How to Pick the Right Dining Chair

How to pick the right dining chair
Dining rooms come in all shapes and sizes — casual breakfast nooks, formal dining spaces, and everything in between. But the most important element in a dining space is your chair. Is it the right height for your table? Is it comfortable for the type of entertaining you like to do? Is the fabric durable? There are lots of questions to answer before you pick the right one, and we’re here to guide you through the process.

Choosing the right chair for your dining table1. Size

Measuring is a crucial task when you’re shopping for furniture, especially when it comes to seating in your dining room. Standard seat height is 18 inches, and a standard table height is 30 inches. 

Rule of Thumb: You want 12 inches between the top of the seat and the bottom of the table.

When you’re measuring, be sure to take into account the apron of your table, the wooden panel that connects the legs to the top. Not all tables have one, but if you do, you’ll want to make sure there’s enough clearance for knees!

Once you’ve chosen the correct height chairs, you’ll want to figure out how many chairs can fit around your table. Leave 24 inches of room per chair. A 72 in long table comfortably seats 6, a 96 inch table comfortably seats 8, and a 120 inch table comfortably seats 10. Of course in a pinch or for big parties, you can squeeze in a few more, but furnish your table for everyday comfort, not a big gathering you only host once a year.

2. Comfort

There are lots of factors in choosing between upholstered and un-upholstered chairs, and both have their advantages. A chair like our Constance can easily be wiped down, so you don’t have to worry about spills. A chair that isn’t upholstered is also usually narrower and easier to fit around a smaller table. But if you love to host long, leisurely dinner parties, you may want to choose something upholstered which will be more comfortable if you linger after meals.

Choosing the right chair for your dining tableAn upholstered armchair is definitely the most comfortable option if you have a large table or a generously sized room, but be sure you leave 7 inches of room between the arm of the chair and the table.

Carefully choose fabrics and finishes to make sure your dining room functions
3. Fabric and Finish

If you like a mixed and matched look, you’ll need to think strategically about finishes. You want them to complement each other but not match perfectly. Think about incorporating both one consistent element and one contrasting element. Contrast makes the space more exciting and interesting, while consistency will keep it from feeling hodge podge.

Rule of Thumb: Stick to two different finishes that are distinct but have something in common.

For example, in the dining room above, we used a different table, side chairs, and head chairs. The table has a whitewash finish, and the chairs have a distressed oak finish. Then we have a fully upholstered chair with a skirt. This works because while the wood finishes are different, they both have a rustic, weathered feel. Then, instead of bringing in a totally third finish, we chose a fully upholstered Parsons chair. A chair with a third type of leg would have been too much. Instead, a skirted chair breaks up all the wood and softens the dining space.

4. Head Chairs and Side Chairs

We love a layered and eclectic look and a head chairs are a great way to bring more pattern and personality into your space. This is an opportunity to add in a bold fabric, an unusual shape, and a heavier style to ground your dining table. Typically, we suggest choosing a head chair that feels heavier than your side chair, and this is for two reasons.

  1. At the end of the table, you’ll typically have more room than the 24 inches you allow for side chairs. Most tables are between 30 and 40 inches wide, so your head chair can be a bit wider than a side chair since you’ll only be using one chair in that 30-40 inches.
  2. A head chair punctuates the beginning and end of the table. Think of a head chair like a capital letter and a punctuation at the end of the sentence. They indicate the start and finish and visually look good. Dining rooms are often long and narrow, so head chairs that feel heavier punctuate the ends of the room.

5. Banquettes

For casual dining spaces or rooms where you’re tight on space, a banquette can solve lots of problems. Since they’re often pushed up against a wall, you can squeeze your table into a narrower room or take advantage of a corner. They also make it easier to squeeze more people around the table since you’ll typically sit closer together in a banquette than you would in a chair.

Not to mention, they’re super comfortable! Thick cushions, storage benches, and fully upholstered banquettes can pack a lot of function into a small space.

6. Personality

We use our dining rooms the most in the evenings and on special occasions, and for this reason, they’re the perfect room for packing in the personality. Since it’s not a room you’ll use every day, you can play with color and pattern a bit more. Chairs are the perfect way to layer in unusual patterns, shapes, and colors.

Eddie Ross used a bold pink leopard print in his dining room. The pattern excites the space, draws you in, and ties all of the other elements together. In the dining room on the right, we used coordinating chairs and drapery to take one pattern  (our Mira Blue print) over the top.

7. Mix and Matching in an Open Floor Plan

Open floor plans can be tricky because every piece of furniture needs to relate to one another since you’re seeing everything at once. But they don’t necessarily have to match though.

Rule of Thumb: Have at least one coordinating element.

That coordinating element could be a finish, a chair style, a fabric, or a shape. Repeat that one element on both barstools and chairs to unify the two spaces but keep them distinct.

Above, we chose two open floor plan kitchens and the stools and chairs match almost exactly. It’s a pulled together look that always works, but there’s no right or wrong answer. 

8. Extra Seating

It’s normal to think of big holidays when we’re furnishing our dining rooms, but we take a different approach. Furnish your dining room for the everyday, then worry about seating 12 when Thanksgiving rolls around. That means that if you have a family of four, make your dining space comfortable for four people so you’ll use it every day. Table leaves, folding ballroom chairs, and side chairs are great tools for accommodating larger gatherings and can be tucked away for everyday life.

One of our go-to layouts in a dining room is to flank a console on one wall with side chairs, although you could also put those side chairs in an adjacent living room. Use extra dining chairs scattered throughout the house so you can have them when you need to host, but they don’t overwhelm the space everyday. 

Find more How To guides for decorating your space, or browse all of the dining rooms from our catalogs.

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Caroline McDonald

Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.

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