The dining table is the heart of your home, especially if you love to entertain. And we all have a sepia-toned image in our heads of those old-fashioned everything-in-its-place, perfectly matching wood table and chairs. But this is the 21st century, and whether you use a formal dining area for special occasions or host your holiday feasts at your everyday table, there’s room for variety, and no longer any need for strictly coordinated everything.
Which is not to say there are no rules to mixing things up a little. First off, if you aren’t using a full matching set in the first place, embrace the collage. “Don’t go for matchy-matchy and attempt to perfectly mirror the seat legs to the table legs, or the base to the tabletop,” says interior designer Lauren Meichtry of Elsie Home + Design. “It’s an exercise in futility. It not only will leave you frustrated and constantly second-guessing yourself, but also will always look a little bit off.”
Instead, she suggests creating contrast by combining different yet complementary chair styles to push your dining room decor into more modern territory. Of course, it can be a fine line between elegantly bohemian and just plain messy, so to help nail down the aspirational end of the decor spectrum, we tapped Meichtry, as well as Lisa Schwert of Connecticut-based Innate Studio, for tips. We also handpicked some of the many options available at exclusively online at homedepot.com/decor to bring those tips to life.
Use Different Silhouettes in the Same Finish Family
One easy way to get visual intrigue without eight individual styles is to pick a matching or similar profile and buy it in a few different colors or patterns. Schwert finds this strategy especially effective when it comes to fabric coverings. “If you’re mixing upholstered chairs, for example, you could combine a pattern with a solid in a complementary color” — think similar shades of velvet, presented in two distinct shapes. Another option would be finding a print that comes in multiple colorways and buying a few of each.
Allow Plenty of Breathing Room
It’s important to space out your dining set a little, both for the overall look and so guests can slide their chairs out — especially with a particularly busy mix. Don’t be afraid to break out a measuring tape, advises Schwert: “Make sure you allow enough room for people to sit comfortably. Typically you want 24 inches for each person, and make sure there’s at least three feet of clear space all around the table.” This also means, of course, that the size of your table and any surrounding sideboards are essential to the right spatial balance.
Meichtry also emphasizes the right scale. “You may fall in love with a wide side chair, but if you need six and your table only comfortably fits four, then you need to pick a new chair,” she says. “Do not sacrifice comfort for looks on this one.” Fortunately, there are plenty of options out there to choose from, no matter the dimensions of your dining area.
Consider the Placement
“If you are mixing new chairs, incorporating larger ‘host’-style chairs at the head of the table, and smaller chairs along the sides, is a simple way to establish visual impact and anchor the ends of the room,” says Schwert.
Meichtry agrees: “I love a pair of caramel leather armchairs on the ends, with a surprising pop of color in my velvet side chairs, or a fully upholstered set of captain chairs in a traditional white-and-blue stripe with deep cane side chairs. But the possibilities are endless.”
Match Wood Finishes to Tie Together Vintage and New
You may want to build your set around a few beloved chairs you already own, either antiques or vintage pieces you’ve gathered over time. But there are some things to keep in mind. “If you’re mixing vintage wooden chairs, make sure the wood tones or shapes are similar,” advises Schwert. Likewise, if you want to add new chairs to your existing ones, seek out base woods or veneers that provide visual cohesion.
Try a Bench
If you’re feeling stuck, take a tip from the world of restaurant design. “We love a sophisticated take on a bench,” says Meichtry. “Instead of a proper farmhouse-style one on one side and side chairs on the other, try an upholstered bench with a back.”
If your table needs to be anchored along one wall, it can also help space-wise to put a long bench on the wall side with individual chairs facing it, to reduce the amount of space you need to pull the chairs out. It’s also a great way to make a bold, non-traditional statement that still feels timeless.
Photographer: David Tsay; Art Direction and Production: Armine Altiparmakian and Sabrina Contratti; Prop Stylist: Olga Grigorenko; Merch Team: Two Coast Productions; Local Production: Right Arm Productions