Dear Gail: I just moved into a new house, and it’s the first time I’ve had a separate dining room. My mother and grandmother had the typical matching set, but think I’d like to do something different. Seems most are sold in sets. Is it OK to use different chairs? Any advice on what to look for is appreciated. — Monique
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Dear Monique: I love that you’re looking to do something different with your set. Most people are uncomfortable with mix and match as they’re afraid to make a mistake, so they end up buying the whole set. I always think of the “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer bought everything in a catalog picture for his living room. So here are some things to consider when buying dining room furniture.
Many times measuring gets neglected because it’s the least glamorous part of buying furniture. But it’s one of the most important. You want to create a space that is both comfortable and functional.
You need at least 36 inches from the edge of the table to the wall or any furniture piece behind a chair. I prefer 48 inches, but 36 inches will work. This gives you enough room to walk behind when people are seated.
You want to be comfortable when seated, so I like 10 inches to 12 inches from the bottom of the apron to the top of the seat. The apron is the piece that is attached vertically underneath the table top, running horizontally around the table. It’s something many forget and use the height of the table, which can create uncomfortable seating especially if you cross your legs. Also if you choose chairs with arms, make sure there is enough clearance for them to tuck all the way under the table.
Next, consider how many chairs you need and what will actually fit at the table. You’ll get the maximum number of chairs with a pedestal or trestle base. If you don’t want people putting their feet on the base, look for one with legs at the edges of the table. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck with the leg.
Remember to calculate the space between chairs, as well as the actual space the chair takes. A general guideline is 22 to 24 inches per place setting. This will adjust depending upon the size of your chair and whether it has arms.
You also have to figure out where you’ll place any extra chairs if your table is not fully extended all the time.
If you plan on using an area rug, you’ll want the chairs to sit on the rug when they’re pulled out. Give yourself at least 24 inches, although I prefer 30 inches, from the edge of the table to the edge of the rug. You don’t want the chair legs catching on the edge of the rug and causing an accident or damage to your rug.
Now that you have your sizes in hand, it’s time to go shopping. You mentioned not having a matching set, and I’m all for that. An unmatched set creates a relaxed feeling and can add more interest and fun to the room. What’s important is that they are distinctly different from the table. You don’t want it to look like you tried to match them and failed.
The simplest way is to do a different wood finish or paint color. For one client, we did the same style for each chair but a different leather color. Super fun is to do completely different chairs. A simple style table works best as your attention is all about the chairs. So it’s not too busy, have the chairs in the same wood or painted finish.
A common but also nice mix match is to have different head chairs. Using full upholstered chairs in a coordinating fabric to the side chairs is a nice combination. Start with the fully upholstered chairs as you can easily recover the cushions on the side chairs with a simple, wrap and staple.
If completely different is a little scary for you, look for a set that has both open back and solid back chairs, then mix and match them.
There is a wide range of materials you have to select from beyond wood and painted. Depending upon your table material, don’t forget metal chairs, rattan, acrylic and ones made from mixed materials.
In my personal opinion, it’s the chairs that make the room. It’s what you see first, especially the back. If working within a budget, I would put most of your budget into the chairs, then the table top and last the base. You only see that beautiful table base when the chairs are pulled out.
Pretty is great but comfort and quality are key if you’re going to use your dining room on a regular basis. If it’s a holiday room, you can scrimp a little. But either way, make sure the table and chairs are structurally sound. You don’t want jiggling, wiggly or swaying.
When buying anything vintage, make sure the wood is smooth without any splinters that can hurt you or snag that expensive top. As well, chairs should be able to support the weight of an average adult.
Monique, have fun shopping and take your time. Your dining room will be something you’ll keep for years so get something you love.
Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by email to GMJinteriors@gmail.com. Or, mail to 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her web address is www.GMJinteriors.com.