Things I’ve learned, published for the public benefit
Hope This Helps header image

Ordering a Steelcase chair – which options to choose?

It can be hard to get reliable information about the plethora of options you can choose when ordering a Steelcase chair. Therefore, I’ve decided to share what I’ve found out about the pros and cons of each option. Please note that the last time I researched this was in 2018 and that something might have changed since then.

Headrests

For the Leap, I recommend no headrest, because the Leap’s headrest is a poorly designed afterthought. The main shortcoming is that there is no depth adjustment, which means that you cannot move it out of the way when you’re sitting upright. This is a problem, because the headrest not only doesn’t serve any useful need in the upright position, but also restricts the movement of your head. In my case at least, it always led to pains in my neck muscles. On the other hand, in the reclined position, you need the headrest to come forward to support your neck as you fix your gaze on the computer screen. But the Leap’s headrest doesn’t, so you end up looking for a pillow of just the right thickness, which can be quite a challenge. The bottom line is, if you will be spending a lot of time watching movies in the reclined position, you should probably get a different chair. Also, if you’re from America and were planning to get the Platinum frame, the headrest only comes in black, so it won’t match that very well.

On the Please, the headrest is mediocre, but more tolerable than on the Leap. It has no depth adjustability, but is positioned very far back, so at least it doesn’t restrict your head movement in the upright position. In the reclined position, you will still need a pillow. Oh, and the Please’s headrest only comes in black, which would make it esthetically incompatible with the white version of the Please.

The Gesture can be ordered with a more advanced headrest that has depth adjustability. It looks promising, but I don’t have first-hand experience with it – the demo unit I was given did not have the headrest.

Frame

Various models have different frame color options, which you can probably locate just fine in the Steelcase official store, or in the PDF brochures on the Steelcase website. The important thing to remember is that not all frame colors that you see online are available in all regions. For example, the Platinum (light grey plastic) Leap frame, which is shown everywhere in Steelcase’s marketing photos, is not available in Europe. (Imagine my disappointment when I learned this.)

If you’re getting the headrest, make sure that the headrest will match the frame color you’ve chosen. On some chair models, the headrest is only available in black (see above).

Base

The cheapest base (only available in Europe, I think) is black and made of plastic. I have no experience with it, but it may not be a bad choice, because it should hide scratches pretty well. According to one Steelcase salesperson I talked to, their durability is about the same as the more expensive versions (i.e. they won’t break).

Then there are powder-coated aluminum bases. The problem with those is that if the paint chips off (and it probably will sooner or later), they can look unsightly.

The most expensive option is polished aluminum. The extra cost over the cheapest base is between €40 and €100 ex VAT (depending on the chair model). It’s what you would expect polished aluminum to be – looks nice, but you can basically scratch it just by looking at it. If you’re in the habit of resting your feet on the base, you will definitely scratch it – even if you’re just wearing socks. I’ve heard it’s possible to polish it with the sort of tools an auto body shop would use, and then it looks like new again. For me, the biggest advantage of polished aluminum is that you can see it better in the dark. I really don’t like to stub my toe while walking by my chair at night.

Casters (wheels)

If your chair will be used on a carpet, choose the standard hard casters; if it will be used on a bare floor, choose the soft rubbery ones. If you plan on using the chair on different surfaces, note that the hard casters still work on hard floors, they’re just a bit more prone to skidding when you move around.

Make sure the correct casters are entered on your order form. It’s very easy for you or the salesperson to pick the wrong option, because the hard casters are suited for soft surfaces and the soft casters are for hard surfaces.

Fabric

Steelcase uses different fabric suppliers in different regions. There is only a little overlap between the European and the American fabric catalog.

In the Americas, the most popular choice is probably “Cogent: Connect” (polyester), and other than that, I don’t have a lot of information to share.

In Europe, most people seem to go for “Atlantic” (polyester), which is very similar to “Cogent: Connect” – however do note that the color palette is different. Other popular choices are Fame and Steelcut Trio. Fame (New Zealand wool) costs about €30 extra. At ~€80 extra, Steelcut Trio (thick wool) is a more premium choice and has very nice texture patterns, but feels rough to the touch. Generally, wool fabrics have more friction, so if you have any reason to suspect that you are prone to slipping forward in your chair (personally, I’ve never experienced it), they may be a better choice.

I should emphasize that all Steelcase fabrics are of very high quality and even the cheapest ones (Buzz, Atlantic) work fine and are durable – by that I mean “will easily last several years of heavy use”. Personally, I picked Fame because it was the only fabric that came in the light grey color I wanted.

