The Best Step Stools Can Do More Than Help You Reach the Top Shelf
Our favorites are also seats, side tables, and nightstands.
Updated Aug 1, 2022 11:07 AM
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When you need access to that extra-high shelf—you know, where last year’s holiday decorations are stuffed or kitchen gadgets that you (let’s face it) rarely use are stored—a step stool is handy to have around.
But practicality isn’t its only attribute. Designers love to tap this piece of furniture to add a pop of color, sculptural element, or bit of texture to a space. “I think a step stool is a wonderful, multifunctional accent piece that can be incorporated in many rooms of the home, not just the kitchen or bathroom,” points out Melanie Hay of Melanie Hay Design Studio. That’s why when we rounded up our current favorites, we made sure each pick could pull double duty—as both a sturdy mechanism to obtain hard-to-reach items and a design object. Our list, below, of the best step stools offers organic materials, cheerful colors, and more.
- Best classic: Skagerak Dania Teak Step Stool
- Best value: IKEA Gubban Stool
- Best colors: Kartell Upper Stepstool
- Best kids: Crate & Kids Squared Up Steel Kids Step Stool
- Best playful: Ferm Living Up Step Stool
- Best durable: Puebco Wire Step Stool
- Best multipurpose: Case Altura Step Stool
- Best utility: Hasegawa Lucano Step Stool
Best Classic: Skagerak Dania Teak Step Stool
Material: Wood | Height: 26 inches | Weight capacity: N/A
What we like:
- Adjustable lower step
- 100 percent solid teak
- Untreated wood (may discolor over time)
Why we chose it: Scandi-style steps that are a modern twist on the traditional.
Danish darling Skagerak has been making wood furniture for almost 50 years, so it knows a thing or two about staying power. This step stool speaks to that timelessness. We’re drawn to the Dania’s simplified silhouette, for both its durable material (teak) and sturdy two-step construction. When not in use, that bottom step smoothly slides beneath the top one to take up less space. We love the slatted style, too—reminiscent of our favorite lawn chairs and finished with sure-footed wood legs.
Best Value: IKEA Gubban Stool
Material: Steel, birch, and plywood | Height: 16 inches | Weight capacity: 220 pounds
What we like:
- Cheap thrill
- Option to choose between white or black frame
- Add Stockaryd treatment to your cart to protect (and enhance!) the wood grain
- May have to tighten the screws every now and then
Why we chose it: Looks far more expensive than it actually is.
Not everyone is willing to invest in a step stool that’ll last a lifetime, but if you’re on the hunt for the best bang for your buck, IKEA’s Gubban stool may fit the bill. It’s affordable (we’re talking less than most entrées at a restaurant) and so cool you may have to give the price tag a second look. The casual addition of curves—not so strong on the squiggles, but enough of a wave to catch your eye—in powder-coated steel pairs neatly with the sharp lines of the birch steps. It’s a winning combination that reviewers have raved about (that, of course, and for not causing a headache during assembly like other products from the same retailer).
Best Colors: Kartell Upper Step Stool
Material: Polycarbonate and steel | Height: 23.6 inches | Weight capacity: 570 pounds
What we like:
- Tallest on the list
- Slip-resistant steps
Why we chose it: Cheerful color choices in a crystalline material.
We covet just about anything from Italian institution Kartell for every part of the house: a bubbly or rippled seat, a multipurpose storage tower, and a highlighter-bright side table, for starters. Now we’ll need to add a step stool to the list. Three rungs mean you can extend your reach superhigh, and the larger size also folds up for easy storage. But would you really want to hide this piece in your closet? Between the cobalt blue and the lemon yellow, this unit begs for attention, especially when the sun hits its transparent polycarbonate frame, casting shades of color across a room.
Material: Steel | Height: 10 inches | Weight capacity: 120 pounds
What we like:
- Rubber-feet bottoms keep it in place
- Color selection limited
Why we chose it: For those 3 years old and younger.
Step stools designed for adults may be too high off the ground for little ones to use with confidence. That’s where this no-fuss, budget-friendly pick from Crate & Kids comes in. Take it from bathroom to bedroom as a semipermanent part of their nighttime routine (handwashing, teeth brushing), and bring it back in to set up as a chic seat at the coloring table. And while it’s smaller than the average stool on this list (just about 10 inches tall and wide), it’s still sturdy enough to support parents, too. We’re partial to the simple white, which fits in with any decor choice, no matter if you’re in camp cool and calm or maximalist and colorful.
Best Playful: Ferm Living Up Step Stool
Material: Iron | Height: 14 inches | Weight capacity: N/A
What we like:
- Easy to keep clean
- Poppy red in and out of stock
Why we chose it: Tubular and trendy.
A funky shape in punchy red? This stool from Ferm Living is a small-scale statement maker. If the curves give you pause, know that the rounded edges are just for show and the steps are still mostly flat; you can rest assured that the surface of each has been roughened to provide a stronger grip underfoot. Plus the heavy iron frame keeps this product in place. The Up’s design translates to several styles and spaces, appropriate all the same for child’s play or as an accessory for your living room bookcase. It’s sure to add a touch of whimsy wherever it goes.
Best Durable: Puebco Wire Step Stool
Material: Steel | Height: 7 inches | Weight capacity: 176 pounds
What we like:
- Made with upcycled materials
- Distinct design
- May be uncomfortable to stand on with bare feet
Why we chose it: Not too big, not too small.
