Today, I have the opportunity to bring you a review on one of the most successful chairs in the active seating category. For almost 40 years, the Variable™ Balans® has been the icon when it comes to kneeling chairs. What has made this chair such a mainstay in our industry? Why is it priced higher than competing models? Is the extra price worth it? These are all questions that I had before I started reviewing kneeling chairs. After a lot of testing, I am now able to help answer those questions for you. This review will cover everything about the Variable™ Balans®; from its history, to its features, to my experience while using the chair. My goal is to educate you enough about the chair that you feel comfortable deciding if this chair will be a good fit for your needs.
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Varier is a Scandinavian company that was founded in 2006 when Stokke decided to make their active seating line a separate business. Varier is currently headquartered in Oslo, Norway and sells to over 40 different countries worldwide. The product line currently consists of about 20 different chairs. All of them have a heavy focus on design, with most of them also focused on movement. Varier currently holds the patent license rights for the Variable™ Balans®.
The concept of the kneeling chair was first brought to light by Hans Christian Mengshoel. He then brought his concept to multiple chair designers, including Peter Opsvik, Oddvin Rykken and Svein Gusrud. They collectively came up with the Balans chair. The name “Balans” comes from the word balance because they were constantly asking whether they felt in balance. The Balans was then sold under different variations by manufacturers Stokke, Hag and Rybo.
In 1979, Mengshoel and Opsvik came up with the Variable™ Balans® version for which they own the patent. The name “variable” was used because the chair allows for so many different positions. Stokke held the patent license rights on the Variable™ Balans® from 1979-2006. When Varier was formed in 2006, out of the Stokke movement line, the patent license rights transferred to Varier. Hag and Rybo lost their patent license rights many years ago but they never produced the specific Variable™ Balans® design.
Country of Origin
Seat Size: 16”W x 12”D
Knee Pad Size: 10.5”L x 5.5”W
Height From Front of Seat: 18”H
Height From Back of Seat: 20.5”H
Overall Dimensions: 28″D x 19″W x 20.5″H
Weight Capacity: 250 lbs.
Chair Weight: 11.5 lbs.
Shipping Weight: 14 lbs.
Shipping Box Dimensions: 20.5″ x 28.5″ x 4″
Original Balans® knee chair
Polyurethane seat and knee padding
Recycled polyester fabric
Beech plywood frame with natural ash or black lacquered finish
Sled base designs allows for rocking
Optional soft tape for hard floors – $49.95
Optional backrest – $199.00
Price – $399.00
The price on the Variable™ Balans® is consistent because it is sold through a network of authorized dealers that are required to follow a Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) policy. The Variable™ Balans® is priced quite a bit higher than most of the other kneeling chairs but I feel that the build quality and functionality justify the jump in price between this chair and its Chinese competitors.
The frame on the Variable™ Balans® is a natural ash with a clear lacquer finish. The fabric is recycled polyester and is available in black, blue or grey.
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Most chairs purchased from Varier have a 14 day return policy with all of the costs being covered by Varier. There are some exceptions though, including US customers. Unfortunately, customers in the United States do not get the same return policy. Instead, it will depend on the authorized dealer you make your purchase from. Some may offer free returns but others may charge shipping or restocking fees. If you want to know what your return policy is, reach out to Varier or the authorized dealer you are considering buying from.
Varier provides a seven year warranty on the wood frame. The foam and fabric are covered for five years. The labor and shipping is also covered for five years. It is important to note that normal wear and tear is not covered under warranty. Things like padding changing shape, fabric wrinkling or fabric folding are not eligible for warranty claims. It is also required that you purchase your chair from an authorized dealer and that you register your chair on Varier’s website. After registering your product you will receive a warranty certificate. To make a warranty claim, you need to present your certificate and receipt to get your claim approved.
The Variable™ Balans® ships within a couple days via FedEx or UPS ground and arrives a few days after it ships. It comes in a small box that weighs around 15 lbs. It was very easy to carry into my office. Everything inside the box is well protected. I did not see any damage on our Variable™ Balans®.
The Variable™ Balans® arrives ready to assemble. There are only six parts and a few screws. You do not need any tools, other than what is in the box. The assembly process is straightforward and easy. The one thing that is very important is that you do not tighten any of the screws until the very end. You’ll want to tighten them enough to hold their position but tightening anything fully will make other sections of the chair difficult or impossible to assemble. I think it will take most people 10-15 minutes to get the Variable™ Balans® installed. I would also recommend re-tightening the screws every few months. The constant movement may cause the screws to come loose over time.
