Modern office chairs have grown far too complicated. Their underbellies have sprouted gnarly forests of knobs and levers. Their instruction manuals have thickened into tomes. On occasion, new chairs are equipped with explanatory CD-ROMs. This is absurd: Since when have we needed an animated schematic to teach us how to sit on our keisters?
Answer: Roughly since 1994—the year of the Aeron.
The debut of the Herman Miller Aeron chair revolutionized office furniture. Where executive chairs had once flaunted their acres of sumptuous, buttery leather, the Aeron was a sleek skeleton of metal and mesh. All interlocking parts and ergonomic contours. It was the perfect techno-throne for the Internet age, and in the past decade it's taken its place among the most well-known chairs in history—as recognizable as an Eames or an Adirondack.
But all fashion is fleeting. The Aeron is looking very ante-millennial these days. While its presence behind a CEO's desk once conveyed dynamism and with-it-ness, today it suggests that the office may be due for redecoration. There's precedent for this: Remember when the high-tech, overdesigned Nike sneakers of the late-1990s/early-2000s got gradually out-cooled by throwback Pumas? I predict the Aeron will likewise step aside as a slew of simpler, less nerdy office chairs ascend.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Aeron still remains a spectacular success, sales-wise. And my mission here is not to trend-forecast. It's to find the best desk chair out there. With this in mind, I recently tried out six popular office-chair models at a variety of price points. I brought each chair into Slate's D.C. bureau to be tested—over a period of several weeks—under real-world office conditions. I assessed the chairs based on comfort, how well they adapted to multiple postures, their maneuverability around the floor, and their aesthetics, among other factors. I conducted what office managers term a "chair rodeo," asking Slatesters to try the chairs in succession and then to carefully rank their favorites. By the end of my trials, each chair had been sat on by at least seven different asses. (Or, as they prefer to be called, Slate editors.)
So, which chair is best? My findings, from worst to first:
Cachet, by Steelcase, $508 This is glorified lawn furniture. There's no cushioning here—only hard plastic, which (as you might expect) looks, feels, and very much smells like plastic. The design also steals the classic lawn-chair look, with its slatted construction. Unfortunately, as with lawn chairs, your thighs get uncomfortably extruded between those rough ribbons. One of my heavier testers (a 200-pound guy, give or take) reported that the Cachet was almost unwilling to hold his weight. This thing just feels cheaply made. Five-hundy for a lawn chair with wheels? No thanks.
Celle, by Herman Miller, $629 A lower-cost alternative from the maker of the Aeron, the Celle (pronounced "sell-a") turned out to be the Cachet's stiffest competition. By that I mean: 1) It's really stiff—with padding that is thin and hard, and 2) It sucked almost as bad. This chair is, in a word, unforgiving. The moment I sat down I wished to stand up. The tiny nubs on the chair's back pad prod into your spine, as though it were a torture device rather than a piece of task-oriented furniture. The Celle seems reluctant to recline at all, and it gets quite tippy if you force the issue. Its best feature might be its ample size and sturdiness: One Slate ster described it as a "double-wide big boy," and indeed, it appears it could easily handle an XXX-L office worker.
VERY GOOD, BUT NOT SUPERB: