Over the past few years, mesh ergonomic chairs have become wildly popular, but are they comfortable and should you consider purchasing one if you're seeking a good office chair? Here's what you should know before you buy.
Mesh is popular for fairly obvious reasons; constant airflow keeps you cool and these chairs can be very nice looking. What level of support you get depends on the mesh used and the overall design of the chair. Let's discuss chair backs first. A good ergonomic chair offers support for your lumbar region. Some mesh chairs lack lumbar support. The balance either use a mechanical lumbar support (Nightingale CXO, Knoll Life and the ErgoCraft USA ECO7 are good examples) or shape the chair back in such a fashion that it supports the lumbar region (Humanscale Liberty, Ergohuman mesh chair and the Eurotech Apollo MT9400). The best example of the latter type of lumbar support is the Humanscale Liberty Chair. The 3-panel shape and the stiffer mesh combine to offer excellent support that moves when you move. Compare this to the mechanical lumbar support of the Nightingale CXO which offers an adjustable gel cushion you position where you want it to be. Either approach can be comfortable and supportive.
When it comes to mesh seats, comfort is easier to discuss in ergonomic terms. A great chair seat contours to your body to spread your body weight across a larger area, reducing the pressure that your hips, buttocks and spine incur. A stiffer mesh will not spread your weight and is a poor choice for someone who sits for long hours each day. A softer mesh will give better, but may stretch and sag over time. For these reasons, few of the better chair designers will produce a chair with a mesh seat, and most mesh chairs are offered with an upholstered seat.
A bigger potential problem with a mesh seat lies with the plastic frame many use. When sitting in your chair your knees should be somewhat lower than your hips (raise or lower your seat height to accomplish this). However many chairs use a synchro-tilt mechanism that causes the seat to rock backwards with the chair back which raises the front lip of the seat. This can cause pressure on the back of your thighs and reduces blood flow to your lower legs. This hard edge can also be very uncomfortable if you like to perch forward in your seat. One mesh seat chair that does not have this problem is the Knoll Life Chair which has a waterfall seat front and a flexible edge that moves downward as you lean forward.
In summary an all mesh chair can be a good choice for a conference room or as home office chairs where users are not often sitting for long hours on a daily basis. The balance of users will benefit from considering the combination of a mesh back with lumbar support combined with a contoured, upholstered seat.