Sizing Furniture: Seat Width

I covered seat height in a recent blog, so it’s now time to discuss seat width.

You’ve probably heard many complaints, either first hand or via published reports, about the seemingly miniscule seat widths on airplanes. While I’ve never measured the width of a seat on a plane (I hear 18 inches complained about mostly), I agree it seems to be less than ample for a lot of people. I say keep that in mind when you design your seating projects, particularly chairs.

Seat widths for chairs vary more wildly than seat height, from 15 inches to nearly 3 feet in some overstuffed versions. While the latter is a bit excessive, and on the border of becoming a loveseat (or bench), I always want to err on being too wide when it comes to chairs.

For chairs without arms, I like to at least go for 20 inches. For chairs with arms, I’ll even go up to 26 or 28 inches. Why the difference? Many folks will shift and lean to one side or the other in a chair with arms. The extra width allows for the extra room needed in this posture shift, especially as the body creates a more acute angle as it shifts in either direction.

I have designed and built quite a few benches that were meant for one person. In those cases, I’ll go up to 36 inches (think of a bench for a vanity or dressing area). Otherwise, I like to allow 20 inches per person (same rule as with the chairs), even if the bench has arms. A two-person bench is then designed at 40 inches, three-person 60, etc. Many times I will design a 6-foot bench mainly because it’s a popular size.

Unlike seat height, which needs to stay in a relatively universal range, you can expand seating width quite a bit before you reach an awkward dimension.

Published in: on April 10, 2012 at 10:15 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. My husband recently got an itch to build a tree deck in our garden. By a process of measuring space taken when seated and rounding out numbers we eventually made two chairs with a width of 500mm. I have been tasked with designing a bench and stumbled upon this site when looking for guidance. It would seem we arrived at the correct figure and I now have a good idea how to decide the dimensions we will need.Thank you for your clear and very informative artice.

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