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Dining room chair dilemma: how to choose a cool, functional mix for your home

Chicago Tribune
Pre-Thanksgiving help: How to choose the coolest, most comfortable chairs for your dining room

Some say the dining room is dead — we say it has already been reincarnated. The key detail that makes today’s dining rooms up-to-date? A chic, savvy mix of chairs.

Truth be told, the age of using one type of anything — fashion, bedroom furniture, tableware — feels so yesteryear.

Assembling a mix — which in the dining room might include a bench or stools — adds spark to a room that was historically tradition-bound and off limits except for holiday meals and milestones.

“I find that regardless of the style of a dining room, mixing the chairs adds personality and individuality to the traditionally formal and stoic dining room arrangement,” says designer Kristie Barnett, owner of The Decorologist in Nashville, Tenn.

Where did the trend come from? Some, like Chicago designer Julia Buckingham, point to a less straight-laced approach in interiors. “I never show clients a matching set of chairs any more,” says Buckingham.

Writer Laura Gaskill credits bloggers and homeowners posting their own room solutions online as a source of this undecorated look. Others think it comes from having less space, which means a room can’t be reserved just for dinner. The dining room must work for all meals — and sometimes also be an office for adults and homework center for kids.

Those demands make the case for less traditional seating. Chairs can come from traditional upscale furniture showrooms, flea markets, a family attic or eBay. Whatever the source, try these ideas to concoct a good mix:

Two head chairs upholstered in the same fabric, mixed with different flanking side chairs

Chairs in similar styles, but in different colors — a look that’s easy to achieve using classics that now come in a rainbow of happy hues. Josh Ingrime and Kristina Albaugh, co-owners of Hundred Mile in Rhinebeck, N.Y., like Carl Hansen & Son’s Hans Wegner Wishbone chair for this purpose. “It’s a matter of balancing functionality and creativity,” says Albaugh. “Especially in a smaller space, we try to utilize various types of chairs that are compatible so that they can be used in different areas of the home, say, perhaps, a desk chair that can double as extra seating at the dining table.” Herman Miller’s Eames molded plastic side chairs offer the same flexibility. Lina Nordqvist’s Family Chairs offer a slight twist on this idea with different colors and varied takes on a Swedish stick-back chair, says architect Stephanie Horowitz of ZeroEnergy Design outside Boston.

A complete mix of completely different types of seating. Sara Gilbert of Embrace My Space advises restricting the mix to three styles. “To use more may look like you’ve raided the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. You can pick up a set of chairs from a flea market that need some love, and paint them in coordinating shades,” she says. Others, like Matthew Lanphier of MJ Lanphier Interior Design in Los Angeles don’t limit the variety but pick chairs that each make an iconic statement. “It has to be strong enough to stand on its own. One could have great arms; one a curved back. When different guests with different personalities approach the table, they’ll go and sit in the chair that speaks to them,” he says.

Whatever your choice, once you’ve picked the seats you’ll offer, you can focus on the fun you’ll have around the table — which is what decorating is really about.

Comfort points

Don't forget to choose chairs that are comfortable:

•Pick seats that are firm enough for sitting yet comfortable, too.

•Look for chairs that are tall enough, so they don't cut into people's backs.

•Keep seat heights between 17 and 19 inches off the floor, so when people sit down they're not at terribly different heights.

•Keep widths relatively similar, though end chairs may be bigger than side chairs.

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