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How to Mix Different Dining Chairs

Create a Great-Looking Dining Room with a Mix of Different Chairs


If you opt to use more than one type of chair in your dining room, making sure the chairs that suit the table is not enough. You also have to choose dining chairs that work together, both visually and practically in terms of scale.

Whether you want to use contrasting chairs just at the ends of the table or use a different chair for every seat, here's how to mix different dining chairs:

Compatible Scales

Though you can use a wide variety of different chair types at the same table, they all need to be of similar scale.

Seat height is one of the most important elements of dining chair scale. If you place a tiny Victorian parlor chair on one side and a living room armchair with a 24-inch high seat at the other, the person in the armchair will feel like a monster and the one in the parlor chair will wish for a booster seat. Ideally, opt for a mix of chairs with seat heights that vary by no more than one to 1.5 inches.

Though the seat width and depth can vary, make sure it's not by an outrageous amount. The two chairs in the previous paragraph's example will just look silly together regardless of diner discomfort. Unless the adult members of your household, or your frequent guests, are exceptionally large or small, just choose seat dimensions that all suit a person of roughly average size.

When you're using a random mix of chairs, it's fine for the overall chair heights to vary by up to eight inches. Just make sure no one chair dwarfs and overpowers the rest. The exception is when you're using a pair of chairs at the end of an oval or rectangular dining table and using a different set at the sides. It's fine for the end chairs to tower over the side chairs, or vice versa. The former is more common, but it's not a requirement.

Common Design Element

When you're mixing different chair styles and types together at a single dining table, the chairs should share at least one design element. That's especially true when every chair is different. It's less important if you're just using a contrasting pair at the ends of the table.

The shared design element (or elements) can be period, finish, material, formality or shape.

For example, you might use a collection of formal dining chairs that all have cabriole legs or ribbon backs. The woods and finishes may vary, as can the other design elements. The collection might include both hard and upholstered seats. With the latter example, the actual ribbon-back designs may vary. In both examples, it that single shared design element that makes it a cohesive collection instead of just a bunch of mismatched chairs.

If a painted finish is the shared element, you have a great deal of leeway in mixing styles. If you gather a collection of antique and vintage chairs and paint them all in glossy white, you can use a crazy mix of pressed back, Victorian, Windsor and bentwood Thonet chairs. You can even throw in a metal garden chair or two. Painting is a great way to rehab a chair when the original finish is damaged beyond repair. Just make sure your paint doesn't ruin and reduce the value of a fine antique.

As long as your chairs share that one common design element, they don't have to be made from the same material -- or even manufactured in the same century. Let's use shape as an example. Suppose you score a set of four antique mahogany Louis XV side chairs. If you have a large oval or rectangular dining table, you'll need a pair of compatible chairs to put at the ends. Why not skip the antique mall and invest in a pair of Philippe Stark's Louis ghost chairs? Though modern, Stark based the shape of the Louis ghost on Louis XV armchairs. You can opt for clear or semi-transparent colored polycarbonate. The clear versions look like Lucite.

Coordinated Covers

If some or all of your dining chairs have upholstered seats, you'll want you use coordinated fabrics. Coordinated doesn't necessary mean matching, though that's one way to create a common element with a mix of different chair styles and types.

If you'd rather use a mix of fabrics, make sure the fabrics have something in common. You can mix florals, paisleys, checks, polka dots, trellis patterns, stripes, etc. as long as they share the same color-scheme. In the industry, it's called a color way. The fun part of using a bunch of different fabrics is that you can probably cover the seats with discontinued fabric samples, and you can probably get the samples for free.

If you favor the eclectic, bohemian look, you might mix a bunch of different floral patterns together. You can choose florals with the same color way. Or, choose fabrics that share the same background color, even if the actual colors in the designs don't match. You can even use a wild mix of colors ways, but choose floral patterns that all share the same scale.

If you love the cottage look, consider covering your chair seats with the usable parts of different quilts. You can use the same quilt for all of the seats, but the look is more charming when you use a mix of different quilts with the same color scheme or pattern. Substitute the good parts of damaged antique rugs for an exotic, world-traveler look.

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Next: Alternative Seating for Dining Rooms

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