Keep ya Aeron

As my dad observed repeatedly during my teenage and college years, I really do spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on my ass. Since I was setting up a home office space which would likely be lasting me for the next decade or so, I decided it was time to make a serious investment in an office chair.

The archetypal web developer office chair is the Aeron by Herman Miller. It became a symbol of .com excess, a museum exhibit, and is now available in shoddy quality $150 knock-offs from Office Depot. I’ve sat in a real Aeron chair, and I have to say it’s really not very comfortable. It’s better than a $90 task chair from Staples, but it’s not $800 worth of better. In fact, the hard unyielding surfaces are pretty damn uncomfortable.

The ultimate in office chairs is apparently the range made by Bodybilt in Navasota, Texas. NASA uses ’em, and there are many reports that measure blood pressure, perceived comfort and so on, and prove that Bodybilt is the best chair available. At over $1,000 each, and with a bewildering variety of options available, I wasn’t quite ready for that, especially since there was apparently nowhere I could go to actually sit in one.

Stepping back a little in price, there’s the Humanscale Freedom chair. It’s the first of a new breed of chairs which takes a new approach to chair ergonomics, by recognizing that what really kills your back isn’t so much the subtleties of the chair shape—rather, it’s the fact that even a perfectly shaped chair will keep your back in the same position all day. On plane flights, I have to keep switching between “back pillow” and “no back pillow” to get some variety. The Freedom chair is designed to need no adjustment; it uses your body weight to lever the chair back into place, allowing you to recline to any angle just by leaning back.

I’ve sat in a Freedom chair, and it’s really cool. It works, you can pick a reclinement angle and the chair just magically supports you at that angle. There are a couple of issues, though. I’ve read some reviews from people who found that they would gradually recline further and further back, until they realized they were slumped back; since there’s no way to lock the back, I was a bit concerned about this. Another problem was the price, at around $900. The third problem was that it would take 6-8 weeks to actually get one of the damn things.

So, I scaled back my chair lust a little further, and ordered a Steelcase Leap chair. Like the Freedom, it allows your back position to move as you go about the work day. In fact, the entire chair back flexes and curves with adjustable levels of springiness; stretch your arms above your head and lean back, and the lumbar part of the chair back bends in to support your lower back. It’s also available for about 30% less than a Freedom chair, is almost entirely recyclable, and has better adjustment on the arms. It’s not the best chair I’ve ever sat in, but it’s pretty neat.