“What kind of dining room chairs are the best?” is a topic of endless debate among interior designers and often one of the most challenging aspects of designing a dining room.
With such a wide variety of seating designs available, from formal upholstered chairs to relaxed wood designs and benches, finding the right seating for your dining room ideas can be daunting.
Choosing dining chairs is extremely subjective, and what design works best for you ultimately comes down to personal taste and what you find comfortable. However, there are many other factors to consider that can have an impact.
To help you make the right choice, we asked interior designers for advice on what type of dining room chairs are best – here’s what they had to say.
Which dining room chairs are the best?
To figure out what type of dining room chairs are best for your space, you should first examine how you use your dining room. Do you have a separate dining room set aside for entertaining, or is your dining area part of a multifunctional eat-in kitchen?
The shape and size of the dining table you choose will also have a big impact, as well as looks and style to consider. Comfort should always be the deciding factor, says New York interior designer Phillip Thomas (opens in new tab). “If the chair is not comfortable, there is no delicious menu or fine wine that can make up for an uncomfortable chair.”
Regardless of the style, “a dining chair should always have a seat height of around 19 inches,” says Simon Temprell, interior design manager at Neptune (opens in new tab).
Below we’ve listed some important things to consider when shopping for dining room chairs, including advice from interior designers on the pros and cons of different designs.
To upholster or not to upholster?
When it comes to comfort, nothing beats an upholstered dining chair, plus they offer the opportunity to showcase beautiful colored and patterned fabrics. Upholstered armchairs work well in formal traditional dining rooms, adding grandeur and a sense of occasion to dinner parties.
“Upholstered dining chairs are more luxurious and bring a sense of softness and warmth to a room,” says Simon Temprell, interior design manager at Neptune.
“Typically, the best dining chairs are upholstered in a round shape. They hug your back and create comfort for your guests,” adds interior designer Tracy Morris (opens in new tab).
Designer Phillip Thomas is also an admirer and suggests that “upholstery is one of the elements that can help create a cozy dining environment. Upholstered chairs are also very helpful for soundproofing. As we all know, dining rooms can often be noisy due to the lack of sound absorbing surfaces.’
However, if you have a dining area in an open plan living room or are looking for kitchen seating ideas, you might want to opt for something less formal.
“In high-traffic areas like a kitchen or breakfast room (or a household with small children and pets), it’s best to choose a wooden or lacquered chair as it’s practical and easy to clean,” says Simon Temprell . Of course, to make them more comfortable, you can always add seat pads.
Alternatively, if you have a small dining room, consider lightweight, stackable metal or plastic designs.
Are dining chairs with armrests better?
Another big debate when it comes to dining room seating is choosing chairs with or without armrests – again, there are pros and cons to both designs. When space is at a premium, armless chairs are undoubtedly more practical, but when space is not an issue, they can be luxuriously comfortable and versatile.
“I love seats with armrests as they offer the ultimate in comfort and can serve as a reading or side chair, but they take up a bit more space – typically they require an extra 7 inches per chair, which is why they’re often used at the head of the table,” explains Sue Jones, co-founder and creative director at Oka (opens in new tab). “When you have a round table or plenty of space to play, nothing could feel more inviting than armchairs placed around it – your guests will thank you.”
Alternatively, New York City-based interior designer Phillip Thomas describes how they can prevent engagement. “Some clients of mine find that armed chairs create an invisible fence between guests, while chairs without armrests allow people to be closer together. A chair without armrests is also better if space is limited. If you use chairs without armrests, you can seat a lot more people around a table.’
Pay attention to the choice of fabric
Dining rooms are places prone to spills. So if you are considering upholstered dining room chairs, you should be careful with your choice of fabric.
Choose durable and stain-resistant fabrics, says Roger Jones, director of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler (opens in new tab). “Leather and horsehair are traditional, but there are many modern fabrics that are just as practical.
“In the summer, simple linen slipcovers on the dining room chairs can transform the look of the room — and they’re easy to throw in the washing machine if they get stained,” he adds.
These are a good choice for those who have young children or have dining tables in busy areas that get a lot of wear and tear, plus they can be a great way to freshen up the look of a dining area from season to season.
The great thing about upholstered chairs is that you can get creative with fabrics and with such a wide range to choose from there is bound to be something that will match the look and feel you want. While stains can be a disadvantage, “developments in the textile industry have led to the introduction of various stain-resistant and high-performance fabrics, including velvet, chenille and linen that are lifelike,” explains Amanda Huber, owner of Dining Chair Co (opens in new tab)so you don’t have to compromise on style.
For a more casual dining room, “Using colorful dining chairs is an unexpected way to add a playful touch to the space,” suggests Anne Hepfer (opens in new tab). Alternatively, you can make a real statement with an eye-catching, patterned design.
“We prefer seats that are not too heavy. A two-piece composition seat allows for more fun with fabric combinations to brighten up the space,” adds Michael Sandsmark, interior designer at Design West (opens in new tab). For a design that is both stylish and practical, you could try using a simple, stain-resistant design on the seat with an eye-catching design on the back of the chair.
Think about the back height
It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when choosing dining chairs, but a chair’s back height can affect both seating comfort and the look of the room, experts say. High-back dining chairs work well in formal settings and traditional dining rooms, while low-back designs offer a more relaxed feel.
“Historically, upholstered dining chairs have had a higher back for both support and warmth – our Cromwell, Georgian and Classic Adam designs are great examples of this. Today, however, low-back chair designs are gaining popularity as they suit the more contemporary settings that modern life brings,” says Amanda Huber, owner of Dining Chair Co.
“Some of our customers choose a higher back when they have chosen an impactful fabric to make a statement and want to see it clearly across the table or when entering the room,” adds Amanda Huber.
If you don’t want to distract from other features in the room, more understated, low-back designs are a better option. Likewise, designs with an open frame, such as Scandinavian or mid-century wood designs, are perfect when you want to make a room feel more spacious.
Neptune’s Simon Temperall points out that “higher-backed or tufted chairs tend to feel more formal, while lower-backed chairs are much more versatile and work just about anywhere in the home.”
“If you want your dining room to look elegant and grand, go for a high-back dining chair,” adds Anne Hepfer.
Consider bench seating for a relaxed feel
Bench seating is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to dining chairs, particularly in eat-in kitchens and open-plan living spaces.
Their backless design provides clear sight lines, making spaces feel open, and benches help spaces feel more sociable, and while they may not be as comfortable as seats, they can be made more comfortable by adding bench cushions or sheepskin throws. In addition, table and bench sets with benches designed to fit perfectly under the table are wonderful seating solutions for small spaces.
We’re also seeing the return of banquet seating. Like benches, benches can contribute to a relaxed atmosphere and encourage interaction. “I like to build banquettes around the perimeter to create a lounge-like environment that can be attractive and useful at cocktail parties,” says interior designer Phillip Thomas.
However, the disadvantage of seating with customized fabric is that the upholstery is difficult to clean. Therefore, consider a material that is easy to wipe clean. Cleaning faux leather is easier than tackling the original.
“Remember that leather is not as practical as it might seem in a dining room: oil and grease will soak into the leather and leave dark marks that are very difficult to remove,” warns designer Simon Temprell.
Alternatively, try a banquette in a dark fabric that hides stains better and add color with bold cushions, as demonstrated in the Salvesen Graham room above (opens in new tab).