It is without question that Varier makes the highest quality kneeling chairs. The frame is designed specifically to handle the rigors of constant movement. It is made from good quality beech plywood. This makes the frame light and strong. Molding the wood together increases its durability and reduces the chances for the wood to split. It also limits the amount that the wood expands and shrinks. The wood is finished with an ash veneer. It is sanded by hand and sealed with a clear lacquer. To protect the base on hard floors, Varier offers a soft tape option. You just attach the tape to the bottom of the runners to protect the base and your floor. The seat and knee padding are made from high quality polyurethane foam. It holds its shape well. The fabric is made from 100% recycled polyester. Overall, the Variable™ Balans® has the nicest looking design and is among the best quality kneeling chairs available.
Norwegian culture has a strong focus on protecting the environment and Varier follows these practices. Many of the parts used by Varier are recycled components. This includes the Revive fabric. The Revive fabric line is made from recycled plastic bottles, which takes less energy and chemicals to produce. This also helps to lower CO2 emissions and limit waste. The beech plywood used on the frame is a sustainable resource from European forests. The beech plywood helps to eliminate waste because the wood is molded together so much more of the wood is able to be used. The beech plywood is also finished in a water-based, non-toxic lacquer.
Mobility While Seated
The Variable™ Balans® does not have wheels so it is not the best option when it comes to chair mobility. There are a couple reasons why it is important to be able to easily move your chair while you are sitting. The first is to grab things around your desk that are out of your normal reach. Being able to move the chair gives you access to a much wider range around you. The second reason sitting mobility is nice is when you are trying to get into position to type. Being able to move small amounts really helps to get comfortable quickly.
I found that getting comfortable to type was pretty easy. The chair can slide and swivel easily enough to make small adjustments to get into a comfortable typing position. The area it struggles with is when you need to grab something that is out of your reach. Sliding and swiveling the chair a few inches is not a problem, but moving a few feet is a tougher task and is not very practical with the Variable™ Balans®.
I found the Variable™ Balans® to be the most portable out of all the kneeling chair I tested. It does not have wheels, but it is very easy to carry. The polyurethane foam and beechwood frame make it a light chair so it only weighs 11 pounds. The seat is also designed in a way that makes it easy to lift from the back. If you’d like a better grip, then you can use the handle found in the frame, underneath the seat. The chair feels balanced while you carry it and it does not awkwardly bump into your legs.
Range of Motion
The Variable™ Balans® does a lot of things better than the competition but I think its biggest advantage is the range of motion it offers. This all comes from the wood sled-based design. The sled base is rounded but it is not a constant curve like a typical rocking chair. Instead, it has a small kink toward the middle of the base and the curve is flatter than a rocking chair. This gives you two different rocking zones. One zone puts you in a forward tasking position and one puts you in a back relaxing position. Each zone has a wide rocking range but neither lets you rock far enough in either direction to feel off balance or like you are going to tip. I found the rocking motion to be a great way to keep moving all the time. It was very easy to just slowly rock back and forth, without it negatively affecting my work or typing performance.
Along with the rocking function, the wood sled base also allows for lateral movement because the wood is flexible enough to bend as you move your body. This helps a bit with the problem we discussed earlier when it comes to reaching for objects. You can reach a bit further than you would be able to with a rigid frame. But, the bigger advantage is just being able to move your legs and hips around, without having to get out of the chair. The nature of a kneeling chair can be restrictive. Your legs and hips are locked into position, which can get uncomfortable. The Variable™ Balans® allows you to move laterally, fidget or just wiggle.
The one category that really hurt the overall score for the Variable™ Balans® was adjustability. With no adjustments, it scored 0/100. For people that need features like seat height adjustment, seat swivel or backrest adjustments, you will want to look for an alternative product.
The seat on the Variable™ Balans® is a large rectangle that slopes forward. It is a bit smaller than the seat you find on normal office chairs. The seat is padded with a high-quality polyurethane foam. The padding is not overly thick or high-density, like some other models. It is a couple inches thick, but it does not bottom out right away like its lower cost competitors. It also doesn’t get warm like the models with really thick padding.
The fabric is from the Revive line and is made by a company called Kvadrat. They have been a textile manufacturer in Denmark since 1968. The Revive fabric is made from 100% post-consumer recycled polyester. It is comfortable, feels like it is built to last and had the nicest look out of all the fabrics I saw on the various kneeling chairs we brought in.
