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Ask YC: Cheap alternatives to Aeron chairs?
52 points by ashishk on April 29, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 69 comments
Graduating from college soon, so I won't be able to make use of the chairs/desks at the library for long coding sessions. That said, I don't want to pay $400 for a used Aeron. What other alternatives are there?

Here we go about the chairs again....now I know you said you wanted a cheap chair, but I am asking you to reconsider. I've done a lot of tech work, I've started a few companies, they did well (in case your curious), I've done everything from living off of lintel soup and working out of university libraries and crashing where I can to having decked out offices.....I will not surrender my chair. It took me a while to get a good chair of my own, and I'm a very frugal person, and I've bought things and realized later they weren't the premium...but the chair is wroth it.

Occasionally I get up and move to another part of the country, sell of all my furniture, most of my clothes, so that my move is many boxes, mostly filled with journals and research notebooks, sometimes a few systems, and sometimes just hard drives. I even give away most of my clothes. My friends find this amusing. After this last move, I had no bed for many months, perhaps half a year, and I didn't find it to be all that important until I ran into a cute girl I liked, got distracted from work, and bought one. However, I got a good chair and a desk right off the bat, as the first furniture I got.

I have an Aeron and a Freedom chair, depending where I'm at - at home it's the Freedom chair, and I love it. Last night I saw a ted talk, low and behold, they are talking about the chair, http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/niels_diffrient_rethinks_... I went upstairs and sat in the chair again after the talk, to appreciate how much I like it. I don't think about it much when I'm sitting in it, and that's the incredible thing -- I frequently got irritated with my chair years back. Product link: http://www.humanscale.com/products/freedom_index.cfm

a grand on a chair isn't bad...my laptop cost me more, and it gets less use.

Spend the money and get your Aeron, or something of equal quality. I use the Steelcase Think. Your chair is one of the biggest factors in how many hours you are able to work, how well or poorly your back is aligned, and how comfortable you feel. Do -not- skimp on your chair; trim down spending on building your computer or on that second display if you need to.

If you're serious about your work, spending as much on a good chair as you do on your computer (usually less; a quarter as much for me) isn't begging too much. you can make the money back with the longer hours it lets you sit comfortably for and in the hospital bills you'll avoid from having a properly aligned back. It's also important to lift weights daily if you're going to be sitting in a chair all day working. It'll fix any adverse effects sitting from extended periods has and give you energy.

If you have trouble finding the money to afford the necessities for your work, I am always asked by clients to refer them to coders, and there are many freelance gigs floating around out there if you look.

Ghost of Christmas future agrees. After being quite happy in a $200 Office Depot chair for more than a year, I developed chronic back pain that limited my work and mobility. I purchased an Aeron and haven't had trouble since.

Unless your budget is limited, the price difference is not worth the risk of injury.

I second the Steelcase Think recommendation. I was having severe nerve problems using a basic chair (after a recent move) and tried a few iterations before I was able to get the Think. My problems instantly went away. Moreover, I can easily sit for 12 hours a day, with normal breaks, and I have no problems anymore.

It's a simple and clean design and it doesn't tear up your clothes like the net fabric Aeron. I find that the handful of adjustments that it provides are enough.

i think you're ultimately right. investing in a good chair is worth it. i just wanted to make sure i would not be spending money without need (i might end up getting a used one, if i find a good deal). fortunately im not totally broke, just cheap =).

it's like buying a mattress. you can go cheap but you probably won't sleep as well.

thanks for offering links to gigs too, that's very generous of you

I've had my Aeron for a couple of years now (bought it new for quite a bit more than $400) and I really don't get all the fuss.

It's not that adjustable: control the armrest height, how far you can recline, and the tension of the spring that holds you there. Mine has the newer style lumbar support, which is undeniably a hack. I keep it away from my back; it does nothing but push me further to the front of the chair. My biggest gripe, however, is the comfort of the seat. That damn plastic bar running across the front creates a horrible pressure point and probably increases the likelihood of DVT.

While I'm no advocate of the Aeron, I'm also unaware of any good alternatives. Looking forward to seeing what others suggest.

"I really don't get all the fuss."

