ranges from 23-27 inches high.
Meanwhile, bar stools are a bit taller. Bar-height counters sit at 41-43 inches high, so bar stool heights range from 28-33 inches high, from floor to seat. Bar-height counters in kitchens also tend to have a raised section, so there are two different counter heights. So, make sure to measure from the higher section, where you’ll put seating, and not from the prep and serving area!
To double-check that the stools are the right height, measure from where the top of the seat will be, up to the bottom of the counter. There should be at least 10 inches of clearance between the two surfaces, but no more than 15 inches, in order to create a comfortable amount of legroom. If you don’t have enough space between the two, your legs may not be able to fit underneath the counter. Too much space, and you’ll feel like a child trying to sit at the grown-up table, with the counter hitting your chest height rather than mid-torso!
Key Features of Bar and Counter Stools
Once all your measurements have been made and you know what height of stool you need, you can start thinking about style. When choosing bar stools and counter stools, there are a few key features to consider. What you choose depends completely on your personal preferences in terms of look, style, and comfort.
Bar and counter stools either have a back (like a regular dining chair) or are backless. Backless stools are great if you have a smaller space since they can tuck fully underneath the counter and won’t take up extra floor space when not in use. However, they are less comfortable to sit on for longer periods of time. So, if a counter is your only dining space, a backless stool might not provide the posture support you need. Stools with backs come in a few shapes and styles. Some have lower backs, only offering lumbar support, while others have full, high backs similar to dining chairs.
Like dining chairs, stools come with and without armrests—and whatever option you choose is really just a matter of personal preference. As you might guess, armrests are only available on stools with backs. Armrests tend to give a more formal vibe to your space and will provide additional comfort when you’re sitting for long periods of time. However, they do make sliding on and off your stool a bit more difficult—so stools with armrests are not great for tight spaces!
Swiveling seats are a very common bar stool feature! A swivel simply means that the seat twists all the way around—but the stool legs remain stationary. Swivel bar stools are great if you have an open kitchen/dining/living space, as it allows people to turn and face other parts of the room, interacting with people at the dining table or on the sofa. This lets your space become a bit more dynamic, as you can have more seats while entertaining but people can easily socialize from different seating areas.
Don’t like when your feet dangle? Consider a stool with a built-in footrest. Some stools even have multiple bars to accommodate people of different heights, which is a great feature if you have a variety of different people using them. Other stools that don’t have “official” footrests do have a horizontal bar that can certainly be used as a footrest. Having this feature will keep you more comfortable, especially when sitting for a longer period of time.
Though not as common, some stools are stackable, so they easily nestle into each other. This is a great option if you don’t use your stools year-round and want to make them easy to store away at the end of the season—a great consideration for outdoor bar areas!
Read Next: Our dining table guide will walk you through all the shapes, sizes, and materials to consider for your dining room table.
Styles + Materials
Once you land on the features that are important to you, consider the style and material of your stools, since this will help drive home the overall design style of your space. While it’s not a one-to-one guide, since bar stools and counter stools have some different styles than regular dining chairs, you can check out our guide to the different types of dining chairs to get a feel for the different styles out there.
But you don’t just want to pick a material that goes with your design style—you also want to consider your lifestyle needs and what materials are most conducive to it. Overall, it’s important to think about comfort, cleanability, durability, and overall style when choosing the right material for your space. For example, upholstered stools will be more comfortable but can be more prone to stains. Metal is less comfortable to sit on for long periods of time but is super durable and easy to clean!
To help you find the right material for your stools, we’ve rounded up some of the most common materials below!
As we just mentioned, metal may not be your most comfortable bar stool option, but this is a very easy-to-clean and durable material—making it a great choice for households with kids! Stylistically, metal stools can suit industrial and Modern Farmhouse spaces.
A very durable material, wood one of the most popular choices for bar stools. And, depending on the stain or finish, they can really range in style based. A lighter, more natural finish suits a coastal, rustic, or Scandinavian-style space, while a white wood stool might feel more cottage-inspired, and a dark stain will take on a more traditional vibe. Wooden stools are crafted in so many different shapes and styles, too, which has a huge impact on the style of space in which they can work. Since this is a harder material, some people opt to add a cushion to wooden bar stools for added comfort.
A bar stool made of rattan can give a coastal, bohemian, or Parisian chic vibe to your space. Lightweight but sturdy, this material holds up well over time when properly taken care of. It can also be used outdoors when weather-treated, so this is a good material for outdoor dining sets.
An upholstered bar stool will have a more formal vibe and give your counter a pulled-together look. And, with a bit of cushioning, they’re one of the more comfortable materials for a bar stool! Often upholstered stools will have backs as well, further adding to the comfort factor. However, this material is prone to stains and is more difficult to clean, so it’s not ideal for households with children or large pets! Upholstered stools perfectly suit paces with classic and transitional styles.
If you have a small, tight space, acrylic bar stools are worth considering. This clear material doesn’t add any visual clutter to your counter area, and it’s also very easy to clean! However, it’s not the most comfortable material to sit on for long periods of time. This material is perfect for glam and modern spaces.
Leather bar stools can add some great style to your dining space. Whether you opt for lighter or dark leather, this material adds a touch of sophistication while also feeling very down-to-earth. Typically, leather stools will have metal legs, giving them a sleeker, more minimal look. And, while leather isn’t the easiest material to clean, it ages well—transforming scratches, scuffs, and minor spills into a beautiful patina! This material can suit mid-century, industrial, and rustic spaces.
Want a little more info on each of these stool materials? Check out our guide to dining chair materials to learn more about the pros and cons of each of these materials.
Once everything is measured, and you’ve considered what materials and features you’d like your bar stools to have, you’ll also want to consider spacing. Similar to how you’d space chairs around a dining room table, you want to give the stools ample breathing room so that people aren’t knocking elbows while eating or drinking. Leaving 12-18 inches between stools will give everyone enough space to comfortably sit, eat, and drink. Knowing spacing will also help you know how many bar stools to purchase! After that? All that’s left to do is pull up your stool and enjoy some delicious food and drinks!