Which Is Better: Kitchen Island Chairs or Stools?

Lauren Wellbank
Written by Lauren Wellbank
Updated September 13, 2021
Woman on laptop at kitchen island
The Good Brigade / DigitalVision via Getty Images

You'll be sitting pretty with this guide to finding the best seating options for your kitchen island

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Kitchen islands can add valuable counter space back into your kitchen by giving you additional surfaces to use for sitting, eating a meal, and enjoying your morning coffee—without the hefty price tag of a full kitchen renovation. You can get a kitchen island for as little as $120 from the store, or spend as much as $6,000 having a custom one built. 

However, if you have the wrong types of dining chairs around your island, you might spend a lot less time sitting there enjoying it. Purchasing the wrong type of seating or bar stools that are the wrong height can quickly turn your kitchen island into a deserted one. 

Fortunately, it’s easy to purchase the right seating options for your space when you consider important features like height, width, and style. This guide explains what you need to know before buying new seating for your kitchen island.

Bar Stools vs. Kitchen Chairs

When you shop for seating to go around your kitchen island, you’ll likely choose between kitchen island chairs and bar stools. Bar stools typically have three to four legs, sit taller than your average chair, and are often backless. Kitchen chairs, on the other hand, typically have four legs, and come with back support and armrests. 

While they don’t all fall into these specific categories (you can definitely get a barstool with a back and a kitchen chair with three legs), these are some of their most common features. When it comes to choosing one for your kitchen island, only one of those things really matters: height.

Choosing the Right Height

Beautiful modern kitchen with chairs at bar
chuckcollier / E+ via Getty Images

Height is likely your primary concern when it comes to shopping for island seating (with style and comfort a close second and third, respectively). If you choose too tall of a seat, you run the risk of bruised knees. If you choose too short of a seat, you might not get enough height to see over the counter top. 

To be comfortable, you need nine to 13 inches between the seat and the counter. Because island heights vary, you need to measure from the floor to the underside of your countertop to choose the right seat height. Then, subtract between nine and 13 inches. If you’re unsure which number you’d prefer, 11 inches is a happy middleground.

For example, if you have a counter between 28 and 30 inches, you want a stool that maxes out at around 18 inches.

Choosing the Right Width

In addition to being tall enough, ensure that your island seating is the perfect width so that it accommodates all of your guests with ease. You should allow for at least five extra inches of elbow room when measuring for each stool. For example, if your stool is 16 inches wide, account for 21 inches when measuring how many you can fit side-by-side. Any closer, and the people sitting on the stools may end up accidentally clinking glasses in more than a celebratory toast. 

Choosing the Right Style

White and stainless steel kitchen with barstools at island
Andrea Rugg / The Image Bank via Getty Images

Height isn’t all that matters. Style plays a major role in choosing the type of stool or chair that works best in your space. Pick something that will hold up for how you plan on using it; you wouldn’t want a luxe suede set of seats used in an area that will mostly host small children for afternoon arts and crafts, for example.

Additionally, consider a stool with back support if you want to tuck your feet back under it on a foot rest. Just remember: if you opt for seats with armrests, take them into consideration when measuring. You don’t want to end up with stools that can’t be pushed back under your island counter for storage when they’re not in use—unless, that is, you do. 

Remember, the best seating options for around your kitchen island are going to be ones that you’ll actually use. Make sure you pick yours with the comfort of your guests, and yourself, in mind.

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