There are three approaches when it comes to dining room furniture: matching chairs, matching side chairs + different head chairs, and an eclectic mishmash where no two chairs are the same. Frankly, there are no wrong answers, it’s just a style choice. So…to match or not to match is the big question. Maybe you like the idea of contrast, or you want the people sitting at the ends of your table to feel a little bit special, or you just have so many amazing chair choices that you don’t want to pick just one. (We wouldn’t blame you, there are so many great chairs out there.) So how do you put them together? That’s where this handy post comes in.
In many traditional dining sets, the chairs at each end of the table are styled a little differently: they usually have arms, and are sometimes larger or more ornate to reflect the importance of that position at the table. These days, we don’t take seating charts as seriously, but a little contrast is still a nice look, so for this guide, we’ve chosen to pair up armchairs and side chairs. Of course, you can also use these principles to pair side chairs with other side chairs, or armchairs with other armchairs (if you just really love arms).
Before we get to the shopping bit, let’s take a look at a few real-world examples of mixed chair pairings. Like Ginny’s up top, where two time-honored classics come together. Eames shell chair, meet bentwood. These styles have a lot in common: they’re both light and understated. But there’s an element of contrast, too: the wood tones of the bentwood chairs are a nice balance to the smooth whiteness of the shell chairs. Together with the modern pedestal table, a crowd of shell chairs on their own could feel a little too space age-y, but paired with the bentwood chairs, they’re just right.
This dining room is a bit more traditional, with upholstered head chairs paired with side chairs that have a rustic vibe. Besides adding a rustic/industrial element to the space, the side chairs also help to lighten up the room. A whole table of upholstered chairs (especially around the hefty trestle table) might feel a bit heavy or stuffy, but pairing them with lighter side chairs creates a nice balance, while making some allowances for comfort. (Because we get it, not everyone wants to sit for hours on a hard chair.)
The Curbly’s dining room is a great example of how to work within the same color palette but bring in contrast, tension and visual interest with mixed silhouettes and materials. This room brings together two chairs you might not think to put together (one very modern, the other vintage). But here’s why they work together: the wood and metal set up a pleasing contrast to the upholstered chairs at the head of the table because proportionately, they are both still visually light and “leggy,” plus the cohesive color palette brings everything together in a way that feels like they always belonged around the same table.
In last year’s Feel Good Flash Makeover (if you haven’t seen the video yet from that post, run don’t walk, and grab your box of tissue on your way over), Emily and the design team paired super sensible black wood chairs (for the kids) with a cozy upholstered armchair to bring in a little softness (for momma after a long work/parenting day…and maybe for homework time sans spaghetti sauce looming disasters). The light blue works to balance the darker chairs, and both silhouettes are visually light and hit at about the same height.
Here’s a look Emily created to showcase Target’s spring collection a few years back, with lots of seating choices that all work together for a super eclectic vibe (even with some of the pieces leaning traditional). For anyone who isn’t brave enough to go with three different chairs, here’s what else would work from this look: rattan chairs + slipper chairs (for a bit more of a funky pairing), or slipper chairs + bench (this one is more “family” friendly and traditional), or rattan chairs + bench (which will come off boho but refined).
Do you love clean lines and elegant, understated looks? Do you lean a little more mid-century or industrial? If you’re not about fussy materials or overly artistic silhouettes, this is the board for you.
1. George Armchair // Alba Dining Chair | 2. Prouve Standard Chair // Green Dylan Dining Chair | 3. Remy Arm Chair // Masey Wood Dining Chair | 4. Slope Dining Chair // Henry Chair | 5. Coppice Armchair // Bentwood Chair | 6. Bertaux Armchair // Clark Dining Chair
Okay, so admittedly #1 would get PRICEY, but we aren’t going to pretend we understand everyone’s decorating budgets, so we left it on the board because it’s just so dang cool if you have, um, $3,000 to spend on dining chairs. I’m really digging #2 and think it would really jazz up a super simple table. Plus the green upholstery is a great way to bring in color if say, you don’t want to paint your walls but are craving a little sumptin’ sumptin’. The Windsor-style black chair from #3 is a pretty classic frame, but when paired with a fluffy leather-like upholstered chair, it’s all of a sudden a little bit edgier. For a really mid-century modern friendly pairing, #5 is where it’s at.
