Branded Office Chairs Part 7: Varier Top 3 – Variable, Wing and Thatsit

In this week's post on branded chairs we're taking a look at an alternative type of chair, the kneeling chair. Over the past 33 years Varier (and Stokke before it) has pioneered the concept of the kneeling chair.

It has worked closely with seating designer Peter Opsvik to produce a range of excellent chairs which challenge the normally accepted views on what makes a good office seat.

It all goes back to 1979 with the introduction of Opsvik's Variable Balans knee chair. So let's begin by looking at it now.

Variable Balans
This was the chair that started the kneeling chair revolution.

Variable Balans kneeling chair

Variable Balans Kneeling Chair In Red

The design is based on a curved rocking chair style frame, however instead of sitting in it like a chair the user places their shins on the front kneeling pads.

The idea behind the design is that it places your body in a much more open and healthy posture allowing good circulation.

Not only that the curved frame allows the user to use it in many different ways. As well as kneeling forwards in the chair you can also sit back in it too. The whole idea is to encourage movement as you work, instead of the the fixed angle of an office chair.

You can even place one or both feet on the floor, there are just so many ways to sit in the Variable Balans. Maybe you want to think something through. Why not use it as a rocking chair and pause and reflect as you rock in it gently?

It's now also available with a backrest too which acts as a support when reclining.

The next development in kneeling seat design came with the introduction of the Wing Balans.

Wing Balans
The Wing first appeared in 1983 and in many ways takes a more conventional approach in its design.

Wing Balans kneeling chair

Wing Balans Kneeling Chair In Black Fabric

It has a 5 star swivel base similar to those found on office task chairs.

The main advantage of this addition is it makes it more mobile when working at a desk. Users can quickly get around their work area by moving their feet to reposition the chair.

Despite this it is still essentially a kneeling chair. You rest your shins on its forward shin support. This support is adjustable allowing different heights of user to set it to the optimum position for comfortable working.

Another thing you will find with the Wing is it has a great cushioning effect as you sit in it. This is made possible by the integration of heavy duty rubber buffers on the underside of the seat. These give the chair a natural springiness making it very relaxing in use.

Let's move on to a more recent model the Thatsit Balans.

Thatsit Balans
In many ways the Thatsit which first appeared in 1991. looks a lot like the Variable as it's built around a similar style of frame.

Thatsit Balans kneeling chair

Thatsit Balans Kneeling Chair In Black Fabric

In reality it's actually quite a bit different, despite first impressions.

To start with the frame is larger. And the shin pads are adjustable in height for individual user comfort. Not only that they pivot making it possible to sit much further forwards in the seat.

It also has an adjustable back which makes it great for reclining and relaxing when you feel like it. You can quickly adjust both the height and depth of the back position. And the shape of the back support is designed so that you can rest your elbows on it when reclining.

And in keeping with the Varier concept of healthy movement, you can even sit on it backwards and rest your arms on the shaped back. All in all it's a deceptively versatile chair in use.

Summary

  • Variable Balans was the original commercial kneeling chair and is one of Varier's most popular products
  • Variable places the body in a healthy open posture
  • Wing is a great chair for moving around your work area
  • Wing's cushioning rubber buffers make it very comfortable in use
  • Thatsit shin pad adjusters make it easy to sit forwards and still remain very stable
  • Thatsit's back makes it a great choice for reclining as you sit

Further information
Here are the links to the full reviews:

And here are links to the six previous articles in this series:

  1. Herman Miller top 3 branded office chairs
  2. Steelcase top 3 branded office chairs
  3. Humanscale top 3 branded office chairs
  4. HÅG top 3 branded office chairs
  5. Neutral Posture top 3 branded office chairs
  6. Knoll top 3 branded office chairs

 

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Variable Balans Kneeling Chair Versus The Yoga Chair: Why Looks Can Be Deceptive

The Victorinox Swiss Army Knife is often copied and yet try as they may its imitators can’t even come close to replicating the quality of its stainless steel blade, which keeps its edge for years. Sure, it looks the same until you come to use it. As you will see in this article looks and function are two very different things.

