Picking out stools for your kitchen island or peninsula sounds so simple: Just visit a few shops or browse online, select a style you like and run with it. But there's more to the process than you might think. Arm yourself with these tips to make sure the stools you choose strike the right balance between visual appeal and functionality.
Determine the style that suits your kitchen. This sounds like a no-brainer, but there are so many stool varieties on the market that narrowing down the options can quickly overwhelm you. To simplify the process, think about it from one of two approaches: You can choose stools that either complement your kitchen or contrast with it.
For example, if you have a cottage kitchen, you might stay with that theme and add white wooden stools with cushioned, skirted linen seats. Or you could inject an industrial note with distressed metal stools from a flea market. Just be sure to remain in the same general family — don't try to pair sleek space-age stools with, say, a formal, traditional kitchen.
Decide on the proper height. You'll need to allow enough legroom for people to sit comfortably, and the only way to get it right is by measuring. Determine the distance from the floor to the underside of your countertop or other surface, then subtract between 10 and 14 inches. The result is your target stool height.
Figure out how many you'll need. People perched on the stools will want plenty of elbow room. As a rule of thumb, plan on 26 to 30 inches between the center of each seat. Also, don't place stools where they'll obstruct the kitchen workflow or traffic at parties. That may mean limiting them to just one side of an island or table, or at the very least having a spot to tuck them when they might be in the way.
Road test for comfort. Spend a good while sitting in any stool that makes your short list and look for potential trouble spots. Does it cut into your legs at an awkward angle? Do you feel secure leaning back? Is there a logical spot for your feet to rest? If you have the urge to hop down not long after you take a seat, you can bet your guests will do the same.
Look for easy-to-clean materials. Spills, stains and splashes are inevitable in the kitchen, so choose stools made from materials that can take some wear and tear. Solid or painted wood, aluminum, stainless steel, plastic, acrylic, resin and vinyl all resist moisture and oils.
Stools with caned or basket-woven seats are classic, but you'll have to be diligent about wiping down cracks and crannies. If you go with an upholstered style, treat the fabric with a stain protector to keep it looking its best as long as possible.
Check for quality construction. Because stools get pushed, pulled, banged and jostled daily, you'll want to be sure yours are well made. Inspect the joining or soldering; test the backs for stability; make sure fabric is securely attached.
Invest in the features that are most important to you. Think about the extras that you crave. Do you want the seats of your stools to swivel? Would you prefer a prominent footrest? Don't be tempted to cut corners — in the long run, these finishing touches will make your seating satisfactory for years to come.
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