If you’re drawn towards the unusual and the quirky and your taste tends to be a bit off the beaten path, then these unexpected pairings will be a perfect fit in your dining room.
1. Castine-Striped Dining Chair // Maple Bentwood Dining Chair | 2. Wire Frame Dining Chair // Zeke Indoor/Outdoor Dining Chair | 3. Bendt Dining Armchair // Workshop Chair | 4. Hoffman Side Chair // Carson Bench | 5. Malou Chair // Emmerson Reclaimed Wood Bench | 6. Antonio Acrylic Chair // Marte Dining Chair
In pairing #1, the slipper chair is pretty voluminous in that it has no openings, so putting it together with something much lighter and simple is the key to a balanced marriage, while in #2 it’s less about opposites and more about a similar airy, wiry frame (with the yellow adding a nice punch to the more industrial West Elm chair). And because we LOVE a chair + bench mashup, #4 and #5 come into the mix but with very different aesthetics. Oh, there probably isn’t a more “opposites attract” pairing than #6: lucite and white upholstered mixed with all wood and caning, but somehow…it works because it screams “I’M COMFORTABLE WITH TAKING RISKS” and who would dare question such confidence?
Creating a “luxe” look isn’t all flashy metals and bling. It’s actually a lot more subtle than that (but every pair here has a velvet chair because what’s a glam vibe without some sheeny velvet?). Another pillar of “modern luxe” is interesting silhouettes that feel a little more special and art-y. Let’s take a look.
1. Ibis Dining Chair // Dasilva Upholstered Dining Chair | 2. Azalea Grey Mink Chair // Cerchio Chair | 3. Silver Lining Armless Dining Chair // Elim Velvet Dining Chair | 4. Rust Orange Velvet Chair // Haylee Mono Rattan Chair
The velvet colors here could all be interchanged with anything that works for your decor. For #1, I’d go with the black metal chair as the side and the rust armchair as the head, but in #3, I think the green velvet as the side chairs and the white CB2 chair as the head chair would be SUCH a killer look. There’s also something really nice and balanced about #4, with the persimmon-colored beetle chair and the rattan bucket seat…they work well together because their bodies are similar in shape so it’s less of a blatant style clash.
We highly suspect that this is where most of you will feel comfortable. It’s definitely the most “livable” aesthetic, and look, not every piece and every room in your home has to be this big statement or risk. This “Soft Neutral” is exactly what it sounds like: quiet flaxes, heather grays, varied wood tones and straight up comfort. If you find yourself drawn towards classic looks, check out these armchair and side chair pairings, which will fit seamlessly into a more traditional interior without feeling stuffy or overdone.
1. Bacci Chair // Logan Dining Chair | 2. High Back Dining Chair // Dane Dining Chair | 3. Ercol Originals Stacking Chair // Shaw Walnut Bench | 4. Alastair Arm Chair // Owen Metal Frame Chairs | 5. Melrose Dining Chair // Windsor Bench | 6. Natural Linen Armchair // SKOGSTA Chair
The prices on this board really run the gamut, from that nearly $1,300 Rejuvenation bench (that’s SO STUNNING with the chair we paired it with) to an under-$50 IKEA chair (that could easily have come from some boogie boutique somewhere in LA for 10x the price in terms of look…maybe not material or craftsmanship). While #1 is a good coupling of mid-century styling and curves, #2 actually works because they’re opposites (one is sharp and angular, the other is soft and sinuous). Both those chairs from #4 are SUCH great prices and when paired together, they elevate each other. And uh…that blonde wood bench from Target at #5 is so good, I’d say if you don’t have room for it in your dining room, grab it for another area in your home because it’s so good (and under $250).
Okay, you made it this far, and now you’re probably wondering…wait…what about tables? While we didn’t include them specifically in this round up, we have written two different chairs + dining table power couples posts so you can get some idea of how to pair things (like this one and this one). Also, did you know we have all our current furniture pieces (including dining tables for the sake of this post) curated in our SHOP page? Head here for a TON of picks at a variety of price points.
***Thank you so much to contributing market researcher Nancy Mitchell for helping us to pull this piece together.