Considering buying dining chairs? Well, I’m glad you’ve come here first. Because there are a few things to think about before you lock in your purchase.
There’s no denying that some items in your home are temporary. I like to change up my decor each season (so sue me!), and am more than happy with particular pieces being rotated and replaced regularly (more on that here).
Dining chairs, however, are not one of the items I’d suggest you take this approach with. Even in my interior design work, I always advise clients to invest wisely in dining chairs over other pieces of furniture. They’re not something you want to replace every six months, mostly because of the cost associated with replacing four to six of them at one time.
And so this guide has arrived (hurrah!) to give you the lowdown on what you need to consider when buying dining chairs. It’ll save you time, money, heartache and potentially back break. Yes, a bad chair can totally wreak havoc on your spine. More on avoiding that conundrum below.
1. First Things First: Look and Feel
Before you even hit the store to road test dining chairs, consider the look and feel you want to go for in the space. A common mistake I see people make is buying chairs that don’t complement their dining table. While I don’t believe you should buy your table and chairs as a set, the dining chairs should still speak to the rest of the room (or overall home design) in some way.
The reason I say not to buy your table and chairs as a set is that it brings too much of the one material to the space. In a dining room with a timber table and matching timber chairs, it leaves you stuck on what sideboard or buffet to bring in. You either have to match the table and chairs, or go in a totally different material direction.
Either way doesn’t look successful. The first gives an overload of timber, for example. And the second makes the sideboard stick out as not matching. It feels like a mistake. Instead, have all three elements be different in material and they’ll feel more intentionally different. They’ll all look like they belong in the one space, but they won’t be completely matchy-matchy.
So get thinking about whether you want a Scandinavian feel, industrial vibe, sophisticated setting or country scenario. And don’t be afraid to take a photo of your table, get it onto your computer, and mood board some chairs around it to get an idea of how it’ll look. It really helps you visualise the room better!
2. Now, Measure your Table Height
You know the style of dining chairs you’re gravitating toward – awesome! Now you need to measure the height of your table. Not all tables are made equal, so you need to go into a store with your table height written down.
Doing this will allow you to not only ensure the chairs sit under the table properly, but that when you sit on the dining chair, there’s enough clearance for your legs to sit under the table top also. Don’t be afraid to take a tape measure to the store with you, sit on a dining chair, and then measure out what height the top of your table will sit at. Leg room is everything when you’re sitting down for a meal, so you have to get this one right.
On the flip side, you might have a slightly higher table height than most, and some chairs can have low backs that look incredibly dwarfed around the table. This has actually happened to me in the past with one of my first design clients, so I speak from experience (an embarrassing one). The clients table was somewhat vintage and higher than most regular dining tables. When I got the dining chairs delivered the backs of them almost slid right under the table top. It was not a good look (for me or the table!).
3. Consider Your Weight
This is not an attempt to put you on a low-carb diet (a life without bread is not worth living. am I right?!). But it is important to be honest about your weight, as every chair will have a maximum kilogram total they can carry.
This is particularly important because some dining chairs that are made from plastic can crack easily. And trust me, nothing is worse than a chair collapsing from underneath you or a family member and causing major damage to you or them. Again, this has happened to me. I purchased chairs for $160 each at a local retailer a few years ago and two of the backs cracked when you leant back on them. And I’m in the 75kg range.
Some legs can bow under too much weight also, so make sure the legs are sturdy if you’re on the heavier side. It’s fair to say that some dining chairs are delicate and some are more sturdy. So just maker sure you consider that when you’re shopping for them.
4. How are the Legs Configured?
The chair legs are super important for a number of reasons. I already mentioned you wanting to ensure they’re sturdy if you’re on the heavier side, but also have a think about the leg shape and how they’ll move on the floor.
Are you putting a rug under your dining table? This post will help you decide if one is right. If you are, then the chair leg (if thin and tapered like the ones above) could get caught in the rug and make getting in and out of the chair a nightmare. In this instance buying dining chairs with cross base would be preferred over four legs. They’ll slide across rugs a little easier.
Do the back legs of the chair taper out a fair bit? In a small space this could make getting around the table tricky and potentially cause you to trip on them.
Got a small dining room? Here are my hacks for styling it to maximise space.
I had an elderly client recently who alerted me to this; she couldn’t have tapered legs on her dining chair as they presented a trip hazard. So I had to specify legs that ran straight up and down. Definitely something to consider depending on your age and health issues.
5. Keeping your Tush Happy
A vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to buying dining chairs: tush happiness. Your butt needs to feel like it’s sitting on a feathery cloud made by angels. Well, that’s how I like to feel when I’m at the dinner table, anyway.
Road testing chairs is imperative! I’d actually never purchase a chair online unless I didn’t plan to sit on it much. And some people are like that. I don’t have huge dinner parties at my home often, so my chairs only need to be sat in for up to 45 minutes at a time. So comfort is less important.
If you do need it to be comfy, make sure you sit in a dining chair at the furniture store – and for a while. Lean back, lean forward, imagine eating at the table while sitting in it, and make sure there’s plenty of upper leg room.
If you don’t think you could handle sitting in it for an hour, move on!
6. What’s the Dining Chair Back Doing?
The back of the dining chair is just as important as the seat of the dining chair. Not only for looks, of course (we want it to look amazing) but for comfort. Again, it’s about having a think about you, your family and your friends, and choosing a chair back that will accommodate everyone.
For example, a chair with a strict 90-degree angle back might look nice and formal, but it doesn’t bode well for a relaxed hour or more at the table. A scoop-back chair, while amazing, can make a larger person feel uncomfortable because it doesn’t allow them to fit in the chair without feeling trapped on either side. Scoop chairs, which they do look amazing, can be an issue for people with back problems because the scoop doesn’t give much support.
Dining chairs with arms either side, which I adore, can also only work for rather slim people. So if you have a number of family and friends with larger frames this is definitely one to avoid.
7. Choose Materials for Your Lifestyle
I know, aren’t fabric chairs a plush gift from the decor gods? I love them too. But if you have young children with messy hands, you might want to think about how easy (or brutal) the fabric will be to clean.
Take it from someone who has two cats; sometimes you have to choose function over looks when it comes to buying dining chairs. Or any furniture for that matter.
Some fabrics are difficult to clean. Others might take more work than you can be bothered with. So don’t be afraid to go to your furniture store armed with fabric-cleaning questions for the staff. They should be able to answer your important maintenance queries.
If you don’t like the idea of leather chairs (though cleaning is far easier) than consider buying dining chairs with slip covers you can take off and wash. Alternatively, you can also consider chairs with a timber frame but a smaller upholstered section on the base. This padded section can be leather – even if you don’t love leather – because you won’t see it when the chairs are tucked in but it keeps the chair comfy and cleanable.
Did this guide to buying dining chairs help? I hope so. Drop me a comment below if you need further guidance, of if there’s a chair brand you love, share that too!
The images in this post come courtesy of West Elm.