Let Joel Spolsky speak (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/FieldGuidetoDeveloper...):

"Let me, for a moment, talk about the famous Aeron chair, made by Herman Miller. They cost about $900. This is about $800 more than a cheap office chair from OfficeDepot or Staples.

They are much more comfortable than cheap chairs. If you get the right size and adjust it properly, most people can sit in them all day long without feeling uncomfortable. The back and seat are made out of a kind of mesh that lets air flow so you don’t get sweaty. The ergonomics, especially of the newer models with lumbar support, are excellent.

They last longer than cheap chairs. We’ve been in business for six years and every Aeron is literally in mint condition: I challenge anyone to see the difference between the chairs we bought in 2000 and the chairs we bought three months ago. They easily last for ten years. The cheap chairs literally start falling apart after a matter of months. You’ll need at least four $100 chairs to last as long as an Aeron."

Re your comment: "That damn plastic bar running across the front creates a horrible pressure point and probably increases the likelihood of DVT."

The plastic bar on mine seems to create a natural pressure release because it curves downward. It seems that such a feel should occur if you've got the right height.

Remember that we're discussing chairs. Everyone's body is different. A single chair that fits everyone perfectly is almost certainly impossible to design. Even the best chair in the world can't expect a 100% approval rating... unless it's custom-built for you. (And, even then, the chair that works best today may not fit you tomorrow.)

Audition some alternatives and sell the Aeron if you find one that works better for you.

My Aeron's big problems: It is a fraction too short, and it doesn't have enough upper back support. I fixed Problem B by strapping a pillow to it with a bungie cord. Problem A still awaits its solution. I may try building a false floor (basically a sheet of plywood atop a few 1x3s) -- a wacky but effective solution. ;)

I had the same problem with the plastic bar and I think it is just bad. However, I am fairly tall and I had a large Aeron chair (they come in 3 sizes I think). So I can only assume that the problem is less pronounced in the smaller sizes (perhaps because the stretch area of the seat is smaller and does not give in as much?). Otherwise I could not understand the hype.

I'm glad to see an opinion like this. I think the Aeron's are mostly hype. They may be 5% or 10% better than something costing half as much, but mostly they just look really cool.

Sign me up for the hype list. I tried one of those for a while; couldn't find a comfortable position to save my life.

After sitting in a $800 Steelcase chair for over a year, I switched to a medicine ball and I'm never going back. It's impossible to slouch, and the constant subtle movements keep the blood in my legs and feet flowing. It's unbelievably fantastic.

Here's the one I bought from Amazon. It's absurdly durable (gym quality) and comes with a small pump to inflate it. For less than $20, it completely changed my desk posture. Even IKEA can't beat that.


It also fits easily in my backpack when deflated, which is good when one decides abruptly to move across the country.

I tried one of these, and I'm tenacious as heck, but I just couldn't adjust to it. I'm curious about long-term experiences with them, but most of what I've read online has been from people still caught up in the novelty. (FWIW, I use a Haworth Zody chair now. I got a great deal on it.)

FWIW, I'm 6'3", and while I got the largest ball size, that may have been a factor.

Exercise balls don't work very well as chairs if you have long legs.

Just 2 days ago i watched a TED Talk by Niels Diffrient: Rethinking the way we sit down. "Design legend Niels Diffrient talks about his life in industrial design (and the reason he became a designer instead of a jet pilot). He details his quest to completely rethink the office chair starting from one fundamental data set: the human body."

Its the Freedom Task Chair by Humanscale. http://www.humanscale.com/products/freedom_index.cfm

I think they are better than Aerons; not sure about the price though.

Looks like they retail for around $800 based on a quick Google search (http://www.google.com/products?q=humanscale+freedom+chair)

i heard about the humanscale liberty from this slate comparison of office chairs:


i liked it better than the humanscale freedom, but ymmv. the liberty is beautifully designed - it uses your own bodyweight to ensure good posture.

drove 1h both ways across LA to sit it in before i bought one online for 1/2 the price that it was selling in the showroom ($700 vs $1400).

it was an awesome purchase - i could sit in it all day. i sold it to go digital nomad for a while, but when i pick a place to live, it'll be one of the first things i buy. jason calacanis' "cheap tables, expensive chairs" advice is bang-on imho: http://tr.im/k490

looks like the liberty has come down in price too: http://tr.im/k48A

Raynor chairs (quality) are sold under an Office Depot brand.

