Sun, 29 Mar 2009

Ergonomic Office, Part II: Chair

Following up on the previous post about my newly ergonomic office, it's about time I shared all the details of my spiffy new chair. I've had it in heavy use for over a month now so I figure I can give a fair and unbiased opinion.

Steelcase Leap Chair

The short story: it's the Steelcase Leap Chair and it is made from pure awesomeness.

Before any of my colour-loving friends get too excited (you know who you are!) I should point out that this is a stock photo. Mine is of course not that garish orange colour. It's black. With black trim. On a black base.

Now, the obvious choice for a programmer's office chair would have been that eternal symbol of dot-com-era excess, the Herman-Miller Aeron. Based solely on the hype the Aeron has generated online, any self-respecting chair-hunting geek owes it to themselves to track one down and try it out. I managed to find some in-stock at Living Edge in Richmond, and having tried it out, fiddled with all the knobs and rolled it around the showroom floor, I have to say: Meh. I just don't get the hype. Sure, it's nicer than my old $60 chair from Officeworks, but at just shy of fifteen hundred bucks I was expecting a lot more.

Fortunately, the Internet is always happy to provide a backup plan, and there were two chairs that seemed to consistently pop up in discussions of Aeron alternatives: the Think Chair and the Leap Chair, both from Steelcase. Good reviews, attractive chairs, and around two-thirds the price of the Aeron – the only tricky part was tracking them down.

Steelcase don't do retail in Australia and you can't find their chairs in stores. They have a showroom tucked away in the middle of the Melbourne CBD, but it's clearly set up for winning over important corporate clients, with fancy frosted glass bottles of mineral water and exotic coffees from all over the world. Quite intimidating, really. I suspect my order was a little smaller than the ones they're used to handling, but luckily the sales staff were very helpful and happy to oblige.

I actually went in intending to buy the Think Chair, as it was cheaper, newer, and had lots of sophisticated-sounding technology. But once the sales guy convinced me to try out the Leap, I immediately knew I'd be leaving with one. Yes, it really is that comfortable. At just short of a grand it's certainly not cheap, but so far it's been worth every cent – I'm just glad to have looked at the Aeron first, as it makes the Leap look like a real bargain in comparison.

So what's so great about this chair? My favourite feature might seem a little odd but I'm totally in love with it: adjustable arm rests. And I mean super-mega-adjustable – they can move sideways by 3cm, backwards by 8cm, and rotate inwards 45 degrees. Perfect for moving right in close to the desk for intense work sessions, then flicking them out of the way to lean back and relax. Speaking of leaning back, the reclining backrest on this chair is wonderful. Just look at that comfort!

Me, reclining in comfort

The key advantage of this chair, as explained to me by the sales guy, is that it's not just designed to support you in the standard sitting position; it's designed to move and support you as you lean back, hunch forward, swivel around, and basically keep your body active and your muscles working. My experience certainly bears that out – I don't think I'm in the same position for more than five minutes at a time, but I always feel supported and always feel comfortable.

Downsides? Sure, but they're pretty minor. They chair is chunky so it dominates the room, and doesn't tuck neatly away under the desk. If you happen to touch the main support pole, you'll come away with a nice smear of grease on your fingers. The price tag isn't pretty, but I expect to recoup that in medical expenses before too long. So really, the biggest downside of this chair is the constant danger of my productive workday turning into this:

Me, getting a little too comfortable...

Fortunately you can lock the backrest in the upright position if you need a little help staying there.