Overall, the seat on the Variable™ Balans® is one of the most comfortable kneeling chair seats I tested but it was not quite as comfortable as the seats on the normal ergonomic chairs in our office. I was comfortable for about 2-3 hours at a time before needing to switch to another seating option.
The knee pads feature the same padding and fabric as the seat, so they are also going to be high-end. Having the knee pads only a couple inches thick really made a difference for me with staying cool. The thick knee pads on chairs like the Sleekform and Dragonn made my legs so warm that I had to take breaks from the chairs to cool down. I never had that problem with the Variable™ Balans®. They are thick enough to provide good support for multiple hours. I also found that it made a big difference to have the knee pads separated. I felt that having my legs angled slightly outward, compared to close together and straight forward, was a more comfortable experience. The flexible frame also makes a big difference in being able to move your knees around while sitting.
The idea behind the Variable™ Balans® is to open your leg angle and to increase movement. Opening your leg angle with a forward tilted seat relieves pressure on your lower back and tailbone. Kneeling chairs are often a choice for people with lower back pain or coccyx problems. The natural movement that the chair allows keeps your muscles more engaged and increases your activity while you work. The hope is that this helps to strengthen your abdominal and back muscles, while improving your posture.
I liked the balance I felt while using this chair. It felt like my weight was being shared evenly between my shins and butt. I was constantly rocking slowly back and forth, which was much more comfortable than sitting still. I did find myself sitting with my back upright for the first couple hours but would eventually start to slouch. I think the backrest addition could help with this regard. I liked that the range of motion was large enough to allow me to stretch my back in both directions. I could arch and crunch my back enough to stay loose without having to get out of the chair.
What Do I Like?
High-end build quality
The high-end build quality is something that really makes the Variable™ Balans® stand out from the crowd. This is one of the few good quality products in a sea of Chinese knockoffs.
Good knee/shin comfort
The knee pads are large, have good padding and comfortable fabric. Add the ability for the pads to flex as you move and these are up there with the knee pads on the Thatsit™ Balans® as the most comfortable options available.
Good seat comfort
The seat on the Variable™ Balans® is one of the most comfortable seats available on a kneeling chair. It has a nice size, good quality padding and the fabric is comfortable to the touch. It is also slanted at the perfect angle to evenly share your weight between your butt and legs.
Wide range of motion
The range of motion is crucial to the Variable™ Balans® being put in a tier above the competition. Being able to stay active is a huge reason why this chair is so comfortable compared to most of the other models.
The Variable™ Balans® is a great option for people that will need to be using their chair in multiple areas of a building or as a secondary chair in a single office. It is easy to carry and doesn’t take up much space if you need to store it.
If you are concerned with buying products that are environmentally friendly, then the Variable™ Balans® may be a good option for you. It is one of the only knee chairs that is manufactured by a company that takes steps to be green and protect nature.
What Don’t I Like?
Low sitting mobility
The lack of casters will cause a problem for people with large desks that need to get to areas of the desk that are beyond their reach. You can grab your desk and pull yourself there but it is not nearly as easy as chairs with wheels.
The Variable™ Balans® does not have any adjustability. This will be a problem for people that would prefer their seat to be at a different height. This will also limit the number of people that can use the chair comfortably.
May need backrest for long hours
I felt most comfortable on the Variable™ Balans® for about two hours. More time than that and I would feel myself starting to slouch. I had to start focusing on sitting up straight instead of just doing it naturally. If you would like to use this chair for more than a couple hours at a time, you may need to go with the backrest addition for $199.00.
Use on hard surfaces requires soft tape
One downside to the wood base is that it will not be suitable for hard surfaces out of the box. For people that want to use the Variable™ Balans® on a hard floor, you will need to spend an extra $49.95 for soft tape to apply to the bottom of the base.
After testing so many products from a few different genres, I have learned that every product has some flaws. Even though the Variable™ Balans® placed #2 on my list of the best kneeling chairs, it still only scored in the 60s out of 100. The reasons it lost so many points were due to its complete lack of adjustability and low sitting mobility. The price point is also on the higher side and the additional options may push your price even higher.
Even though the Variable™ Balans® only scored in the 60s, it was my personal favorite kneeling chair. It was such an upgrade to any chair not made by Varier, that anything else was just a disappointment. The chair does not have adjustability but I felt that the flexible rocking sled base really helped to make up for that. The huge range of motion combined with the high-end build quality made the Variable™ Balans® one of the most comfortable kneeling chairs I have used. If you are in the market for a new kneeling chair, then I would highly recommend the Variable™ Balans® by Varier.