I own this chair. I believe it is the rebranded version of the Raynor Enjoy (once sold in Europe):


I looked hard at this chair. It is a rebranded Raynor Ergohuman:


IKEA has the Markus at USD 199

They work fairly well.


Cheap alternatives to Aeron chairs: Aeron chairs of craigs list. Only took me a week of looking to get a new one for $350 including delivery. Saving $550 for using my dining room chair for a week paid off. Same goes with my desk. Best part is that if I never need to sell it (such as when I moved to Europe a few years ago) I know I will be able to get most of that back. Compared to any no name chair I will be lucky to give it away.

Bingo, during college I re-sold office furniture by purchasing bulk quantities from foreclosed businesses. Aeron and Steelcase definitely retain their value, it's hard to find a used Aeron under $300. As an alternative to the Aeron, you may like the Steelcase Leap chair but they are much harder to find.

There are a few things worth checking on an aeron to make sure you're getting a good deal:

1. the quality of the mesh (check for cuts, etc. I would avoid if the mesh is in bad shape).

2. check the base, make sure you rock side to side. avoid creaks, and clanks. Aerons are generally REALLY durable unless they've been abused.

The issue with ordering Aeron's blindly is that they come in a ton of different configurations. Some have tilt forward, not just tilt back for example. Some have leather arms rests, different lumbar system, etc..

Like car shopping, there's no such thing as a "last good deal" so don't force yourself into purchasing something you're having second questions about. The economy is in the shitter, plenty of Aerons will be available if they aren't already.

I've been very happy with my Markus chair so far. I would also recommend the Mikael desk (http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40079218) and drawer unit if you're looking for something cheap, simple, and functional.

That's the desk I use. It's works fine, but it's very lightweight and therefore not exceptionally sturdy. But for $80, it's not bad.

I agree, I got a used Mikael off craigslist in 2002 for $20 when I was a grad student and it's still going strong.

How long does the Ikea one last? The aerons are expected to last about 10 years from what I have heard. $40 a year is how I am trying to justify the purchase to myself.

I've had my $139 IKEA chair for 7 years and never had a problem with it.


Interesting alternative to the aeron. I have had similar chairs from staples etc... and all of them the seat cushion breaks down to the point where I am sitting on the particle board under the padding after a year or so. Does this IKEA chair do that?

I am not a heavy guy by any stretch of the imagination and these chairs all break down on me so the aeron is something that I am considering largely because of the cushion problem. (also the mesh keeps cool during a long session and the posture elements are nice too)

On the other hand, what necessary features does this chair have that the most basic ones don't?

I was going to buy me the most basic office chair (height and tilt-adjustable, as I guess just any of them) because I don't wish to pay price of something like Aeron and I don't understand what the above-basic chairs have to offer me.

I second this choice of chair. I picked mine up for half price in the "as is" section. To me, it's more comfortable than just about any office chair I've had, and I've had the Aeron chair. (The Aeron wins out, but it's not by $300 worth!)

I've had an Aeron (at work) before too and I prefer the IKEA one, mostly because I don't like chairs with arms. I've honestly never gotten the whole cult-of-the-aeron.

The Aeron chairs do not last ten years per se. One in my team uses it and the webbing wore off (as in, there was a hole in it) in under five. They did replace it under warranty after a bit of moaning.

I have been looking at the humascale chairs (http://www.humanscale.com/) but they are not cheap either.

VDU breaks and good basic ergonomic positions still get you a long way towards pain-free work, anyway. A chair can't fix everything.

Equa XR: Quality of Herman Miller. Bargain prices of Costco.


Herman Miller's Mirra chair is more affordable than the Aeron. I have been sitting on one every day for almost four years and I am very happy with it.

Same. I like my Mirra at home much better than the Aeron at work FWIW.

I agree on the Mirra, it's a bit "softer" than the Aeron, very nice. I have the Embody. It's quite different, narrow at the shoulders, which is good for my current arrangement!

In addition to this question it would be good to know where to go to try out all of these chairs that are mentioned. Most places I've been only have the cheap ones out for trial.

Local high-end furniture stores and commercial furniture dealers often have Aerons, Leap chairs, Freedom chairs, etc in their showrooms.

