Let's be seated: Your guide to investing in a new set of dining chairs

Let's be seated: Your guide to investing in a new set of dining chairs
For a modern look, the Bernhard chair from Ikea is upholstered in vinyl on a metal frame (€115)

Making the right choice that will have lasting value when investing in a new set of dining chairs takes planning and consideration of both practical and aesthetic needs, writes Carol O’Callaghan.

There's something intimate, yet social, about lingering at a dining table after a satisfying meal, while sipping a drink and not being able to resist the lure of cheeseboard pickings even though you’re already sated and content.

But how often have we retired from the table to a squishy sofa, not for coffee and chocolates exactly, but prompted by the discomfort of hard and unyielding dining chairs making us squirm to get comfortable after a mere hour, only to find the move broke up the party and stymied the flow of some excellent banter?

The comfort requirement of a dining chair can sometimes be overlooked, or at least compromised, when considering a purchase where the look of something can seduce, but may ultimately lead to regret.

Choosing the right design comes down to personal taste, of course, but there are practical things to consider also.

Emmet Lyons, furniture specialist at Casey’s, says: “Measurements are key and can be the difference between being able to shop with conviction and merely browsing. 

"Potentially, a chair gets more use than any other piece of furniture you own. 

"It’s important to find one that will keep you comfortable for longer than the duration of a meal. The perfect chair would be that balance between fashion and function, with durable fabric or functional leather as wise choices.

“It’s important to sit in your space before you go shopping and ask yourself what you are trying to achieve,” Emmet adds. 

“Are you looking to replace what you have, or create a new look? It is also worth taking pictures of your space, as this can really help when working with someone who has never been there.”

Left: the Harper chair offers comfort with its seat and back pad (from Caseys €149); Right: the Mogador chair offers a pop of colour round a wooden dining table (€490 at Ligne Roset)
Left: the Harper chair offers comfort with its seat and back pad (from Caseys €149); Right: the Mogador chair offers a pop of colour round a wooden dining table (€490 at Ligne Roset)

Like anything for the home, exploring the shops is not the only option. 

Something bespoke means having exactly what you want, although it will take longer to get the finished product.

Fergal O’Leary of Cork-based Horizon Furniture has practical advice on how to proceed, and offers insight into this process.

“If a designer-maker is worth their salt, they will make a chair that will look beautiful and will last forever, without needing too much maintenance,” he says.

“While they end up being relatively expensive in comparison to an off-the-shelf product, they’ll be unique, better made, and on a par with the classics like Hans Wegner.”

To get started, Fergal outlines some of the things clients need to ask themselves before briefing the maker, such as how many chairs do you need? 

What size? Are they to match or to correspond with existing furniture or an interior design, and how much do you want to spend?

“If you think about how many pieces there are in making a large table, there are as many, if not more, elements in a chair,” he explains. 

“If the chairs are to be one-off, then there can be lots of design processes and sampling to do before arriving at the desired design. 

"Bespoke commissioning should be a long process so that the client gets what the client desires and needs, and they must feel like they’re getting their money’s worth too. 

The final chair should be a marriage of ideas and needs.

When it comes to materials, there are options other than traditional timber, although it remains a popular choice.

“They can be in metal or maybe with mould injected plastic, with cushioned seats or without,” Fergal says. 

“If for dining, comfort is of primary importance. In general, it’s an older demographic who are commissioning chairs. 

"With that in mind, how big should they be, how heavy or light can they be? Curved chairs can be more comfortable, but anything curved is more expensive. 

the Margot velvet chair which comes without arms for more compact spaces (€229 p/pair at Made.com)
the Margot velvet chair which comes without arms for more compact spaces (€229 p/pair at Made.com)

"Straight lines work very well but can catch the body in awkward places.”

This might all seem very complicated, but with an experienced maker used to navigating their way around the commissioning process, it can also be fun and rewarding.

“It might be long with lots of changes,” Fergal adds. “Each design should be unique and designed for each situation, but at the end of the day they need to be beautiful, well built, with good after-sales service. 

"A good chair is an investment. I have three chairs I’ve inherited that my kids are arguing over already.”

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