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  1. Home Bar
  2. Bar and Counter Stools
  3. Guide
  • Table of contents
    1. Bar Stool vs. Counter Stool: What Is the Difference? 
    2. Bar Stool Height Guide
    3. How Many Bar Stools Do I Need?
    4. How to Choose a Color and Style of Bar Stool
    5. What Are the Most Comfortable Counter Stools?
    6. What Are the Best Bar Stool Materials?
    7. Other Important Considerations

When you’re looking for bar or counter stools to work with a kitchen island, home bar, high table, or counter, consider how many bar stools will comfortably fit in the space and provide enough elbow room, what width and height your stools should be, and what style would work best for both functional needs and your personal preferences. 

In this guide, we share all the information you need to choose bar stools, including height and size guidelines and advice on choosing the most comfortable option and best material.

Want some inspiration before diving into the details?

1. Bar Stool vs. Counter Stool: What Is the Difference? 

Bar-height stools are higher than counter-height stools. Bar stools have a seat height of 28 to 32 inches to fit under a home bar, island countertop, or table that is 40 to 42 inches tall. Counter stools usually have a seat height of 24 to 27 inches to fit under a home bar, island countertop, or table that is 35 to 39 inches from the floor.

Be aware that bar stools come in two other height categories. 

  • Short bar stools with a 16 to 23 inches seat height can work nicely at a desk, kitchen table, or vanity 
  • Extra-tall bar stools with a seat height of 34 to 40 inches will complement surfaces 44 to 47 inches high and better accommodate taller people than standard sizes 
  • Adjustable-height stools utilize a hydraulic pump to move the seat up and down

2. Bar Stool Height Guide

How to Measure for Bar Stools

Measure the height, width, and depth of the area below the island, table, or countertop where the stools will go. Regarding stool width, allow 8 inches of room, at minimum, between each seat. This will allow enough space for people to sit comfortably without their legs touching the legs of the person next to them and enough room to slide the stools out easily. 

Tip: Don’t forget to include the measurement of any arms on the bar stool when choosing a size that will work with your kitchen or bar setup.

How Tall Should Bar Stools Be

The height of your bar stool will depend on the height of what it sits under. 

You want to allow 10 to 12 inches of space between the seat of the stool and the bottom of the table, countertop, or bar. This will allow people to sit comfortably without their legs touching the counter surface. 

Below is a bar stool size guide: recommended seat heights for popular bar or counter heights.

  • 34 inches bar – 22 to 24 inches stools
  • 35 inches bar – 23 to 25 inches stools
  • 36 inches bar – 24 to 26 inches stools
  • 42 inches bar – 30 to 32 inches stools
How to Choose Counter Stool Height

Follow the same instructions for the bar stools above. Measure the height, width, and depth of the area below the island, table, or countertop. Allow a minimum of 6 inches of room between each seat and 10 to 12 inches between the seat and the bottom of the countertop.

3. How Many Bar Stools Do I Need?

The number of stools to buy depends on the size of the bar or island—or, more precisely, how much space is available under the bar or kitchen island. 

The guide below is based on the standard bar stool seat width of 16 inches, with no arms, leaving about 8 inches of room between seats to sit comfortably. Fewer stools will fit in the same space if your stool has arms.

Below is a bar stool number guide: the recommended number of stools for popular kitchen island or bar widths.

  • 6 foot bar or island – 3 stools
  • 7 foot bar or island – 3 stools
  • 8 foot bar or island – 4 stools
  • 9 foot bar or island – 4 stools
  • 10 foot bar or island – 5 stools
  • 11 foot bar or island – 5 stools

While three stools are the smallest number in the chart above, kitchen islands smaller than 6 feet require only one or two stools. You'll need only one stool if your stool sits under a single-person desk. Before you buy your island or bar, you should decide how many people you want to provide seating for and whether it’s acceptable for additional people to stand.

Another consideration when determining how many bar stools you need is whether you want bar stools on one or both sides of an island. The most common setup is to have stools on only one side, with the other side used for food preparation, but if you prefer a seating area setup that’s more like a dining table with dining chairs, you’ll want stools on both sides.

Tip: Once you’ve found a bar stool you like and taken measurements, use painter’s tape to mark the outline of each stool to ensure the space can accommodate them all.

4. How to Choose a Color and Style of Bar Stool

The perfect bar stool to enhance your home design depends on factors other than a perfect fit in terms of length, height, and depth. Choosing the right type, color, and style is important, too. Below are some considerations to keep in mind while you’re shopping.