There's a chain called "The Healthy Back Store" and that's where I went to try out chairs. I ended up buying the Nightingale CXO chair, which I hadn't heard of until I went there. They also have a good online store -- http://www.healthyback.com -- but obviously that's not a great place to try out chairs.

As a somewhat heavy guy (230 lbs), I've found that some of the knockoff office chairs you can get cheaply ($100 or less) from Staples/Office Max/etc can fail in the pneumatic lift system. In fact many chairs at the above retailers have a tag suggesting a maximum weight limit of 200 lbs.

I bought this one a few years ago and it's still holding up perfectly. It has plenty of adjustments to it:


They do have suggested weight limits, but as someone who's been over 300 lbs for years, I've found that these chairs are quite serviceable for about a year, on average. I've had my current $49 chair (from Office Depot) for about 10 months now, and it's doing fine so far.

My take on high-end vs. cheaper Staples office chair:

I used to think you need the absolute best office chair out there: I had some German high-end chair and then a Swiss Giroflex 33 (Model 33-7777... below on that page http://www.giroflex.com/content/produkte/giroflex_33.php), both around a thousand bucks.

Now I'm sitting comfortably in some decent Staples office chair (adjustable armrests, mesh back, leather seat), that I picked up for 150 bucks.

Not much difference.

The MAIN thing is that your posture is good, and that once in a while you stretch and exercise!

Advice for founders and small business: buy a decent but cheap Staples office chair at first (not the comfy big one, but the lean adjustable kind with good armrests, so you can relax your arms while you're typing). The high-end market doesn't really improve your experience that much.

OTOH, if you have the spare cash to blow... a high-end office chair IS marginally better.

"What other alternatives are there?"

Unfortunately, I'm not sure there is one.

The problem is, as far as I can tell, there aren't any, or at least there weren't three years ago when I last looked. None of the knockoffs have the combination of support and breathability that makes the Aeron unusual.

One thing I'll say: if you're looking for Aerons, make sure you get one with lumbar support, which makes a tremendous difference. I've heard good things about Steelcase chairs -- see http://www.steelcase.com -- but they're not cheap either. We talk about them briefly here: http://blog.seliger.com/2008/06/15/tools-of-the-trade—what-a... .

We had Steelcase Think (http://www.steelcase.com/na/think_products.aspx?f=11845) where I used to work. They look fantastic with their mesh back and adjustable armrests, but they're really not that good. The seat cushion isn't adjustable and lots of them broke, they were quite flimsy.

The Leap chair does look a lot more adjustable and maybe more solid too.

Just ordered a leap. I went into a showroom with a ergonomic pro and got the 30 min lesson on all it's features. With the right adjustments you should be able to code all day without issue.

I like the Steelcase Leap chairs (http://steelcase.com/na/leap_products.aspx?f=11852) and the Haworth Zody chairs (flash-based site, so here's a review instead: http://www.geek.com/articles/gadgets/review-haworth-zody-cha...) are really nice, but they're in roughly the same price range as the Aeron. Having more names to search for will help with finding a good deal, though, and while it's a lot of money upfront, it's not so much divided over 10+ years. (In interest of full disclosure: I work with the furniture industry.)

It also helps if you live in Michigan, near where they're produced, 'cos then you can get them off craigslist for cheap. :)

Also: The comfiest chair in the world won't make up for getting up and stretching periodically. The human body isn't really that well-suited to sitting, spending ten hours a day staring at something right in front of you, and typing.

I have to agree. I haven't found anything comparable yet.

About 2 months ago I searched really hard for a cheap used Aeron without luck. I opted for a $150 chair from Staples after trying out every one there and at OfficeMax. That chair is alright, but an Aeron is definitely worth the investment. I'm borrowing a friend's now and it is so much better. The benefits really kick in during long coding sessions.

I look at buying an Aeron as reducing future health bills. If you know you're going to be coding nearly every day for years, the ROI you'll get out of it is extremely good. Sitting in a crappy chair for 40+ hours per week for months on end makes my body feel like $!%@.

I tend to agree, but chairs seem personal enough that this thread might not help: so far it seems about evenly divided between the people who, like me, love the Aeron, and the others who say it's probably not worth the money and/or don't get the hype. A few others have suggested Steelcase chairs too, but those aren't going to help with price.

