The 6 Best Dining Chairs, as Seen in Our Favorite Spaces
Designers and DIYers reveal their shopping (and styling!) secrets.
Published Nov 5, 2021 1:05 AM
Dining chairs aren’t the typical first-apartment purchase. You wouldn’t live without a mattress (you need to sleep!) or a sofa (where else would you slurp instant ramen while watching The Bachelorette?), but dining room furniture never feels as essential. That is unless you want to host people for brunch—or just eat at an actual table every once in a while. Come to think of it, investing in dining chairs is crucial.
Now for the fun part: It’s time to play Goldilocks and choose the perfect set for you. While the best get-togethers start with a killer playlist and free-flowing wine, comfortable chairs that invite guests to linger long after dessert, when the plates are left with nothing but a few crumbs, are the unsung heroes of any dinner party. Aesthetics, of course, has its own role to play. If you’re ready to graduate from the sofa to the dinner table and buy a real set of the best dining chairs, read on for answers from designers and DIYers to that age-old question: How do you pick out the perfect seat?
- The smooth operator: CB2 Lisette Gray Dining Chair
- The durable chameleon: Resto Chair, Division 12
- The dinner-party companion: RoveConcepts Angelo Chair
- The old soul: Interior Define Hollis Chair
- The trendy one: Industry West Cane Armchair
- The statement silhouette: Menuspace Afteroom Dining Chair
The Smooth Operator: CB2 Lisette Gray Dining Chair
Arms: Yes | Seat height: 18.5 inches | Material: Linen upholstery
When designer Abbie Naber was tasked with furnishing an entire SoCal home, the dining table chairs had to nail the trifecta of style, price, and sensibility. “We chose the Lisette because it hit the mark on many levels for us: comfortability—its fabric had a bit of cushion to it and arms were a requirement—and color—forgiving yet still light, like the palette of the space,” she offers. The best part, though, may be the unexpected silhouette, which Naber describes as modern but not too predictable.
What we like:
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The Durable Chameleon: Division 12 Resto Chair
Arms: No | Seat height: 19 inches | Material: White oak, stained oak, or recycled HDPE
The biggest draw of Division 12’s Resto is the customization. “The brand offers an extensive list of options, and it was a fun way to add color in a place that sometimes is more muted,” recalls designer Regan Baker of a dining area she worked on in a San Francisco home. After playing with a bunch of options, she landed on mint for the frame and a yellow plaid cushion fabric that could sustain wear and tear from kids. “In general, the Resto chairs are a great fit for somewhere where durability is key,” adds Baker, noting that the company is a commercial brand typically tapped for restaurants.
What we like:
The Dinner-Party Companion: RoveConcepts Angelo Chair
Arms: No | Seat height: 19.5 inches | Material: Velvet upholstery on steel or brass
Designer Zoe Feldman knew her clients needed plush places to post up for long, boozy dinner gatherings. After considering multiple pieces, she settled on the Angelo chair by RoveConcepts for a few reasons. “We wanted a color that was not already represented, but also didn’t feel like a complete departure,” explains Feldman, noting the moody paint color and depth of the wallpaper. “Blush is a wonderful neutral that gives the space some welcome lightness, delicacy, and a quiet pop of color.” The curvy frame also gives it a soft touch of femininity that was not only an aesthetic win but, paired with the velvet upholstery pulled over a high-density foam seat, won points on comfortability, too.
What we like:
The Old Soul: Interior Define Hollis Chair
Arms: Yes | Seat height: 19 inches | Material: Varies
In need of some Art Deco glamour, Joy Cho picked these golden darlings for their vintage appeal. “I love the mix of structure in the legs with the softness of the seat and back,” says the Oh Joy! founder and creative director, who went with two different colors for a blended look. It was the unique contours that sold her: She would usually favor armless dining chairs for a casual breakfast nook or formal dining arrangement, but Cho loved how the frame baked that construction into the crescent-shaped back. “There’s an option for a rest if you want it, without it being too large or interfering with the ability to push the chair close into the table when not in use,” she adds.
What we like:
The Trendy One: Industry West Cane Armchair
Arms: Yes | Seat height: 17.25 inches | Material: Ash and cane
DIYer Brit Arnesen of Britdotdesign always envisioned cane chairs when she began converting her garage into an open-concept living room, complete with a terrazzo fireplace and dining area. “I didn’t necessarily have any preferences in terms of shape or dimensions, because I planned to build a table to go with them,” she shares. Industry West’s cane armchair is even closer to her vision than she expected to find (and the $160 T.J. Maxx ones she landed on). Though the natural colorway is no longer available, the mid-century frame adds beautiful contrast in the black and green painted ash wood. If you can’t splurge on a set of classic Cesca chairs, why not give this contemporary twist a try?
