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Buying dining room chairs – A practical guide

Buying dining room chairs – A practical guide

Dining chairs are often one of the most frequently used pieces of furniture within your house or flat. But with so much choice online and in stores, which style is best for you, and what should you look out for before buying?...

Firstly, how high should the chairs be?

Seat heights are reasonably standard on most dining room chairs - between 45 cm and 50 cm, in order to fit with most standard dining room tables. Anything below this height could leave you feeling that you’re positioned a little too low.

It’s worth knowing that a majority of dining tables tend to be approximately 75 cm in height, thus giving you at least 25 cm gap for your legs to fit under. Remember that if you place a chunky cushion onto your seat this will leave you with less space.

How much gap should I leave between chairs around the table?

Naturally you’ll want to sit comfortably around the table, without brushing arms with those sat next to you. Therefore, try to plan to leave approximately 15 to 20 cm gap between each chair.

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How many chairs should I buy?

Working out the width of your table and the width of the prospective chairs will help you calculate how many chairs you can potentially buy. As a general rule you’ll want to allow approximately 60-75 cm width for each guest, which should accommodate most types of chair, plus afford sufficient elbow room.


In deciding what quantity to buy, it’s certainly worth planning ahead, for times when you will welcome family or friends in to your home for special occasions. That said, equally it’s worth bearing in mind that in most households extended gatherings are often relatively rare. There’s certainly nothing to gain from too many chairs occupying the dining area when some of them are only in use for a handful of times throughout the year.

To give yourself flexibility, and depending on the size of your table and whether it’s extendable, consider using two ‘spare’ chairs as occasional chairs elsewhere in the house – perhaps in the hallway, living room or bedroom. These can then be called upon when there’s the need for additional seating around the table. If this is the case, try to rotate the ‘spare’ chairs regularly, so that all chairs get equal use and wear.

Do they need to match my dining table?

A good quality dining table will often outlast chairs and so it’s possible that you’ll be looking for chairs for an existing table. Mixing and matching furniture is a very popular approach at the moment and likely to remain so for some time. Therefore, your chairs don’t need to match, they simply need to coordinate.

What about cushioning?

Comfort is of course all important. Depending on the style of chair, the seat will often have some form of ‘in built’ padding. However, not all padding is equal and some cheaper chairs use foam that won’t stand the test of time.

Try to select chairs that either have long-lasting, higher density foam or, even better, ones that have sprung and belted seat areas. Not only will these be more comfortable, but they’ll also provide better shape retention in the seat, over the long term.

How do I choose which style is best for me?

Firstly, it’s worth thinking about how often the chairs will be used. If the chairs are in a separate dining room that’s only used once a day or less, then you can probably be more confident about choosing a fabric such as velvet or linen. Alternatively, if the chairs are to be used several times daily then it’s important to pick a style and fabric that will withstand this over a sustained period of time.

Another key consideration is the balance you want to strike between how important the look of the chair is versus how important comfort is to you. Some of the most visually striking chairs can be the least comfortable and so it’s worth giving this some careful thought.

What colour should I choose?

The colour of fabric / finish should also be carefully considered. Mostly everyone will spill the occasional thing and dark coloured chairs will hide these mishaps much better than lighter-coloured ones. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go light – just think practically beforehand about the pros and cons.

How much should I spend on chairs?

Budget is of course a key consideration. High quality dining room chairs will obviously cost more, but they will generally look better and last longer. That said, as is the case with most furniture, there are diminishing returns the more you spend. In other words, you’re likely to get a much better quality of product if you spend £150 per chair rather than £50, but the quality is less likely to considerably improve as you go further up the price range.

What are the most popular styles of dining chair?

There’s an abundance of choice when it comes to style and it very much comes down to personal choice. The following are some of the most popular styles and fabrics.

Velvet upholstered dining room chairs

Velvet – and crushed velvet in particular - is fast becoming a popular choice for elegant dining areas up and down the land, mainly due to its rich, luxurious qualities.

  • Pros: These chairs certainly create a very chic, stylish look. They’ll impress your friends and add a touch of the luxurious to any dinner party.
  • Cons: More suitable for use within a formal dining room. Using them as everyday kitchen / diner seating isn’t always as practical as some other styles might be – for example, due to the fabric type they’re not as easy to wipe clean if you spill something.

Leather

Leather remains an ever-popular choice. That said, there is a distinction to be made between genuine leather and synthetic, man-made ‘leather match’ (sometimes referred to as ‘faux leather’). Some prefer real leather – the quality is better, but of course the price is much higher – whilst many are happy with the match / faux option.

  • Pros: They look stylish. As well as usually being comfortable, the style and colours usually coordinate well with a variety of interiors. They’re also relatively easy to wipe clean.
  • Cons: Real leather is expensive, whilst the very low price end of leather match can sometimes look a little cheap.

Leather dining chairs

Rustic or reclaimed

Along with a suitably coordinating table, this style of chair can help you to bring a rustic influence into your dining area. You can either go for a very traditional, country cottage look, or simply inject a small hint of rustic into an otherwise fairly standard décor.

  • Pros: The style of this type of chair means that it’s often adaptable to a variety of decors. They’re usually solidly built and, when not padded, comfortable cushions can easily be found and placed on the seats, without it detracting from the look. Chairs made from reclaimed wood are an added plus.
  • Cons: No particular negatives, although the style will only coordinate with certain styles of room. 

