I just tested this one-of-a-kind office chair and it’s ruined mesh chairs for me

The Steelcase Karman office chair in front of a standing desk
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If you work at a desk either in an office or at home, the right office chair can make a huge difference for your productivity as well as your overall well being. 

Sure, you shouldn’t be sitting all day and one of the best standing desks can help break up your workday, but when you are sitting down, you’re going to want an office chair that keeps you in an upright position while supporting your back and spine.

While all of the picks on our list of the best office chairs meet these criteria, I recently had a chance to test out the latest office chair from Steelcase. Unlike the X-Chair X2 and other mesh office chairs I’ve reviewed in the past, the Steelcase Karman does things quite a bit differently.

From its lightweight design to how it reacts and moves with your body, the Karman is an office chair unlike any of the ones I’ve tested before. In fact, Steelcase’s new proprietary textile Intermix has made me reconsider mesh office chairs all together. If you’re looking for a high-end office chair that can go toe to toe with the Herman Miller Aeron, then the Steelcase Karman should certainly be on your short list. Here’s why.

No assembly required

The box the Steelcase Karman arrives in

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From the moment the Steelcase Karman arrived, I knew I was in for something special as it came in the largest box to ever grace my doorstep. One of the things that sets Steelcase apart from other furniture companies is that many of its office chairs come fully assembled.

This is quite a big difference from the other office chairs I’ve reviewed. Normally, I spent quite a lot of time putting an office chair together while taking pictures throughout the entire process. This way, when I write my reviews, I can tell you how difficult the assembly will be and whether or not you’ll need someone else’s help.

While building an office chair is much simpler than putting together a standing desk, it can get a little tricky at times, especially when a company doesn’t provide the clearest instructions or you need to prop up a chair’s seat when attaching its backrest. The Steelcase Karman on the other hand, won me over right away as I merely had to unbox it.

A picture of the Steelcase Karman color shifting

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

With all of the packaging removed, I was left staring awestruck at one of the most beautiful office chairs I had ever seen. While the design of the Karman was part of the reason for this, the way in which the chair’s Intermix textile appears to shift colors when looking at it from different angles genuinely surprised me. However, it wasn’t until I actually sat down in the chair that the benefits that Intermix offers over mesh really hit me.

Mesh vs Intermix

Besides being the office chair to beat, the reason I mentioned Herman Miller’s Aeron chair before is because it was actually the first mesh office chair. As Office Chairs Unlimited explains, two of the company’s designers, Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick, set out to make a better chair than the La-Z-Boy for the elderly called the Sarah Chair. While the chair itself was scrapped as Herman Miller couldn’t figure out how to sell it, it became the basis for the Aeron. 

A picture of the FS 360 Armrests on the X-Chair X2

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One of the main reasons that mesh office chairs have become so prevalent is that unlike traditional office chairs, they provide better ventilation to help keep you cool along with excellent support for your back. They’re also much less difficult to keep clean than chairs made from fabric, as you can easily wipe them down.

There are some downsides with mesh office chairs though, as low-quality mesh can be too hard or too soft and it can also be difficult to get the right balance between comfort and support. This is why Steelcase decided to forego mesh and come up with its own proprietary performance textile instead for the Karman.

The 4D armrests on the Steelcase Karman

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In a blog post detailing all of the engineering and design that went into creating its Karman office chair, Steelcase explains that Intermix was “developed through an exclusive weaving process that incorporates yarns and filaments into the weave”. Not only is Intermix more flexible than mesh but it also has a beautiful hand feel without sagging or feeling stiff.

There are also three different types of Intermix available with the Karman. The first one is translucent and has a more traditional mesh look and feel, while Intermix Opaque has the hand-feel of upholstery. Intermix Shift, seen here, uses a combination of red and blue to give this version of the Karman its unique, color-shifting look. It’s made up of 70% polyester and 30% nylon and when you touch the chair, it has a similar feeling to the 3D knit mesh on the Branch Verve Chair though it’s much softer.

Responding to your body’s movements

The weight activated mechanism underneath the Steelcase Karman

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Intermix is only half the story of what makes the Karman a truly unique office chair. The other half involves the weight-activated mechanism under the seat and Steelcase’s LiveBack technology in the backrest. Both of these features work together with Intermix to respond to your body’s movements.

For instance, let’s say someone comes into the room to talk to you and you turn to face them. Instead of your back, your shoulder would be resting up against the back of the Karman. In this case, the chair responds to this movement and offers your shoulder the same kind of support that other office chairs would only provide to your back.

The back of the Steelcase Karman

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When it comes to office chairs, I tend to prefer ones that come with a dedicated lumbar support. Although Steelcase sells an optional one, the Karman actually doesn’t come with one. I was skeptical at first but the combination of the company’s LiveBack technology and Intermix textile won me over. Unlike other office chairs that are more rigid, these two provide you with more flexibility without sacrificing support.

During my time testing the Karman, I just couldn’t get over how the chair feels like it’s wrapping itself around you when sitting in it. If you sit for long periods of time, squirming and moving about in your chair is quite common and the Karman not only supports this, it actually encourages it since it moves with you. 

As light as it is comfortable

The Karman has left me truly impressed but there’s one other thing that amazed me. This chair only weighs 28 pounds. To put that into perspective, the Aeron weighs 40 pounds, the X-Chair X2 weighs 52.5 pounds and the Branch Verve Chair weighs 55.5 pounds. The Karman’s lower weight makes it much easier to move around your home office and helps give you the feeling that you’re floating in it instead of sitting.

The Karman is by no means a budget or even a mid-range chair: It has a starting price of $846 and this can go all the way up to $1,578 depending on how you configure it. Still though, the way that Intermix feels and wraps around you while seated helps justify the chair’s high price. I hope that other furniture makers are taking notes as Intermix — or whatever their version of Steelcase’s new proprietary textile ends up being — could set a new standard for office chairs that mesh has held for far too long.

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Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.