From the October 1998 issue of Startups

How many hours do you sit in your chair every day? Let's admit it--on a typical workday, literally hours can pass before we finally stand up and walk across the office to get something.

Now that sitting has become such an integral part of the workday, finding the right chair can mean the difference between comfort and misery--both mental and physical. Don't believe it? Tests conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that the use of ergonomic furniture upped worker productivity by 24 percent and increased job satisfaction by 27 percent. And 68 percent of the respondents said a better chair made all the difference.

At least you've got a variety to choose from. Some of the new office chairs are sleek and modern, while others offer traditional, conservative lines. And yet all share an emphasis on ergonomics--a requirement in any chair you choose.

With that in mind, we've reviewed three new chairs that are sure to add a little comfort and style (or both) to any homebased office:

  • The TAS, by Haworth Inc. The TAS, similar in design to conventional office chairs, maintains ergonomics as its top priority. It comes in three sizes, so it's sure to fit most body shapes and sizes.

Other features include an adjustable tilt tension that accommodates various user weights and an adjustable backrest that supports the spine. Its most unique feature, however, is that it allows for side-to-side movement, in addition to forward and back--thus encouraging body movement, or "active sitting." Available in leather or cloth, the TAS starts at $400 and can be found at Haworth dealers nationwide. For more information, visit www.haworth-furn.com

  • The Aeron, by Herman Miller Inc. The innovative Aeron sports an original, industrial-style design and boasts total versatility. And like the TAS mentioned above, the Aeron comes in three sizes for people of different heights. Tilt dynamics support your body in all postures as it moves throughout the day, from forward tilting to reclining.

Unlike typical chairs that incorporate fabric-covered foam, the Aeron uses a special material called Pellicle, which adapts to your body's shape and prevents uncomfortable increases in skin temperature. Cost: $1,150 retail; $999 via the Internet. For more information, call (800) 646-4400 or visit www.hmstore.com

  • The ZACKBACK, by ZACKBACK International Inc. Developed by a physical therapist, the ZACKBACK, weighing in at a hefty 60 pounds, claims to reduce or eliminate back and neck pain in users; it has a success rate of 78.6 percent.

It features two adjustable supports fitted above and below the lower back, which prevent you from slumping. The ZACKBACK also properly aligns your head, neck, upper back and shoulders, prompting proper breathing and use of your abdominal muscles. The armrests, meanwhile, adjust in four directions.

Supported by a 10-year warranty, the ZACKBACK comes in a variety of colors. Cost: $899. To order or obtain more information, call (800) SITTING or visit www.zackback.com

Knock On Wood

If you've gone to great lengths to give your home office style, chances are you think your PC is an eyesore.

Finally, there's another option. That's because in March, Beverly Hills, California-based Oberhofer Hand-Crafted Computers launched an innovative line of computer hardware, with the exterior of each piece made of natural hardwood.

The flat-panel monitor, at 14 inches, boasts space-saving LCD technology, and the mouse is wireless. The keyboard features Windows 95 keys, and all pieces are PC compatible and Mac adaptable.

Although these products are heavier than typical pieces of hardware, they're better-looking, too: Wood choices range from cherry to mahogany. Currently, the products are sold by retailers such as Neiman Marcus. Costs: monitor, $4,995; keyboard, $650; and mouse, $350. For more information, call (888) 557-7786.

Antique Allure

Ready for a redesign? For a look that never goes out of style, consider the eclectic flair of antique office furniture.

Although bona fide antiques date back 100 years, today the term loosely refers to furniture made before the 1960s. And while finding the right piece takes a real commitment, experts say the benefits are well worth the effort: Most older manufacturers had higher quality standards, and antique pieces are usually more valuable, a definite plus should you ever decide to part with them.

"There's a nostalgia with antiques, and that gives you a feeling of prominence," says Terry Kovel, a leading expert who's outfitted her home office with antiques.

A real dilemma in choosing antiques is that they're often not ergonomic. "Desks are a problem," says Kovel, who launched Cleveland-based Antiques Inc. with her husband, Ralph, in 1967. Many require adaptations to become functional (and you can forget about fitting your computer inside a rolltop desk). Kovel herself has taken out the middle drawer of an old school desk and replaced it with a keyboard tray. She's also sawed three inches off the legs of a desk to make it the right height for typing. Unfortunately, antiques lose their value after such "improvements," so don't expect to get much if you decide to sell.

So what older furniture works best? Well, chairs can pose problems--and not just ergonomically. If they need to be reupholstered, expect to pay a lot. Antique lamps, however, provide good light and often work well--just rewire them before use. Older bookcases and filing cabinets can also easily fit in as functional office décor.

But you must be able to accept that an antique, though beautiful, is inherently imperfect. "You have to realize that it's used furniture," Kovel says. "You can't go berserk if the top's got a scar on it." If you can't bear such quirks, try new reproductions of the old styles. They're expensive and aren't real antiques, but they're in perfect condition and have the same look. You can even find new rolltop desks fit for a computer.

Since good antique furniture is hard to find, expect to hit antique shows, shops and malls. Talk to the dealers--you're more likely to find what you're looking for if you get the word out. And to ensure you don't get ripped off, check the cost in Kovel's Antiques and Collectibles Price List (Crown), available at most bookstores.

Contact Sources

Antiques Inc., P.O. Box 22900, Beachwood, OH 44122