There’s no need to worry about how “cool” the various woven fabrics feel. Some people (including some Steelcase reps) will claim that thin fabrics offer better cooling, but in my testing, I haven’t found that to be the case. Even putting extra layers of fabric on the chair has no meaningful effect on how warm the seat feels after 15 minutes of sitting. The reason is that you are sitting on several inches of foam – an excellent thermal insulator. Whether you add 1 milimeter or 2 milimeters of fabric on top of it makes no difference. This rule may not apply to less breathable materials like leather.

In case you’re curious about the Steelcase chairs pictured in my reviews, the Amia uses Buzz (polyester). The Leap uses Fame (the greenish demo unit is “absinthe” and my own unit is “grey”). The Please uses Fame (a daring combination of “grey” and “scarlet”). The Think uses Steelcut Trio (“orange”).

Here’s a European Steelcase fabric sampler that I found useful.

18 Comments so far

  • Thomas TR Rochereau

    Hi Tom,

    I just stumbled onto your blog during my quest for a better working seat (which after long days of research, led me to steelcase), and your reviews are really helpful, thanks a lot for your work and experience sharing.

    Thank you also for your comments on the fabric, I feel like they have a lot of different materials and the official website doesn’t do a good job of describing it. I’ll wait to test again the fabrics with sample on my next visit to a near refurbisher, and if you’re curious I’ll update one what I chose.

    Although I have to say that your review of the leap has kind of scared me (I’m still hesitation between the Leap and the Gesture), as for the squeaking noise you talked about. I really don’t want to go throught the trouble you got just to make the warrany work, and I really fear paying 1k€ for a seat making so much noise… I also read multiple times that the issue have been spotted on the Gesture as well. I guess I’ll throw the dice anyway !

    TL;DR : Thank you 🙂

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      Thomas, thank you for posting. I wouldn’t expect the Gesture to make a lot of noise, it’s much simpler mechanically. I don’t know what issues other people have experienced, but they cannot be the same clanking noise that my previous Leap chair was making. About the Leap, ideally you would order from a place that accepts no-questions-asked returns, which I’m not sure is even possible in Europe. So yeah, if I had to order another Leap, I’d be a little scared.

      • Thomas TR Rochereau

        Hi Thomas (always weird ha ha)

        Thank you for your answer ! I finally decided to order a Gesture with a headset after weeks of thinking between all possible chair models, and your reviews have helped me the most (even though your thoughts on the Gesture).

        One of the main reason for this decision is the fact that I could only find an official refurbisher for the Steelcase near the place I live, so I could actually sit on them (I mainly tried the Leap and the Gesture, though I tried the Please but it was with leather). I found the Leap more comfortable (especially the backrest) than the Gesture, but it was a tough call.

        I should receive it in the next two weeks, hoping I won’t be disappointed !

  • Roberto

    Hello Tom,

    Thank you for all your reviews and tips.

    I’m extensively searching for a very good office chair as I’m working from home always and spending between 8-10h at my desk daily.

    I returned already 2 diff chairs (low and medium budget ones) and I’m finally targeting the medium-high end options. I live in Spain and unfortunately a brand new Please v2 or a Gesture is out of my budget.

    I winded up with both options below.

    A Spanish top pick option from ACTIU brand.
    Or a refurbished Steelcase Please II from a store that gives me a 1 year warranty and makes it with viscoelastic material for improved comfort. They add a no original but adjustable headrest too and I can pick any type of fabric (not leather!).

    580€ with disc vs 480€

    https://www.actiu.com/en/furniture/office-chairs/tnk-flex/
    The version would be with a mesh backrest though: https://spacio.es/producto/sillas/sillas-de-oficina/actiu-tnk-flex-entrega-24h-negra/

    https://www.oficinasmontiel.com/sillas-ergonomicas-segunda-mano/5722-silla-ergonomica-please-ii-de-steelcase-con-viscoelastica-8436576857557.html

    I tested the first and felt very comfy (even though not the mesh backrest version). The lumbar support might not be the best as it’s a stiff plastic but it has good regulations. Didn’t have the chance to test the headrest model. A post from a guy that faced some mechanical issues with it scared me a bit but looks like was a very faulty unit who knows.

