Bar Stools: What Style, What Finish, What Size?
How to Choose the Right Seating For Your Kitchen Island or Counter
Finding unique stools for each kitchen project is one of my toughest challenges. There are so many things to consider: height, material, whether or not it should have a back or be upholstered ... should it be the same style as the kitchen chairs, or not? And don't get me started about cost. In addition to materials and practicality, when designing a kitchen, it's important to consider what stools will be used and how many you have so they'll fit comfortably and look proportional to the size of the island and the overall space. Here are some colors, styles and materials to consider:
Metal. It’s an easy choice for counter stools in a kitchen because it’s a great material for easy clean-up. Plus, metal stools are often pretty affordable in the scheme of things. Here, the metal balances out all that wood and allows for a more contemporary pendant to work. I love the contrast of these industrial and modern touches against the more traditional cabinetry. These stools are backless, and therefore don’t dominate the island — they tuck nicely under the overhang. Mostly likely, if the stools were any bigger, say with arms or upholstered, you wouldn’t be able to fit four of them, and that lovely butcher block top would have been sacrificed.
Round metal lab-style counter stools are perfect for a modern kitchen. They're practical as well as stylish, and that little bit of metal contrasts nicely against the wood panel of the island. Tip: Sometimes stools are chosen because of their shape and design statement. Other choices are about layering materials or being discreet. Consider what you want your bar or counter stools to say in your kitchen.
The classic French Tolix metal stool comes with and without backs and in a variety of colors. I never get tired of the industrial and vintage flair they add to a kitchen. They're extremely versatile and work in traditional kitchens as much as farmhouse kitchens or modern kitchens. It's all about balancing the amount of wood and metal and lights and darks to make a space work.
This classic Bertoia metal stool was designed in the ‘50s and is still as current and fabulous as ever. I can go on and on about this design: Here you have a sculptural shape that’s comfortable and interesting in and of itself. But it’s also got a back that is basically see-through, so it doesn’t feel heavy or overwhelming in a space.
The Emeco Navy aluminum stool is another timeless classic. This company makes lots of wonderful chairs and stools that are beautiful in their no-nonsense form marries function kind of way. Like the Tolix stool, they are extremely versatile - working well in contemporary kitchens as much as traditional ones. Good design fits any style.
Wood. I have this style of barstool myself, and the reason is that I needed a comfortable backless stool for a narrow kitchen. We tried vintage lab stools with backs and they just didn’t work in the small space. What makes these so comfy is the curve in the seat. It makes you sit up straight too! These work in a rustic, country or traditional kitchen as well as modern.
I love the rustic feel of these wood and woven stools, and the fact that there's a single mismatched one at the end of the island. The warm tones of the wood stools connect to the ceiling beams and the copper hood, warming up this otherwise very white kitchen. Who says stools have to match? The choice to do backless stools here was also a good call since it appears that they live on a pretty busy corridor.
Wood and metal. Modern stools that are a mix of wood and metal are pretty popular these days. The sculptural quality of these stools in particular makes a statement in this minimal and modern kitchen.
Here the wood and metal almost reads as color in this mostly neutral kitchen. In neutral spaces, don't forget that wood can be a color too, whether it's the orange of cherry or the yellow of maple.
I really love the contrast between the clean modern stools and chairs and the more traditional kitchen. These metal and wood stools have small backs but they're high up, so still supportive. I have a thing for chairs and stools that don't have legs, but more of this curved metal base. Too many legs makes a seating area look a little busy.
The partial-back stool. Some have half backs, some have a seat that curves up just slightly. The backs on these actually do more than most — sometimes there's just little lip of a back that adds more style than back support. These stools have a warm modern feel that I respond to in an all-white kitchen.
The partial backs on these stools may not seem to offer much support, but they make the stools look more substantial, which is a good call in this modern kitchen.
A modern interpretation of the vintage lab stool can't go wrong with me. And they look like they are hydraulic and can change heights too. This is great if you have kids of different ages who need different heights to sit properly at the island.
Vintage. Distressed wood and metal lab stools add patina and age to a newer space. (Be careful to add casters, though — the feet on these are often beaten up and can scratch a floor.)
I've seen these stools as vintage finds more than once and I'm constantly on the hunt for more. I love the contrast between the wood slats and metal legs, and they add a ton of character to a kitchen. It's hard to find these in groups of more than 2...I think because they are often seen with a matching bar.
Colorful. If you're the gutsy and colorful type, go bold! Here the modern red stool against the sky blue island is a wonderful element in this all-white kitchen.
Leather. Everything about this stool makes me happy: the color, curve of the back, the low-maintenance and comfy leather upholstery, and the curved metal base. They’re just perfect. And if orange isn’t your thing, they come in other colors.
Modern white leather and chrome barstools can add glamorous style to any space. These look like they have a hydraulic lift mechanism as well. Some people love stools that swivel as well, so here's a great option if you like that idea.
Fabric. Soft and upholstered, the simple square lines of this parson's style counter stool works well with any kitchen style. Tip: If you find a stool you like but you're not crazy about the fabric it comes with, don't hesitate to have it reupholstered in something you love. This will really add a personal touch to your space.
This is one of my all-time favorite upholstered stools with a back. I love the swoop of the arm; it makes them seem less bulky. When choosing a stool like this, don't be surprised if you can only fit three instead of four. Upholstered stools tend to take up more space.
Wicker. There's a casual warmth and comfort that wicker adds to any space. Black, white or natural — I love it all. The swooped arms on this stool are not lost on me either. This dark wicker works well with the darker brown floor. Tip: When picking stools for a kitchen with wood floors, whether wood or wicker, make sure the wood tones are complementary. One can be darker than the other, but be sure they're in the same basic color family.
These natural wicker stools add warmth to this space and complement the medium wood tone of the floors.
French cafe stools and chairs add instant charm. Here the stools match the chairs at the kitchen table — but you don't always have to go this direction.
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