Imagine it's another red hot July day. You have been sitting at your desk for several hours.
When you go to get up, your body sticks to the office chair through your lightweight summer clothing.
You are sweating, even though the air conditioning is set to a temperature only experienced in the Arctic. How can this be?
The thick upholstery is the culprit. Combined with the foam padding, which acts as insulation, the material is trapping your body heat against your body.
So you sweat. Fortunately there is an answer to the problem.
How did mesh upholstery change the office chair market?
The idea of a mesh office chair really started back in the early 1990s with Herman Miller’s Aeron chair. It took a radically different approach to office chair design and key amongst its new ideas was open mesh upholstery called the pellicle.
The major benefit of this new form of upholstery was that it allowed air circulation around the user’s body and so kept them cool on hot summer days.
This quickly prompted competitors to come up with their own version of mesh upholstery and now wherever you look you see them. Many are designed to be Aeron lookalikes due to its popularity.
Why are mesh chairs so popular?
People like the idea of a chair which allows air to circulate and keep them cool. Also the stylish looks of mesh chairs enhance their appeal too.
It’s these feature that have made Miller’s Aeron one of the most desired office chairs of all time. The problem is that not everyone can afford its $600 price tag.
Consequently when competitors churn out cheaper me too versions it opens up the market for people to experience the benefits of keeping cool at work.
However you have to realize that the upholstery on a $100 mesh chair is a far cry from the quality of the Aeron’s pellicle. Good air circulation is one thing, however without proper support it’s not a good idea.
How do you select a good mesh office chair?
One of the mistakes people make is buying a mesh chair just for its looks. The problem is it’s very easy to make them look sexy and whilst it’s fair to say that any mesh will allow better air circulation that’s of little use if it’s uncomfortable and doesn't give the right support to your body.
A number of manufacturers have invested a lot of time and money to come up with advanced mesh designs which give the correct support and still allow good air circulation.
Humanscale is a good example. Its Liberty and Diffrient World chairs both use a special triple membrane open mesh upholstery. Not only do you get the benefits of keeping cool on hot days you also gain proper support enabling you to work long hours in comfort.
There are some people who may find mesh upholstery is not for them.
When is a mesh chair a bad choice?
People who like a chair with a lot of padding may find the change to mesh difficult. The reason is that it tends to be a much firmer surface to sit on. This is particularly true of the Aeron, its pellicle really is quite firm and takes some getting used to.
Lighter framed people are the most likely to feel discomfort. Because they have less flesh to cushion them, mesh can quickly become uncomfortable to sit in. So if you are light built and find sitting on hard surfaces uncomfortable you could have problems.
One alternative is to consider a seat like Herman Miller’s Embody. Although this isn't a mesh chair it uses a breathable fabric and has a unique method of support. When you sit on it you feel as though you are floating. This removes the harsh pressure found with some meshes while allowing good personal comfort for those who sweat a lot.
Let’s quickly round up the points we've covered:
Mesh allows great air circulation to minimize sweating
Mesh chairs all began with the Aeron
Although cheap mesh chairs abound they often have lousy body support
Go beyond just looks; choose a mesh which will support you properly
If you like well padded seats mesh may not be for you
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