    I tested a very used steelcase please v2 but it’s complicated as it hadn’t had the same visco foam I’m planning and was very old one (2005 probably). I feel it’s more ergonomically correct, but not that comfy. but maybe would hold me better for long hours as I need. The only gripe is 1vs5 years warranty and the many complainants I’ve seen about the hinge issue connecting both back parts that snaps. I won’t be able to replace pieces or don’t want to find a place to do it in Barcelona.

    What’s your opinion on those ?

    Thank you!
    Roberto.

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      Yeah, the hinges are definitely a problem. I would probably only buy a Please with a 5-year warranty OR if the price was really good, so I wouldn’t regret it too much if the hinges snapped.

    • Gonzalo

      Hi Roberto,

      I’m in a very similar position to yours. I live in Spain, with a budget of 500€ approx. I cannot deciding what to buy.

      May I ask which chair did you end up buying and from which store?

      Thanks,
      Gonzalo

  • Chair Buyer

    Hey Tom,

    just wanted to know if you know perhaps of a good place to buy used or refurbished Steelcase chairs, especially the Leap? I am from Germany and since we are “country neighbors” I thought maybe you know a website or simmilir. I cannot find any good offers locally or on local used markets!

    Also thank you for the website, I really appreciate your reviews!

    Cheers

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      Unfortunately not. I think Steelcase chairs aren’t very popular in Germany. You have to set an alert on eBay and wait…

    • Thomas R

      We’re not exactly “country neighbors”, if you ever have a chance to go to France, there are multiple official refurbishers around the country where you can test most if not all Steelcase chairs. That’s actually the main reason why I decided to buy a new one !

  • Collin

    I don’t understand something. In the US, all I can think about are German chairs. And in Europe, all you guys can think about are US chairs (Herman Miller, Steelcase, Humanscale). Never mind Klober, Konig+Neurath, Wilkhahn, Interstuhl, etc.

    I’ve tried a lot of chairs, and by “tried” I don’t mean I sat on them in a showroom for 5 minutes. I’ve personally purchased used examples of all the below chairs, and kept them around the house for at least a few days before selling them again. I think the word “used” is critical–as a chair that has been used and abused will really reveal its flaws:

    1) 4 Steelcase Leap V2’s. Two were 2007 models. One was a Leap Plus from 2013. Latest one is a 2015 model.

    2) Humanscale Liberty (forgot date)

    3) Knoll ReGeneration (2017)

    4) Knoll Generation (2015)

    5) Steelcase Think (2005, v1) as well as the v2 version (forgot date)

    6) Steelcase Amia (2015), 2 of them.

    7) Herman Miller Sayl

    8) Herman Miller Celle (2006), 2 of them.

    9) Herman Miller Embody (personal chair, 2020).

    10) Herman Miller Mirra 1 (forgot date)

    11) Haworth Very (2015), 2 of them

    12) Interstuhl 262S (2005), the “James Bond” chair that is found in numerous spy/action movies

    13) Kimball/Konig+Neurath Skye (2005 and 2006)

    Of all these chairs I’ve tried–only one chair has actually stood out from the crowd. It was the Kimball Skye chairs. I just cannot get over the absolutely massive synchronized recline range of the Kimball Skye. The massive recline range, at its limit, can be used as a sleeping position (no kidding). The synchronized recline mechanism and externally located pivot points on the aluminum perimeter of the Kimball Skye are works of art. The recline tension is provided by a complex struts and coil-spring system underneath the chair. It looks like a suspension component from an old Volkswagen.

    The Kimball Skye really blows my previous favorite chair (Embody) out the water. The Skye feels reminiscent of the Embody in terms of their smooth recline mechanisms but the major, positive difference in favor of the Skye is that it just keeps on reclining back, and back, and back.

    I performed some informal hip angle measurements, and found that the Embody could hit about 130 degrees. The Skye hit 160 degrees.

    I think it would be interesting if you were able to find a used Konig+Neurath Skye chair and reviewed it. I think it would easily satisfy the “Tom Test:”

    Easy changing between at least two positions (near-upright and reclined): Yes.

    Lumbar support: Yes, infinitely adjustable vertically-caged lumbar pad.

    Backrest should adapt to your back: Pass. The hinge + mesh cradles your back brilliantly.

    Seatpan must not be too long: Pass.

    Micromovements: Great. Smooth backrest mechanism, springy feel from gas struts-coil spring system.

    Armrests (if you care about them): Yes, highly adjustable.

    At the very least, I’d be interested in reviews of the European marquees–I’m curious why you exclusively stuck with the American brands instead of reviewing something from the far greater number of major European ergonomic chair companies.

