How to Pick Out the Perfect Vintage Bar Stools
For those who associate vintage bar stools with high school chemistry labs and past-their-prime dive bars (you know, the kind that sell pickled eggs straight out of a jar…), we have fabulous news: the characterless bar stool is no more! Yes, gone are the backless, swivel-less stools of yesteryear; replaced by cool, sculptural pieces that will imbue any kitchen with major feel-good vibes.
While vintage bar stools were once regulated to downstairs dens with built-in wet bars, open concept living has since launched their comeback tour. Continental-sized kitchen islands feature nooks carved out exclusively for them, making used bar stools a straight-up necessity. Similarly, the rise in boutique restaurants has led to gallant, quixotic bars where every detail—including the bar stools—are mulled over just as much as the wine. The result is an onslaught of new designs, as well as placed refocused attention on chic, vintage styles. Aiming to try one?
When shopping for secondhand bar stools, first decide what you’ll be using them for. Do you have a kitchen island, pub table, or traditional bar to fill? By the same token, how many vintage bar stools will you need to fill your intended space? For better or for worse, when shopping for used bar stools, the number required can be a make-it or break-it factor, since pairs are much more common to find than sets of three or four.
The third thing to consider is your needed height. While the terms “bar stool” and “counter stool” are frequently changed out with all the fluidity of sideboard and credenza, these are (unlike the credenza and sideboard) completely different pieces, distinguishable by their opposing heights. The higher of the two—the bar stool—features a seat height of 28-30.” Alternatively, a counter stool is meant for a lower countertop, measuring in with a seat height of 24-26.”
Features to Consider
Once the basics have been squared away, it’s time to delve into the details.
Aforementioned dive bar and lab stools rarely featured a back, instead opting for a flat seat that left things exceptionally airy. While the look is undeniably clean, backless barstools can be a bit, well, hard, leading us to deem them best for super casual seating vignettes where you won’t be spending hours-long family dinners. On the contrary, if you need a place to tie you over while you down a cup of coffee and polish of a bagel on your way out the door? Well, a backless barstool is as easy to slip into as a pair of backless heels.
However, in the event vintage bar stools are doubling as dining chairs, something a little comfier might be advisable. Thankfully, there are plenty of options that offer plush, upholstered seats and full backs. By nature, dining chair-style barstools are larger, so we recommend saving them for large-scale homes with a transitional, Spanish Mediterranean, or Tuscan-style vibe.
You might not be a fan of doing the twist at weddings, but that doesn’t mean you’ll want to forgo a swivel when it comes to your vintage bar stools! While seemingly a universal feature among bar stools, it’s not an absolute given, so knowing if it’s a must-have is a good rule of thumb to equip yourself with before shopping.
What are the pros of swivel? Well, for one, it adds a casual, spontaneous feeling to a space, as it allows the conversation triangle to shift with whatever way the wind is blowing. A dinner that dissolves into drinks aperitif is no match for a bar stool with a little swivel. In addition, a swivel is just plain fun. It’s perfect for luring kids to the table, whether it’s to do homework or dinner.
When you think about it, there aren’t many options for infusing a kitchen with style short of countertops, cabinets, and appliances. Meaning: whether you’d consider your kitchen the ideal canvas or not, a vintage bar stool is an apt opportunity to plug it with your ideal color palette, texture, and personality. From rugged, burnished leathers to let-your-hair-down rattans, vintage bar stools effortlessly combine style with durability—an important notion when you figure that your bar stools are going to have a front and center seats to Christmas cookie bake-offs, detonating science projects, and deep, morning coffee convos.
Look for easy-to-clean materials like aluminum or metal if you have kids in the nest, or leather, if you’re looking for something easy, but not bare-bones. The master of mixed construction, bar stools are also notorious for featuring one material like metal on the bottom, and a second, like wood, on the seat portion. Our recommendation: seriously work this element when breaking up large, monotone islands.