Hasegawa may get all the attention when it comes to utilitarian finesse, but fellow Japanese brand Puebco is also worth having on your radar. Using recycled materials, this steel stool is designed to last a lifetime (think of it as something to keep and pass down). While the curved edges may have you second-guessing stability, reviewers have gushed that it’s one of the sturdiest stools they’ve ever come across. The bent-wire frame, which twists and turns into a foundational footrest, emphasizes craftsmanship, so much so guests might mistake it as an objet d’art.
Best Multipurpose: Case Altura Step Stool
What we like:
- Made with solid oak
- Can be used as a seat or side table
- Veneer surface can easily scratch
Why we chose it: As good as a step stool as it is a nightstand.
It’s easy to mistake this piece as a place to stage a candle and flowers; in fact, that’s largely the reason it’s so alluring. This is the kind of stool you can feel free to step on or simply pull up next to the sofa to display a carefully curated stack of books, a table lamp, or pair of tapers. Its rounded steps and legs call to mind the shape of an Aalto Stool 60, and we can easily see it being tapped as extra seating as needed.
Best Utility: Hasegawa Lucano Step Stool
Material: Aluminum | Height: 22 inches | Weight capacity: 225 pounds
What we like:
- Nonslip feet
- Multiple sizes to choose from
- Available on Amazon
- Surprisingly shiny finish
Why we chose it: Clean aesthetic, smart details.
No matter how many steps you need, Hasegawa offers options of one, two, three, or four. But if we had to pick our favorite, it would be the two-step version. Still pretty tall, the slim, foldable shape slips easily in between cabinets or shelving. Unassuming in appearance, the details are where it’s at—resin-capped feet and threaded surfaces prevent slipping; a safety bar that clicks when the stool has been fully extended; invisible bolts and hardware; and a sharp, angular frame that stands out in a crowd.
Whenever possible, designers recommend going the vintage route. “These add an unexpected element to any room,” argues Hay. “There are so many beautiful vintage stools in varying shapes and finishes.”
How We Chose These Products
While we love the style of three-legged stools, they’re purely decorative in purpose (think: holding up a potted plant rather than a full-grown adult). We made sure to recommend the best step stools that are sturdy and, in general, able to support over 170 pounds of weight without wavering. Though that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice looks. Our list includes everything from your classic, traditional options to those more modern and contemporary, as well as a few fun material and color offerings that keep the mix playful, all approved by Domino’s Style team.
Our Shopping Checklist
First and foremost, Hay stresses, you need to think about the function your step stool will serve before considering style. The piece is designed to give you a boost up, but the intended location can narrow down your choices. “If the step stool is being used for kids in a bathroom, you need to consider wipe-ability and make sure it doesn’t get slippery when wet, so a stool of the plastic variety would be your best bet,” advises Hay. “But in a living or family room with open shelving and high bookcases, I would opt for a sturdy and more attractive step stool in a solid wood.” Other things to consider, she adds, is whether you want to be able to fold it up and put it away when not in use or if it’s intended to stay out in the open as an accent piece.
Design and Material
The best step stools are made from durable, aesthetically minded materials, whether that’s modern Luxite, sleek steel, timeless teak, or easy-clean plastic. Wood tends to be a designer favorite, but it isn’t always the best pick in messy locations such as the kitchen or, if untreated, in places where there’s moisture like the bathroom. The New Project Group designer Fanny Abbes also recommends keeping in mind how the stool will appear in the room—do you want it to blend in or stand out? That’s why she often chooses Lucite. Its see-through quality offers modern flair and the illusion of not taking up much space.
Just how much of a boost do you actually need? Carefully consider the distance between the floor and counter, or the floor and the top shelf you hope to reach. Don’t forget to clock how much leverage it takes to reach all the way to the back if your shelves happen to be extra-deep. Most stools offer just one or two steps; anything extra usually blurs the line between a stool and ladder. In addition to height, the width of a step stool and how much square footage it soaks up are important, too. While some of our selects fold up, most of them don’t, so keep in mind how it’ll live in a room when not in use.
Q: How do I know if a step stool is made for an adult versus a child?
The key here is probably a weight limit, and anything under 150 pounds is probably best left to the kids. General size also comes into play here. If a stool looks like it might topple over because it’s better suited to a smaller stature, you probably shouldn’t stand on it yourself (for instance, our kids’ pick should really only be used by those 3 years old and younger, according to Crate & Barrel, or else you run the risk of it tipping).
Q: Is there a way to tell online if a stool will be sturdy?
The best step stools sit firmly on the ground, but it can be tricky to discern if something online is sturdy. Our tip: Look for the actual weight of the stool. Something on the heavier side is less likely to be rickety, especially if it has a solid construction. Avoiding foldable stools in this case can also reduce your risk of a less-than-balanced feel, but rubber bottoms can help the situation no matter what.
Q: What else can I use a step stool for?
Outside of the kitchen and bathroom, step stools can be pretty versatile (and if they’re lightweight, you should have no issue carrying them between spaces). “Stools can be tucked beside a sofa, doubling as a small side table, and used as a good place to perch a plant or cup of coffee, and [they] can even be used for extra seating in a pinch,” suggests Hay. “A step stool is an obvious necessity for kids to help them reach counters and sinks, but the right step stool can do double duty as a side table or cocktail perch in the right setting.”
The Last Word
The best step stools are versatile and stylish and can help extend your reach to ceiling height, but that doesn’t mean they have to be a bland eyesore you’d prefer to stash in a closet. Our favorites range from traditional to contemporary, so put them on display for all to see.
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