How to make good chair choices

Planning and measuring up are essential when buying dining chairs, writes Carol O’Callaghan, who is currently on a mission to find the right ones for her new table.

Raspberry velvet upholstery is a comfortable option at the dining table, but watch out for spillages. Winchester chair from Next Interiors €240 p/pair

It has to be said, shopping for a table with matching chairs is easier than buying your table first and then looking for chairs to work with it, as I’ve just discovered.

My new and much-loved table is a mix of practicality and simple finishes, a purchase prompted by the need to seat more than just six, (which my old table could accommodate), and the longing for something white to lighten up a room that was just a bit too woody.

I found exactly what I wanted and, better still, it comes with two extra leaves which allow it to accommodate six, eight or ten sitters. Result.

The Escudo from EZ Living comes in a choice of colours with walnut legs (€179).

For the time being I’ve teamed it up with four wooden chairs — a legacy from my old table — and two modern benches, adding red seat cushions for comfort and to create the all-important common element that pulls different objects together.

This arrangement is fine and works for the moment, except it’s a bit like the feeling you have after buying a fabulous pair of new shoes: You have to get a new handbag too. 

So, three months after my purchase I’m looking for chairs which will take a back seat to the table and not dominate it, but are comfortable, in a complementary style, and will fit the allotted space.

The Chianti in rich teal is a neat, compact and more lightweight option than many solid upholstered dining chairs (€275 at Casey’s).

Designers and manufacturers make chairs in proportion to the table they match, so the chair seat-height is correct for comfortable sitting, and each chair is the right width to fit the table.

But, as I found out, if you are buying chairs for a pre-existing table, you must not go shopping without table length and height measurements, making sure the height is measured from the floor just up to the frame of the table — not the table top — as this is the space under which your chairs will slot.

Modern, stylish and practical, the Bradshaw is finished in a neutral pale grey that goes beautifully with painted or wooden table tops (€169 p/pair at M&S).

The ideal seat height is 46-48cm from the floor, allowing 23-24cm from lap to table frame, or to table top, if yours is frameless and held up by a pedestal. 

This gives ample space for moving toward and back from the table while seated.

The height and style of the chair back is a matter of personal taste, but it does have practical impact. 

High backs tend to be upholstered, which, if fabric-finished rather than leather or vinyl, bring maintenance issues with them.

The Mowbray chair is a compromise between comfort and practicality and doesn’t hide the table. (Ewan Dove fabric from €410 at Neptune).

They’re also heavy for moving, especially by the very young and elderly and, when not in use, they create a wall round your lovely table, hiding it from view. 

A wooden slatted model is a high-backed option which eliminates all of the above, being lightweight with the added advantage of being easy to grab and move.

Beware of fashion trends too, as tables and chairs are not things you change with the seasons. Colour is in vogue and can transform an otherwise dull table but, like paint, you won’t want to live with it for years.

Another option that is currently fashionable and has a timeless chic, is to put traditional chairs with a modern table and vice-versa, but make sure there is a common element between them, like the shape or colour of the chair and table legs.

The Henriksdal upholstered chair is lightly patterned in stain concealing grey and white, and works with this traditional style table thanks to the common colour theme (chair Ä79 from Ikea).

Fully-upholstered chairs are a luxurious and comfortable option where you’ll be happy to stay at the table and not retire to the sofa to sleep for three days like a snake having eaten an antelope — but they can also be heavy for pulling toward and back from the table, unless you have Carson the butler to assist.

Resist them too if you have children, as you’ll spend your time pulling chairs out and pushing them back in when the kiddies find them to difficult to move, and it will drive you mad.

Luxurious upholstery is another no-no with little ones around, as stain removal will be like having a second job.

Cork-born Aiveen Daly makes exquisitely upholstered furniture in her London studio, including the Chevron dining chairs which are made to order. Here they are finished in lilac satin, but are also available in metallic vinyl which looks and feels like satin but is cleanable and practical (price on application from

Spillages, sticky fingers and wear and tear show more easily on fabric than wood, but it’s not just sticky-fingered little people who can sabotage all your efforts at style.

Grown-ups are perfectly adept at spilling red wine on your upholstered chair, and even the tiniest spot will annoy you.

So the question is: how worried are you about stains on upholstery?

I’m opting for wood and comfy, washable cushions which can be easily replaced, if and when I need them, or simply get bored.


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