    • Collin

      Forgot to mention, but I also have a Wilkhahn 211/FS in my garage right now. Add that to the list of chairs I’ve personally purchased and trialed, at home, for extended periods of time.

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      Collin,

      That’s an impressive list of chairs – maybe you could start a blog and review them. 🙂

      When I was doing my testing, I did try out some European chairs, including models from Sedus (borrowed and tested two models), Wilkhahn, Sitag. But they didn’t work for me in terms of value for money.

      For whatever reason, American chairs are more popular and more easily available. For example, try finding a single YouTube video demonstrating your favorite chair – the Kimball Skye. Now do a search on any Steelcase chair. Many of these European brands have minuscule sales compared to HM or Steelcase. If they have any popularity, it’s in their home markets (e.g. Sedus in German-speaking Europe). I couldn’t buy a Kimball Skye chair in Poland.

      PS. If you like comfy chairs with extreme recline angles, consider the Sedus Open Up if you can get your hands on it. I’ve mentioned it before in the comments. I haven’t reviewed it, because it’s a niche, expensive product with poor global availability.

      • K J

        Hi Tomasz,

        Thanks for your recommendations — really useful.

        I just wanted to follow up about the Sedus Open Up (not the modern classic version). It’s got reasonable availability at a phenomenally cheap price where I am. Would you be able to provide your brief take on the chair? You say that it’s comfy (and it certainly looks like it would be from the brochure) but what are the glaring downsides?

        Warmly,
        K

        • Tomasz P. Szynalski

          Interesting, and where might you be?

          I believe I’ve said a few things about it in the comments on the other pages. The backrest is very well designed, with a cool high-quality mesh that supports your entire back (very evenly distributed support for me, unlike any other chair; of course, YMMV). Recline range is extreme (you could probably fall asleep in it). Good thermals due to mesh back. Supports your lumbar area throughout the recline range (no lumbar gap), which is rare. Best headrest I’ve tried. Good workmanship. Silent. Glaring downsides? Not enough armrest adjustability (can’t rest your arms while typing). It has a smooth mechanism, which means changing positions (typing vs. media consumption) requires locking/unlocking the backrest or changing the tension setting. Well, not exactly – if you stretch your arms behind your head, it will recline without any tension changes. It’s very responsive. If I had the space and could snag one for cheap, I’d get one just to watch movies/play videogames in it. The Leap is better for actual work, not to mention a lot cheaper.

          • Lewis

            By poor armrest adjustability do you mean it doesn’t have the 4D slide back and forward feature? Main concern for me is armrest height, looks like the Open Up does 620mm from the ground as a minimum. I forget how low the Leap V2 can go.

    • Lewis

      Collin, if you ever see this, what was the lowest armrest height possible (from the ground) on the Skye chair?

      One of the reasons I like the Leap style is that they can go very low, which is good when you are short and have adjusted your desk height to match.

  • François

    Hello Tom.

    Any chance that you review one of these high-end gaming chairs?

    I am not talking about the ones with a lumbar pillow (which I don’t think can be any good), but about the ones with an adjustable internal lumbar support, such as the Secretlab Titan, Maxnomic Office, the Noblechairs Hero or the Razer Iskur (this last one has a different mechanism).

    I personally have a Steelcase Think V2 and a Maxnomic Classic Office. I have used the Maxnomic for a week weeks and got a severe back pain (one the two bottommost vertebrae), so I switched back to the Think.

    But I don’t really understand why the Maxnomic chair gave me this back pain: I feel comfortable inside for the first few hours, and the lumbar support seems to do its job by slightly bending outward the lower part of the chair back panel. (I tried various adjustments of the seating position or the lumbar support knob) I am a software developer working 8 – 10 hours a day in front of the computer.

    On the other side, a friend of mine told me that his back pain disappeared after switching to a Secretlabs Titan. The designs of both these gaming chair look very close, with exactly the same lumbar support mechanism (they may come from the same part supplier), the same features and a similar “firm” seating.

    It’s very difficult to find objective, non-sponsored reviews of these chairs on the web. The brands are quite skilled at digital marketing and distribute their products for free to influencers.

    Thanks for your website and advices!

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      Hi François,
      Sorry, I have no plans to review more chairs. I think anybody who has read my blog posts is well-prepared to choose a good chair for themselves. As I always say, you have to try before you buy — there are too many variables. The fact that your friend is comfortable in a similar chair doesn’t mean you will be.

Leave a Reply to Thomas R