What is the Variable Balans kneeling chair?

Variable Balans Kneeling Chair

The Variable Balans has a pedigree as long as your arm. It’s the original commercially produced wood knee chair. Designed by Peter Opsvik and launched in the late 1970s by Stokke and subsequently Varier. Its basic model is still produced to the same design and has sold in tens of thousands over the past 30+ years.

Its iconic design has been voted one of the 50 designs that changed the world by Germany’s H.O.M.E. Magazine.

What is the Yoga Chair?

yoga

Yoga Chair

The recently introduced Yoga chair is basically a carbon copy of the Variable Balans and initially at a quick glance looks identical to the real thing. It’s highly competitively priced and sells for just $99, a quarter of the cost of the Variable Balans.

Not surprisingly this generates a lot of interest because people feel they are getting a top design kneeling seat for a fraction of the cost. On closer inspection though, many of the similarities are skin deep.

What are the differences between the Variable Balans Chair and the Yoga Chair?
To start with, the most noticeable difference between the two is when you sit in them. The whole idea of the design of the Variable Balans is its ability to rock as you move on it. To achieve this the frame is made from top quality laminated Beech plywood. Its natural springiness creates the perfect tension in the frame to make moving and rocking easy and natural

By contrast the Yoga chair whilst also made of laminated wood is constructed from an inferior wood, which is brittle and feels dead and makes rocking and movement difficult.

The frame on the Balans is beautifully polished and lacquered to a very high standard. Unfortunately, the Yoga frame is poorly finished with lacquer runs and even areas with no finish at all.

Fabric and foams are high quality on the Variable Balans and neatly finished off, whereas the Yoga upholstery is poorly applied with details on corners that are frankly amateurish.

The Variable Balans is also available with a backrest, however there is no backrest option with the Yoga chair.

Finally, there is the acid test, what warranties do the products carry? The Variable Balans has a 7 year warranty however the Yoga chair has just 1 year.
This is very telling. Why? I call it the acid test because when you boil everything down it expresses the manufacturer’s confidence in its product.

On the one hand Varier is happy and confident to guarantee its seat for 7 years because they know the chances of returns will be slim to none. It has thousands of users with kneeling chairs they bought 20 or more years ago and still going strong.

With only 1 year’s warranty on a Yoga chair this is a big alarm bell, because it expresses little confidence in its quality by the supplier. Of course you may disagree with my warranty argument, so let’s look at what users of the 2 products have to say about them.

What do buyers of the Yoga chair say about it?
Buyers have left some pretty damning feedback on the quality of the chair and although there are some positive comments these are outweighed by the negative ones, here’s a selection.

  • “I had high hopes for this chair. Unfortunately, when something seems to good to be true, it probably is. First of all, the price point is great – but not for the quality… I should have known that you can't actually purchase a decently made wood product for $99. The chair was difficult to assemble, not because of design, but because of manufacture – none of the holes lined up and the materials were very poor. For the first few days I sat in the chair for a few hours, but soon after I realized that this is NOT an authentic kneeling chair, just a plain old poorly made copy. SAVE YOUR MONEY FOR THE REAL THING. ”
  • “Unfortunately the price of 99 is much too high for this product. I don't understand why the producer of this product did not spend another 10 bucks for two addition bracers below the seat and below the leg pads. Really simple. The current product has probably a value of 20$ so there would still be enough profit. Don^t buy this product if you are looking for reasonable quality. I bought some bracers in Home Depot to make the chair work and not fall apart.”
  • “I bought one of these chairs and it has been a disaster since I assembled it. The screws won't stay in place and the chair is falling apart. It's comfortable–I love the concept, but this model is a hunk of junk. I plan to fork out the money for one of the Norwegian built chairs. I had one of those for over 20 years and I wore out the upholstery. The frame was as solid as ever.”

And when you bear in mind many people will be commenting on their initial impressions before using it extensively, they don’t exactly inspire confidence do they?