"Briefly?" You're not kidding :-)

"Others prefer the Steelcase Leap Chair"

Was that it?

I think the best alternative is the slightly cheaper Herman Miller Mirra.

I started using an Ergohuman about 3 months ago and am quite pleased. IIRC (and correct me if I'm wrong), the adjustable lumbar support and/or headrest on the Aeron are extra. They come standard on the Ergohuman.


(PS: drewcrawford already linked an Office Depot rebranded version for cheaper, so please up-mod him too if you found this helpful :) http://www.officedepot.com/a/products/690690/Realspace-PRO-9...)

I've had my $400 used Aeron for 10 years at home and it is as good as new. All that time I have seen at least 5 lesser chairs crumble underneath me from normal daily use. Do the math.

Used Aeron chair... I love mine, but got it new a few years back, totally worth the $.

I tried all kinds of chairs before and the Aeron is the best. Exercise balls popped, cheap ones broke, and standing got old quickly.

You could also try standing up or using a treadmill but the treadmill I have doesn't have a good enough motor for long sessions at slow speed.

A lot of offices are moving / closing often these days, you'll probably have a pretty good chance of finding something on craigslist.

Another alternative just to throw it in there:

The EQ3 Twist chair is interesting. Made out of bungy chords, it flexes but is extremely supportive. I got mine because I've never felt like sitting straight up automatically when getting into a chair, other than this one. It's not in the same realm as the Aeron, in fact it probably leaves funny rope patterns on your butt after awhile, but ergonomically, it's probably better to stand and move around once in awhile for circulation.

At the office I sit on one of those super geek inflatable balls =( $25 and you get used to it after awhile.

I also don't have a horrible back or anything, so take the above two options with a grain of salt!


On a related note, has anyone had problems with cats and mesh chairs? It just seems like something they'd have fun poking their claws into and that worries me a bit about the investment.

Just coming out of college in this economy, I don’t think an Aeron chair is a good choice. I will advice to just get something comfortable; I kea will be a good place to look.

I would wait until you meet two requirements: 1. Have income where spending $400 isn't a big deal and 2. have projects that take up so much of your time where you need a chair to ease the burden of sitting that long

Just getting out of college doesn't fulfill those 2 requirements. Wait until the amount of work you do demands that you get a chair that costs that much. It seems you would have a lot bigger things to worry about and focus your time on than evaluating chairs.

I'm not sure what I'm missing, but what's so special about an Aeron chair? It sounds like it's real comfortable, but what does it have that other chairs don't?

The main advantage of the Aeron is that it is much more adjustable than most chairs. You can really adjust it to fit your body.

Of course, it's not for everyone, but it's flexible enough to fit most people very well.

Ebay is a decent source if you live somewhere without an active enough Craigslist like I do. You're unlikely to get one below $400 there due to shipping though.

On the other hand, I've used one for 4 years now, and I highly recommend it. It really is that damn good, and if there are two things in life you shouldn't cheap out on, it's a bed and your primary work chair, in that order.

The EPRI heavy-duty exercise ball http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0016L8Q3A works pretty well, and is only $40 or so. It keeps you moving slightly (bouncing, rolling), which is good for us autistic types who'd otherwise be jiggling a knee, etc.

Dude, I dare you to get your sitzfleisch on for 12 hours at a time with an exercise ball. Get real.

I've used it for maybe six hour intervals with no noticeable problems.

Sitzfleish is a great word.

I purchased this chair from www.coolchairz.com for only $219.99 w/Free Shipping. Very strong and sturdy chair and I give it about an 8 on the comfort scale


I like the herman miller caper, same mesh, low cost, very comfortable and attractive. well, i like the looks.

Go to staples and sit down on a few see which one feels comfortable. Make sure it has lumbar support.

ha ha, I am sitting on an Aeron chair while I am reading this. Eat your heart out! (sorry)

(edit) Wow! You guys can be very sensitive sometimes. Can't we mix a little humour with out tech talk?

How about a "used" Aeron chair at a low price? They are guaranteed for an insane time, ... something like 12 years. Seriously, find someone who is upgrading to the latest generation of Aeron and pick up a classic that is only 5 yrs old and still great!

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