What we like:
The Statement Silhouette: Menuspace Afteroom Dining Chair
Arms: No | Seat height: 18 inches | Material: Walnut veneer or upholstered and steel
If you’re searching for something unexpected to wow guests, consider Menuspace’s Afteroom chairs. “We love that they feel like little elegant characters,” says Russell Whitehead of London-based firm 2LG Studio, who paired the steel-framed stunners with a sculptural table created in collaboration with jesmonite artist Olivia Aspinal in his and Jordan Cluroe’s own dining room–slash-workspace. “We needed dining chairs that could hold their own but have a lighter appearance to play against the solid shape of the table leg,” he says. “Their slim-line, playful shape is the perfect complement, and the options on upholstery allowed a level of freedom to bring these in line with our color palette.”
What we like:
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Size: Dining chairs come in all shapes and sizes, but determining the right dimensions for your room depends most on your existing dining table. Ergonomics is pretty important to eating—no one wants to feel like they’re in need of a booster when sitting down or bruising their knees every time they have to get up—so be sure to account for ample leg and lap room when taking measurements. For a standard table, the seat height these designers went with fell anywhere between 17 and nearly 20 inches. Though Baker also advises most guests won’t want to straddle the base of a table, so it’s equally important to think about where the legs of the chair and table meet (if at all—this is less of a concern with a pedestal or trestle table).
Arms vs. armless: It’s all about space allotment. Baker suggests asking yourself a few questions first: Where will the arms fall at the table? Will they prevent the chair from sliding underneath the table? “From here, it becomes a style choice,” she notes. “Arms can add a structural or architectural moment, which is why we like to use them, especially on the ends of tables where there is often more room.”
Comfort: Chair arms are also tied up with comfort—sometimes it’s nice to have a place to rest your elbows, but if space is tight, you won’t want to feel like the sides are closing in. Material choices are also a factor. We get it; dining chairs should be visually stunning. But if you’re planning to sit on them regularly, you don’t want to feel sore or stiff in a half hour. “Sit tests are always important,” stresses Baker. And if you’re entertaining often, you might want to opt for a structure that’s easy to maintain. Naber suggests focusing on materials that are simple to clean and stain-resistant, such as a wood chair with a leather pad.
Pro Tips for Styling the Best Dining Chairs
- It’s important to think about how you’ll occupy a dining space. “Are you more into long dinner parties and therefore need pure comfort with your choice of chair, or is space a strong concern, so you need a streamlined chair?” poses Whitehead.
- For a more casual dining environment, play with the height of your chair—a taller back lends itself to a traditional vibe, whereas a shorter frame can feel more modern. Or simply add in a bench or stool.
- Sometimes vintage is best. For a Washington, D.C., home, Feldman found Biedermeier chairs. “They offer a modern silhouette, while the curvature of the patterned wood creates tension against the stark lines of the wallpaper,” she says. “Sculptural occasional chairs have the ability to stand alone and be anchored to the space without a table.”
- Naber’s biggest tip: Avoid being too matchy-matchy. “I like combining materials and allowing contrast to happen,” she shares. “If you have a black dining table, try pairing it with a lighter wood or vice versa. Also think about other materials, not just wood.”
Q: How much space should be between dining chairs?
Baker suggests leaving at least 4 inches between chairs to prevent guests from feeling like they’re on top of one another. A general rule of thumb, according to Naber, is 24 inches per chair: “If the chair itself is wider, then you’ll need to accommodate for more space.” You can fudge that calculation a bit more in high-traffic areas that call for space-saving measures. For example, consider backless stools—which are usually narrower than traditional dining chairs. More specifically, Baker will reserve about 4 inches between each chair to prevent people from feeling cramped.
Q: How do I clean and properly maintain my dining chairs?
This depends on the material or upholstery you choose. For instance, cane can be brittle, making it susceptible to tears and fading, so try to keep it out of direct sunlight and moisturize it every now and then with a water-and-oil mixture (just be careful not to oversaturate it!). Wood and metal can always be easily wiped down after spills, but a cushion is more likely to stain, so stick to performance fabrics if you have kids or a penchant for hosting family and friends.
Q: How many dining chairs should I have?
The number of seats is largely dependent on the length or diameter of your table, whether it’s round or rectangular. “Generally someone selling a table will tell you how many chairs it can accommodate, but all chairs have different widths—many are in the range of about 20 to 26 inches,” points out Baker. In other words, 45 to 60 inches should allow you to sit anywhere from four to six people, designers reveal, but your chair count ultimately boils down to common sense: After all, you can fit more skinny, armless chairs than large armchairs in any space.
How We Chose These Products
Finding the perfect set of seats for your dining table, kitchen corner, or breakfast nook is no simple task—should you opt for a classic wood look or a comfier upholstered frame? Do you want something lush like velvet or a top-notch performance fabric that’s a breeze to wipe up pasta sauce or wine spills? So we found a few of our favorite dining table chairs and asked the designers who sourced them why they were the ideal fit for that space.
The Last Word
Whether it’s a modern dining chair or cheap dining chair, aesthetics is usually priority number one, but designers note comfort is just as important. “Everyone has different thoughts on what is comfortable. Some people don’t like chairs with openings in the back or don’t like upholstered chairs because of food on the fabric,” shares Baker. “Some people want chairs to be wipeable, in which case a wood or plastic chair is more ideal, but it’s always an important conversation to have initially because it’s so subjective.”
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