How To Pick the Right Chairs for My Dining Table

February 7th, 2022 | Tracey McKee

You’ve fallen in love with a dining table. Good start! But often, finding the right chairs is a harder process. They’re expensive and confusing, and it’s all too easy to make a costly mistake when selecting them. Below, I’ll share some common questions about choosing dining chairs, with advice to guide you toward a great decision.

How many chairs can I fit around the table?

Everybody wants to optimize seating — but if you push it too far you’ll end up with a mess. A good guideline is to make sure you have at least three inches of clearance between chairs and other structures like the legs or pedestals of your table. If you’re tight on space and really want to maximize seating, pedestal tables allow a little more wiggle room (literally).  In a pinch, you can fit in a couple more chairs by allowing side chairs to straddle the under-table pedestal base. 

Dining Room Chairs

Our Sparrow and Sage Sophia chairs (above left) were specifically designed with a narrow profile to optimize seating space. I love their stain-resistant fabric, and castors make them extremely easy to move around. However, they might not be the best choice for a household with tall, larger people.

Speaking of size, chairs come in every possible configuration and dimension, and these details make a difference for comfort. The best way to shop is to sit in them! If you can’t do that, get measurements of the interior height and depth (the actual area where you sit, measuring the seat from back to edge, and the back from top to bottom). It’s almost impossible to get a perfect fit without “test-driving” a chair, but these measurements can help give a better sense of how tight or roomy it is.

Are chair and table heights standardized?

Yes and no.  Dining tables are generally 30” high. But the table’s edge (called the apron) can vary in thickness. This is important if you’re choosing dining chairs with arms, because you need at least a couple of inches of clearance between the arm and the apron to be sure the chair will slide in and out easily. 

Chair height

There’s definitely an art to pairing chairs and tables, which is why asking for some design advice can be a good idea. The trick is to stay within the same genre — but that still leaves lots of room for different options.  For example our French Table can be paired with leather chairs (below left) or a super casual look, or dressed up with our Nixon chairs (below right). All of our tables are classic, so I wouldn’t throw a mid-century chair or anything too traditional into the mix.

Dining Room Chairs

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What are host chairs?

Host chairs are special chairs that sit at the head and foot of a rectangular table, usually reserved for the hosts. I love them! They’re a great way to add some softness to dining rooms, which generally have mostly hard surfaces. If you go this route, I’d recommend making the host chairs a little taller than the side chairs.

Dining Room Chairs

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Why do dining chairs cost so much?

It’s not uncommon for the price of high-quality dining chairs to be a bit of a shock — especially when you’re getting eight to 12 of them! It’s important to realize that a lot of work goes into a good chair; it has four legs just like a table and many structural elements such as carved wood. Upholstery requires yet more material and workmanship, and if there’s a fabric pattern involved the chairs must also be crafted so the patterns match.

We understand that chairs are an investment, and we have lots of experience guiding clients to a decision they feel great about. Our priority is seeing you enjoy decades of wonderful meals in those chairs!

sparrow & sage craftsmanship

Sparrow + Sage Craftmanship

As with all home furnishings choices, the key to success is being really clear about what matters most to you. Form over function? Or function over form? Of course the best answer is “both,” but in the real world we usually have to make some trade-offs, so the age-old debate continues.

For me, the deciding factor will always be style. I know that if something looks really beautiful to me, I will be happy with my choice now and for years to come. But for some people function and comfort are equally, or even more, important than aesthetics. If that’s you, then choose function or comfort, even if it means a small style compromise. We’ll make sure your table still looks fantastic, and you’ll thank yourself every time you sit down!

- Tracey McKee

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