Steelcase Karman office chair review
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Steelcase Karman office chair review

Aug 12, 2023

The new Steelcase Karman chair is a minimalist, lightweight office chair that brings together lots of high-end ergonomic ideas, like a flexible frame that moves with you, hybrid mesh-and-cushioning construction and simplified adjustability for ease of use. While the Karman is a bit pricier than most of the best office chairs we’ve tested, the low-profile design and range of attractive finishes mean it fits more easily than most of its competition into home office decor (like the one you’re probably trying to work with if you’re reading this piece). So, we worked in a Karman for several months to find out just how comfortable it is day in, day out — and if it’s really worth the money.

We’ve sat in the Steelcase Karman through the hottest summer in recorded history, and it’s been cool and comfortable — not to mention it looks great. If you’re in the market for an ergonomic chair built with attention to design, it should be on your list.

The Karman looks fantastic. It’s far more pleasing aesthetically than any other mesh office chair I’ve ever seen, managing to strike a balance between futuristic materials and curves and traditional form that I haven’t seen from other manufacturers. And while it doesn’t look like a piece of vintage furniture, it’s a lot less serious-looking than other expressly ergonomic designs like the All33 Axion.

The Karman fits well into a home office environment where a Herman Miller Aeron or similar model would just seem out of place. The range of colors on offer — from sedate earth tones to striking purple and gold hues — should give you something to work with regardless of your decorating choices, and the overall profile of the chair is slim enough that it doesn’t take over your space.

The Karman is also beautifully built. I detected nary a squeak or creak in my time with the chair. While the chair is quite lightweight, it has a low enough center of gravity that it still provides reassuring stability, even as it’s light enough to move around your office as needed. The wheeled base rolls smoothly and stays put when you want it to, the adjustment lever and knob feel smooth and solid in operation and everything works together in a way that signals quality.

Technically, the Karman is a hybrid — there’s a layer of cushioning under the mesh seat — and uses an active frame design that shifts mechanically as you sit down. Compared to traditional upholstered chairs, it has that unique mesh feel, but it feels more cushy than an all-mesh design. It doesn’t have the trampoline-like feel some mesh seats exhibit but keeps the good parts, such as firm support without mushiness or pressure points. Adding to this effect, the frame itself is perceptibly flexible, contributing to the overall “responsive” feel. The mesh is quite supportive — mesh is meant to offer dynamic support that adjusts as you move — but it takes a bit of getting used to if you’re coming from an upholstered chair.

The bottom line? The Karman is very comfortable and remains so all day without making you constantly fiddle with the adjustment knobs. I’ve occasionally switched the back from partial to full recline during lengthy calls, but beyond that, I haven’t touched the main adjustment wand once since I first set up the chair (I have had to fiddle with the armrests more than I’d like but more on that below). I haven’t felt stiff or sore or restless, even when I’ve been wrapped up in writing or editing and calls for hours at a time, which is pretty much what I ask for from a chair.

Overall, this is a chair that you won’t struggle to adjust. Rather, you just sit back and let the chair do the work for you. You can tailor things a little, by choosing whether to allow the back free, limited, or no recline at all, but there are no tension adjustments or the like here. If you need a firmer lower back feel, an additional lumbar support bar is an option, though we didn’t choose this for our test chair.

You do get 4D armrests with a very wide range of motion both forward and back and in and out, plus pivot in addition to height, so the chair should suit sitters with a wide variety of body shapes and shoulder widths. (You can also order the chair as a stool, with basic height-adjustable arms or armless.)

Another benefit of mesh is ventilation. With more airflow, the Karman also feels cooler on hot days than a traditional hybrid with an upholstered seat and mesh back. (I experienced this when comparing it to an upholstered office chair, the Branch Verve, during the hottest days of summer 2023.)

Compared to other high-end chairs, adjustability is a bit limited on the Karman. On one level this is understandable, as mesh in general — and the Karman in particular — is meant to be “self-adjusting” to an extent.

The biggest omission here compared to other high-end chairs is that there’s no seat depth adjustment. While the chair should fit people from 5 feet, 2 inches up to 6 feet, 4 inches without issue, if you are very short- or long-femured proportional to your height and find yourself reaching for this adjustment on your current chair for optimal comfort, you might struggle a bit to find a proper sitting position. In an ideal world, I would have liked to be able to slide the seat an inch farther forward relative to the back for a little deeper seat, but in practice, I felt fine and never felt fatigued or stiff because of it, so this may be more a matter of personal preference and Steelcase’s engineers know better. But it’d be nice to have the option.

The 4D adjustable armrests only lock in a single dimension — height — and while I appreciated the wide range of forward/back and width adjustment, it was very easy to knock my settings out of alignment while moving the chair in and out of position. (I used the chair most often with one of the best standing desks we’ve tested, the Ergonofis Sway.)

The Karman can get pricey as you add options. At the base price, it’s affordable compared to high-end Steelcase siblings like the Leap and Gesture, but if you order with a cool, multicolored finish, fancy wheels and other options, you can pretty quickly almost double that, getting into the same price range as the more expensive seating. It’s still not unreasonable given what chairs cost these days, but watch the price in your cart as you customize so you don’t run into any surprises at checkout.

The Karman is yet another great work chair from Steelcase. It’s very comfortable, with a unique responsive feel that combines a lot of the benefits of upholstered cushioning with mesh and can get you through a full workday without a lot of fiddling. It also looks far more appropriate in a home office setting than the other top-of-the-line Steelcase chairs (or most other task chairs we’ve tested). That said, if you’re very persnickety about seating position, you may want to look into the more adjustable Leap or Gesture (or look at other brands). But if you’re in the market for a high-end home office chair, and you want something comfortable and fuss-free that looks and feels at home, well, at home, the Karman is a great choice.