Wooden

A chair style that’s never gone out of fashion and likely never will. Oak and walnut are perhaps the most common types of wood used and this is due to the fact that they coordinate well with a range of wooden dining tables. In fact, many will search for “oak dining chairs” when actually they only require the legs / frame to be oak, in order to match the wood of their dining room table.

  • Pros: They have a natural wood appeal. Usually robust and long-lasting.
  • Cons: Not the most comfortable of designs, especially if neither seats or back rests have any ‘built in’ fabric cushioning. That said, separate cushions can easily be added. 

Linen

A very popular choice for today’s dining room – they’re stylish, but arguably in a more understated way than fabrics such as velvet.

  • Pros: A very versatile choice, mainly because of the neutral colours, such as cream and grey, that the chairs are usually upholstered in. Consequently, they coordinate well with both traditional and modern decors.
  • Cons: Much like velvet, they’re not always as easy to wipe clean as some styles and so not as suitable for families with young children. Additionally, whilst a high quality linen chair should be well upholstered, by their very nature the fabric will wear a little more over time than, for example, a wooden chair, especially if they’re heavily used.

Linen dining chairs

Lloyd loom

This style of chair is distinct and often sought-after. It sits nicely on the line between traditional and contemporary and is therefore suitable for a variety of decors.

  • Pros: Distinctive and full of character. Usually available in a range of colours, adding further flexibility. 
  • Cons: Relatively expensive. 

Contemporary / designer

If you’re looking to create a very modern look, then contemporary is the way forward. Often involving a combination of chrome, leather and other sleek and stylish materials, this type of chair is very much designed to be part of a broader, carefully coordinated modern interior.

  • Pros: Certainly a style that will help make a statement in your dining room area.
  • Cons: Often expensive, although of course ‘designer-esque’ is much cheaper than true designer. Towards the cheap end of the market, especially with designer imitations, chairs can sometimes be poor quality and fragile.

Contemporary dining chairs

Carver chairs

Often commonly referred to as ‘dining chairs with arms’, the origins of the name ‘carver chair’ are somewhat debatable. Some argue that the chair was named after the pilgrim John Carver, who was the founder and governor of the Plymouth colony of Massachusetts, in the United States. He reportedly owned a chair in the style of what we now know as the carver chair. The alternative theory is that the chair is simply named so because it’s where the head of the table would traditionally sit to carve the meat, prior to a meal.

Anyway, quick history lesson aside, these chairs are becoming increasingly popular, and understandably so. Their shape conveys a grand and stylish appeal. What’s more, they don’t even necessarily need to be the preserve of the ends of tables - households with large dining areas often have carver chairs surrounding the whole table.

  • Pros: By their very nature, all carver chairs have arms. This usually makes them more comfortable and, if they’re placed on each side of the table, they afford each dinner guest more space.
  • Cons: As they’re wider than most, they do take up more space, and aren’t suitable for smaller dining areas. They’re also more expensive and so not suitable for all budgets.

High back

Obviously this ‘style’ can be combined with others covered here – for example, high back leather chairs – but the popularity of high back merits its own mention. Scroll back chairs are particularly in vogue at present.

  • Pros: High back chairs not only look good but they provide ample back support.
  • Cons: They are relatively large chairs and, as such, can look a little overwhelming and imposing if placed in a small dining area. 

Scandi

The Scandi style first came to prominence in the 1960s / 1970s and this understated style has been a contemporary choice ever since.

  • Pros: Rather than dominating a dining area, they’ll provide a subtle and stylish accompaniment to the room. Simply put, they look superb.
  • Cons: Not always the most comfortable seats, although some have padding and springs, which greatly helps. Due to the design style, they’re also not the most rugged and robust of choices, and so not as suitable for families with young children.

Accent / occasional chairs

Whilst not strictly categorised as dining room chairs, many of these seats are also perfectly suitable for use at a dining table.

  • Pros: Offers more versatility than a traditional dining chair, as they can be placed around the home, in living rooms, bedrooms or hallways, when not being used at the dining table.
  • Cons: These chairs can often be wider than standard dining room chairs and so you’ll need to ensure the table is of adequate width to accommodate this. Additionally, the seat heights can sometimes be lower and therefore it’s vital to be aware of this and check that the heights ideally aren’t lower than 45 cm. If the seat heights are lower than this, you run the risk of your guests feeling like they’re children sat at an adult table!

Industrial dining chairs

If you’re seeking a contemporary and rugged look, then industrial dining chairs could be the choice for you. The ‘industrial chic’ style has been popular since the turn of the 21st century, but in recent years it’s become more widespread in homes across the UK.

Once the preserve of flats within renovated urban industrial buildings, the industrial style is now equally likely to be found in suburban houses, albeit in a slightly softer form. The industrial style has well and truly gone mainstream.

  • Pros: These chairs are very functional, strong and hard wearing. They’re also very on-trend, helping you to make a real statement in your dining area.
  • Cons: In keeping with the industrial style, seats, backrests and arms are rarely padded, meaning that they’re not always the most comfortable. 

Industrial dining chairs

Shopping for dining chairs online?

Unni and Evans is an independent online furniture retailer, offering a number of modern furniture ranges, including a wide selection of high quality dining chairs.




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