Leap, by Steelcase, $924 This is a handsome chair. I tested the black leather model—which manages to exude an executive vibe yet avoids any hint of pomposity. In addition to looking good, this leather chair is quite comfy. But it does that whoopee cushion, air-rushing-out thing when you sit down too fast. This is an embarrassing flaw, and it also makes me worry about the seat's long-term durability—I feel a more solid construction wouldn't count on the seat to compress and reinflate like this. The Leap does recline smoothly, and even at full lean its wheels remain steadily rooted to the floor. At this price, though, it ought to be a radical step forward in office furniture, and it's not—it's just the same old sit.
Aeron, by Herman Miller, $899 Down goes the champ.
Don't get me wrong—this is a very good chair. Its "pellicle" mesh is the grippiest fabric on any of these seats, and it instantly conforms to your haunches like a futuristic hammock. Many still find the Aeron's iconic style sexy and desirable, even a decade on—at least one Slate editor coveted my sample Aeron from the moment he first laid eyes on it.
But over time, all flaws are brought to light. As I suggested above, I feel the Aeron's look is somewhat dated. There are functional problems, too. If you recline to put your feet up on your desk (my preferred office posture), the Aeron becomes seriously tippy. And if you roll around your office—say, from your desk to an adjunct reading table—you'll find the Aeron's wheels are stiffly resistant to changing direction. They don't swivel smoothly in their casters. Finally, the Aeron refuses to adapt to different sitting styles: The plastic contour rails that shape the seat will allow only standard positions. For instance, if you want to cross one leg under the other, you're out of luck, because the contour's plastic edge will dig into your ankle.
The Aeron's had a fantastic run, but it's time for another top dog.
WINNER—FOR THOSE WHO PREFER HARD, SUPPORTIVE SEAT-BACKS:
Let's B, by Turnstone, $399 Personally, I'm not a fan of this chair. But it seemed important to make a distinction for those who (like one of my testers) have seen the decades take a toll on their backs. If you want a stiff seat-back that forces you to sit completely upright, this is the chair for you. The lower-back area on this seat is incredibly hard, with no give whatsoever. Don't bother trying to recline—you can loosen the seat-back tension to do so, but the chair doesn't seem to like it.
With its sky-blue, pilly fabric, the model I tested looked like it had been stolen from the bridge of a Star Trek ship. Undeniably cheerful, though. And my testers liked that the fabric was grippy, which prevents your bottom from sliding forward and drawing you into a slump.
Bottom line: This is a tremendous value at this price—so long as you are not inclined to recline.
Liberty, by Humanscale, $955 I can't say enough about this chair. The child of design legend Niels Diffrient (who has worked with the studios of Eero Saarinen and Henry Dreyfus), the Liberty is as functional as it is elegant. This sit is the bomb.