Humanscale Freedom: Dumb name, decent chair

2008-08-10 12:39

Like a lot of geeks, I spend a lot of time in a chair. Like too many geeks, I pick up office chairs at an office store, sit in them a lot until they break, and then go get another one.

My old chair finally became pretty much unusable. Height adjustment was dodgy (and tended to sink over time), and the tilt was just… All it would do is tilt forward about seven degrees with any weight on it. No spring at all.

I decided to look into chairs again. I went to an office store, and got a chair that seemed comfy, but it turned out to be pretty bad. Specifically, although you don’t notice it right away sitting in it, there’s a support strut under the front of the seat which does a bang-up job of cutting off circulation — this noticably aggravated some blood circulation issues I was already having. Whoops.

So I did some research and decided to get a Real Chair. You know the kind; the office chairs that cost a few hundred dollars instead of under two hundred. The Aeron is the most famous, and one of the big contenders for the product that the most people love and the most other people hate.

Two of the big contenders were the Humanscale Freedom and Liberty chairs (IMHO, very pretentious names). Reading reviews, it seemed that some people loved them and some hated them. The normal strategy with pricey things of buying online to save money doesn’t work as well with chairs; they cost money to ship, and trying a few out, or trying several out at once, is a bit weak. So I went to a store and tried some out, and decided to just accept the store markup as the cost of getting to mess around.

The Freedom and Liberty are both astoundingly comfortable, by my standards. The Liberty’s mesh back is nicer, I think; it felt distinctly cool to lean back on it. Originally, my plan had been to get this chair because I don’t really like tall-backed chairs; they are uncomfortable and annoying to me, in general.

However, I did want to try other chairs, and one of the other chairs was the Freedom, both with and without headrest. The headrest stunned me by actually being comfortable. Normally, even in chairs with a headrest, I lean my head forwards a bit while tilting the chair back; I don’t know why, but they always seem to fit poorly. In the Freedom, the headrest actually seemed to fit well.

The Freedom’s design is pretty unusual. The headrest and back both move a little as you tilt the chair back, trying to adjust automatically. I am not sure how well it works, yet, but it’s better than not having the feature at all. It has many fewer adjustments than many chairs; most notably, the tilt stiffness is set magically by your weight, which works well enough for me.

I have previously hated armrests; this chair’s arm rests may change my mind. They can be adjusted to be mostly out of the way, but to let me rest my arms when I actually intend to, rather than having something in the way when I’m typing. They magically stay adjusted to the same height; this is awesome for me, but might not suit everybody, as bilateral symmetry is more of a heuristic than an absolute truth. Seat depth, back height, chair height, and headrest height are all adjustable fairly easily.

The seat itself is excellent; it’s their “technogel” padding, whatever that is, but the net result is that it is extremely comfortable, and I’ve been quite liking it.

As with many ergonomic devices, I found it took a while to get used to. The back support isn’t perfect for me, but it seems to do well with adaptation. I think the issue is that the magical relation between leaning forwards and backwards and the height of the back isn’t quite right for me. On the other hand, it’s by far the best I’ve ever experienced.

So, here’s my thoughts, a couple of days in:

1. The wheels are pretty rolly. If I were in a less tilty house, this would be awesome; as is, my chair sometimes just sorta rolls away from my desk. But this is easily corrected.
2. For leaning back anywhere from just a tad to about a 45 degree angle (as far as it goes), this is probably the best chair I’ve ever owned that wasn’t a recliner — and I actually like it better than a recliner, because it’s SO much better for getting up again. It requires only light pressure to move either way. Very relaxing.
3. While sitting upright, it’s pretty good, but my habit of leaning forwards a bit, acquired from old chair, is working against me. If I actually sit upright, it’s quite nice. If I lean forward a bit, my back gets sore… But I think I expected that.

Assuming this chair stays working as it is now for a few years, do I think it’s worth the money (a bit over $1k)? Yes. I earn my living sitting in a chair 8-12 hours a day, and being able to sit in my chair an extra half hour a day comfortably would quite easily pay for the chair.

If you look into these:
1. Sit in one yourself. Be aware of the adjustments; some are not obvious.
2. Get the fabric, not the leather, and get the “technogel” seat.
3. Be sure to try leaning back in it. The chair is quite decent for sitting, but the huge win is the amazing comfort of leaning back in the chair. Ten seconds leaning back with eyes closed in this is more relaxing than a minute trying to lean back in my other chair.
4. Just ignore the name.

I like the arm rests in this; they’re well-designed, genuinely adequately padded, and can be moved to a position where you can use them when you want to without getting in your way. A definite plus.

Peter Seebach

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Comments

  1. I've been getting my chairs from an office furniture store, not staples/officemax. I've found the chairs are much more durable and they often have enough selection/samples in stock I can try out several and then order the one I want in the color/style/etc I want. First one I ordered has a 12 year warranty. Gave it to a friend after about 8 years who needed a good chair and got another for myself.

    — Rick Shetron · 2008-08-10 14:22 · #

 
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