Most Popular Styles of Bar Stools

Whether swiveling or not, upholstered or not, the most popular styles of bar stools are:

  • Modern bar stools have a sleek look with clean lines
  • Contemporary bar stools focus on simplicity while allowing for trending silhouettes 
  • Traditional bar stools tend to be in rich colors or wood, sometimes with ornate detailing
  • Farmhouse bar stools often are made of wood and have a rustic, weathered look
  • Industrial bar stools recall factory settings; they’re usually made of metal or wood and keep to a minimalist palette (black, gray, brown, nickel, copper) 
  • Coastal bar stools embrace light, airy colors and materials that reflect beach and ocean vibes, often made from rattan, wicker, or light-colored woods, featuring soft, neutral fabrics or nautical-themed patterns designed to evoke a relaxed, breezy seaside atmosphere
Colors of Bar Stools

Most people wonder what to match the color of their counter stools to. Should you match the cabinetry color, the overall palette of your kitchen, the island design, or the dining chairs?

First, consider the look and style of your house as a whole. Does it have a lot of matched furniture elsewhere? If so, it’s a good idea to continue matching in the kitchen by choosing bar stools that are the same color as your cabinetry. However, it can look overly matchy to have the same color bar stool and kitchen island unless both are neutral colors. In that case, consider a complementary color that doesn’t match exactly.

Suppose the rest of your house has more of an eclectic look, with furniture and decor collected over time. In that case, it’s perfectly fine not to match your bar stool color to any other element of the kitchen, although it should be complementary. You can even consider a striking color to create a center focal point for your kitchen design.

Best bar stool color for black cabinets: You can go with black bar stools for a cohesive look, but you want to avoid having your kitchen design feel too heavy, so consider how much black there is in other kitchen elements. Black cabinetry can be a perfect backdrop for any color, so it’s a matter of personal preference.

Best bar stool color for brown cabinets: Brown is neutral, so theoretically, any bar stool color, mainly other neutrals, would work well with brown cabinets. However, you want to consider the undertones. For example, bar stools with a cool undertone, such as grayish blue, can look out of place if you have cabinets made of brown wood with an orange undertone.

5. What Are the Most Comfortable Counter Stools?

Comfort is essential if people sit on the chairs for extended periods. Here are a few tips for the most comfortable seating at bars and kitchen islands.

  • Padded seats are more comfortable than non-padded seats
  • Saddle seats (the upside-down U-shaped kind) support an ergonomic seating called declined seating or elevated seating, meaning the hips are higher than the knees versus the thighs parallel to the floor. These can be more comfortable than traditional round, rectangular, or square seats because they reduce stress on the spine. They can take some getting used to, and some manufacturers use the term “saddle seat” to describe a rectangular seat that dips slightly in the middle, which has no extra ergonomic benefit
  • Stools with arms are often more comfortable than those without, as they support the arms. Keep in mind that they take up more space and may not fit underneath all countertops
  • High-back stools offer more support for the back than low-back or backless counter stools 
  • Stools with footrests increase comfort and aid children and those with mobility issues in climbing into the seat

6. What Are the Best Bar Stool Materials?

Bar and counter stools come in a wide range of materials. The best material for you depends mainly on three things:

  1. How long will people be sitting? If the intention is for guests to linger, then upholstered and padded counter stools or chairs at bar height provide the most softness and comfort. If people will be eating while sitting, consider indoor-outdoor or stain-repellent fabric or even leather
  2. How much effort to clean? Metal, plastic, and acrylic are typically the easiest bar stool materials to clean, as they can be wiped down with mild soap and water. (Remember to dry metal right away to avoid rust)
  3. Your overall home design style. For every style, there’s a material that’s a perfect match. For example, if your home design style is farmhouse, wicker/rattan, light-colored wood, or patterned fabric works well. Industrial-style kitchen designs call out for metal or deep-colored wood—all the better if there’s some wear and tear. Plastic and acrylic often fit modern and contemporary kitchen designs beautifully. At the same time, leather can work with various styles (depending on the color and stool design), including traditional, contemporary, and industrial

7. Other Important Considerations

Swivel vs. fixed. Get a swivel bar stool if you want people to be able to turn as they sit, either to face the person next to them or be able to see what’s going on in the space behind. Swivel seats help foster conversation.

Upholstered vs. not upholstered. Upholstered stools offer a luxurious look that enhances the aesthetic of your kitchen. If people, especially children, will be dining on them, or if you will be doing food preparation around them, choosing bar stools that are wood, metal, acrylic, wicker, or rattan can be a wiser choice. If your heart is set on upholstered stools used as dining chairs, consider stain-resistant fabric or leather bar stools, as leather tends to be more durable than fabric.

High back vs. backless. Backless counter stools and seats with low backs have a cleaner look and keep sightlines more open. High-back counter stools, however, offer more back support.

Padded seat vs. unpadded seat. Stools with padded seats are more comfortable to sit in for long periods, but a seat without padding can be easier to clean.

Stackable and folding bar stools. Consider stackable or folding stools when space is at a premium in your kitchen or home bar. You can stow either type neatly in a closet or corner of the room until needed.

Heavy-duty bar stools: If the stools need to accommodate heavier weights or if they will see more than normal use, consider heavy-duty bar stools. Some can support as much weight as 500 pounds.