What do buyers of the Variable Balans say about it?
Here are 3 comments from recent online buyers of the seat.

  • “After I first was not sure about kneeling position, I was shown that changing position is key and that kneeling is just one of many positions. I bought this chair with backrest and I'm now a fan and NOTHING would make me use an ordinary chair ever again!! I LOVE it and will be doing a piece in the womens magazine that I am working for singing its praises.”
  • “I purchased my Stokke's chair in 1986 while stationed in Germany. I just got it back from the upholstery shop. This 25 year old chair is still going strong with absolutely nothing wrong with it and this was the first time I've had to have it upholstered. I've found it to be the perfect chair to spend long hours at my computer while playing games without aches or pains. If you need to sit for hours give it a try and see if you don't agree.”
  • “I have tried a bunch of kneeling chairs and decided to purchase this one. I ordered sample colors and chose the Ferrari Red. It was easy to put together and arrived just a few days after I ordered. I'm about 5'8″ and I wasn't really sure about the size but this worked out great. My roommate is a little over 6′ and now we have to keep it at our living room desk because he keeps taking it out of my room.Overall I'm really happy with my purchase and would recommend this chair.”
balans-chair

25 Year Old Balans Knee Chair

And here’s a comment Varier received from a buyer who bought his Variable Balans in 1986 and still uses it daily.

“I purchased this in ’86! Use it all of the time, very comfortable, can spend hours working with no fatigue. Still has the same covers”

He even sent a picture of it, and it still looks great doesn't it?

Overall verdict
There is a reason for the huge price variation between these 2 products, which can be summed up in a single word. Quality.

Whilst a Yoga chair may be OK for very occasional use, if you plan to make frequent use of your kneeling chair go for the Swiss Army Knife version the Variable Balans. There’s no denying it’s not cheap, nonetheless when you consider it will easily last 20 years or more it represents a sound investment.

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Changes to the Varier Wing™ Balans® Kneeling Chair Mean Less Choice In The Future

wing balans knee chair

Varier Wing™ Balans® Kneeling Chair

Varier’s Wing™ Balans® chair is considered by many to be the most comfortable kneeling chair available today. Its special features make for a different sitting experience compared to other knee chairs.

First, when you sit on it you’ll notice it doesn’t feel harsh and instead yields softly so it doesn’t jar your body. This is due to a novel rubber flexor connection between seat and gas lift. The result is a comforting damper effect, rather than a hard landing.

Second the knee pads are adjustable, so you can set it up for your exact needs and comfort.

  

What is changing with the Wing™ Balans®?
Previously the chair was only offered with a wooden base and this came in natural, black or dark brown lacquer finish. Varier has now introduced a plastic base as well.

Why has the new base been introduced?
The addition of a plastic base was made primarily due to cost. And there is no doubt this has made a substantial difference to the price of the Wing™ Balans® as it cost $200 less if you choose to go with the plastic base.

What will happen in the future?
Although you have the choice of selecting either the wood base options or plastic at present, Varier plans to stop production of the wood bases. And so it’s likely they won’t be around for much longer. Even though the wooden bases are much better looking they do add an additional 36% to the cost of the chair. So you can understand Varier’s thinking on this.

I feel it’s a shame that the ability to opt for a wooden base won’t last much longer. And in fact the dark brown base is already on back order. So, if you are thinking of buying a Wing™ Balans® and like the wood base it’s probably best to do so sooner rather than later.

For more on the Wing™ Balans®
Here's where you will find a review of this excellent kneeling chair and this online seating specialist currently offers all versions of the Wing™ chair.

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Variable Balans Kneeling Chair Now Comes In A Backrest Version

Varier has decided to upgrade its Variable Balans Kneeling Chair backrest option into a standard model instead of an add on component as before.

The main good news of this change is the cost of the backrest component has been reduced by 40% and so will make this version more affordable and attractive for those who like the idea of including a backrest on their kneeling chair.

Here's where you will find a full review of the Variable Balans range detailing the available options.

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