A large, stripy, longhaired cat glares up at the camera while lying down on a fancy gray office chair, in a somewhat messy office.
Twila models my new Steelcase Gesture.

About a month ago, the already strained relationship between my lower back and my cheap office chair, warped from a year or so of supporting my terrible posture, crossed the point of mutual tolerability. Every minute I spent seated meant five minutes of backache once I stood back up again. This had happened before, certainly, and in the past I’d respond by whistling up another no-name-brand, eh-good-enough chair from Amazon, which I’d use until it too collapsed a year or two later.

But this year, I raised my head shakily from under my knotted shoulders and twisted spine, and thought: why do I do this to myself? As — neither humble nor proud here — an information worker, I spend the deepest and most productive times of my day, every day, sitting down. It struck me, for the first time, that I should consider my chair not just a thing I sit on, but a literal and core part of my cyborg body. If I treat my phone an extension of my body, then my chair deserves the same consideration. It may not have the immediate consciousness-expanding nature of a smartphone, but it does have far more direct influence over the shape and health of my entire meat-self all day long.

I made the decision, at that moment, to go full Vimes’ Boots on the issue: since I could afford it, I would look into spending a lot of money once on a high-quality chair that would last a long time, rather then spend less money again and again on a series of crappy and hurtful chairs.

This involved overcoming a personal prejudice against fancy chairs. I recall the first time I heard about the Aeron, around the turn of the century. An office chair that costs over a thousand bucks?! In conversations from that era, it instantly became a joke, its presence serving as a signifier of gross Silicon Valley excess: something purchased by clueless overgrown children for their office-playpens, alongside foosball tables and Nerf cannons.

Many years later, though, I had the impression that the legitimacy of these pricey chairs had somehow outlasted this particular association. And so, I polled the friends who dwell in a couple of social chat channels about fancy-chair choices, and found myself a little surprised at the prevalence of fancy-chair ownership among them. The Herman Miller Mirra came up as the most frequently cited make and model. (Now sold only as the “Mirra 2”, which I took as a testament to the chair’s longevity; at least one friend claimed 15 years of ongoing use from one seat.)

I then turned to Wirecutter, a sort of low-key Consumer Reports competitor that I’ve come to appreciate quite a bit over the last decade, and discovered without much surprise that they have their own office-chair recommendation: the Steelcase Gesture, with the Aeron as runner-up. Feeling like I’d narrowed it down to a couple of models, I found myself too shy to just turn to Amazon like usual; I wanted to do this right, and that meant taking something for an in-person test-sit before purchase. So I located two high-end office-furniture stores in my city. The one specializing in Herman Miller furniture did not pick up their phone on a Sunday afternoon, and the one selling Steelcase did. I made an appointment to come visit.

At this point, I started to share my plans with other friends, and with Twitter, putting a self-deprecatory slant on it; the concept still held a whiff of the dot-com, to me. But feedback that friends tossed back proved strongly and unanimously in favor of this purchase.

In the end, I rolled home with one fully-assembled, gray-with-black-highlights Steelcase Gesture chair, whose photograph accompanies this post. I paid a little under $1,000 for it, including sales tax. As of today I have used it for three full work-weeks, and I feel very happy with it.

My back pain went away instantly, as expected, and as would happen with just about any new chair. Beyond that, though, my shoulders unexpectedly feel better than ever. The Wirecutter review emphasized the chair’s super-adjustable armrests, a feature that didn’t really impress me in writing, since I can’t say that I’ve ever paid any attention at all to my working armrest situation. But that’s the thing! In retrospect, keeping my arms in an unsupported typing position for hours every day would of course make my shoulders feel knotted up and shot through with pain by sunset — a phenomenon which, I fear, has only become more pronounced as I get older. But this pain has stopped, and I have reason to suspect that all credit goes to my new chair’s armests.

I twist and pull and fiddle with these new armests all day long. When I sit down to work I fold them inwards, almost in front of my gut, reminding me of the safety-bar on a roller-coaster car. I also tend to adjust them asymmetrically, because — something I hadn’t really noticed about myself before, prior to this unexpected chance to collect evidence — I tend to hold my left arm closer to my body when typing. At any rate, both my elbows now lie at rest while I work, the Gesture’s armests moving to catch them where they naturally fall — and three weeks have passed since I’ve felt that awful ghostly fireplace poker pressing into the meat around left shoulder-blade come 5 PM. When I do feel that twinge starting to return, it’s on days where I spent a few hours in a coffee-shop seat, or some other inferior contrivance.

One last subtle point about the Gesture’s armrests: as that photo shows, they comprise horizontal “paddles” that pivot on rods attached to their aft ends. As such, they jut out in front, which means that — assuming you adjust them high enough — they pass over the surface of your desk, instead of bumping into it as typical of any more common armrest. This lets you tuck your chair in, if you wish, while continuing to receive the armrests’ full benefit. Sometimes I do this myself, and I hadn’t really noticed that I did until a friend at whom I was subjecting my chair-ravings over the phone asked me about the chair’s under-desk-tuckability. Just one more thing for me to rave about, that.

I have no regrets at all about this purchase — which, since I bought new, includes a twelve-year warranty. Today, I strongly recommend that any of my fellow at-home freelancers who have heretofore parked their butts only on dime-a-dozen chairs, and who have the room in their budget for a (wholly tax-deductible!) thousand-dollar office-furniture purchase, to consider their options for a thoroughly body-respecting chair upgrade.

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