People tend to keep their dining room suites, table & chairs, for ten to fifteen years. With this in mind, it goes without saying, that you should buy the highest quality you can afford. You are better to have four excellent chairs rather than eight pretty good ones. I have preached this for as long as I’ve been in the furniture industry “get the best possible chairs you can afford and you will never be sorry”. I have seen people settle for lower quality chairs, just so they can get eight of them, and within a few months two of them are too wiggly to use and one of them sits in the corner until someone has the time to take it apart and re-glue all the joints before it can be used again.
Dining chairs should always be made out of hardwood. Cherry, maple, oak and walnut to name a few. These woods are exceptionally strong, generally do not warp and look attractive for decades with minimal upkeep. All the connections should be glued and screwed, if practical, in order to create the most rigid frame possible.
If the frames are made of metal check to see if the connections are welded or machine screwed together. Most metals that are welded are very strong and should be able to stand up to day-to-day use without any problem. When the frame is metal and the connection devices are machine screws they should also be very strong and durable. Remember to give the chair frame a harsh workout in the showroom. Wiggle around on the seat. Stand on the seat. Lean back on the back two legs (like lots of kids do at home) and make sure that the frame has no give to it at all. If it’s wiggly at the store, it will not get tougher once you get it home.
Sit down in the chair and determine these factors. Do my feet sit flat and comfortably on the floor? When I sit back is the seat pan deep enough? Is the seat pan wide enough from side to side? When I lean back in the chair am I at the correct angle to eat? (Am I sitting too far forward or too far back?). Are there cross braces on the underside of the chair that stop me from putting my feet underneath? (This drives me crazy when I can’t put my feet under the chair). If you answer no to any of these questions, find out if the manufacturer will make any adjustments to alter the product so that you get a better fit. If they say no, then keep looking.
The back position and comfort are critical. Chairs come in so many different styles; with fully upholstered backs, vertical slat backs, horizontal slat backs, full wood backs, the list goes on and on so you must sit in the chair for about one hour in the store to be sure that it fits your family’s bodies.
Wood seat and back chairs I refer to as forever chairs. If you are lucky enough to find non-upholstered dining room chairs that you feel are comfortable, you have hit the jackpot. You will never worry about spilling anything on them because they can be easily wiped off; and if you get a scratch or dent on the wood, you can call it character or have a wood finisher touch it up without any problem. They are a winner.
Wood framed chairs with upholstered seats and backs are also very good, but you will have to be very careful about not spilling anything on your fabric over the years. If you do get a bad stain that you can’t get out, then you may need to consider having the entire set recovered, which could be costly. No matter what, fabric wears out. You will eventually have to recover any of these chairs that have upholstery. Some manufacturers upholster the legs on dining chairs, which looks pretty good in the right application, however, no matter how careful you are, marks will appear on the legs over time causing them to look a little run down.
The decision to have arms on your dining chairs is a personal one. Many people add armchairs to the set for either end of the table to create the head-of-the-household look. This is a tried and true look and has been around forever. The thing to consider when you adding arms to the chairs is, the inside width from arm to arm. How is that space for you when you are sitting in the chair? Are the arms so close that they are actually touching you when you sit in the chair? One of my biggest pet peeves is, when the arms are too close and I feel like I am wedged into the chair. Over the course of an hour I may be able to handle it but over a seven course Italian meal, it drives me crazy. Again, while in the showroom you need to see if the inside width of the armchair can work for you and your guests. Another factor to consider is the arm height. Do they provide any comfort to the user or are they too low and the user has to lean to the left or the right to rest your elbow on the arm. The arms should be able to support the users’ elbows on both sides of the chair at the same time. It’s just that easy. If they don’t do this, the arms are too low. Another aspect of the arm height is, that sometimes the height for sitting comfort is good, but the user can’t push the chair up to the table because the arms are too high. If you have a large space for your dining room table and chairs then this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But when you get into smaller scale dining rooms it will take up more of your available footprint to have your chairs placed out from the edge of the table on a full time basis. The unfortunate outcome that will happen over time, is the dents that are caused from users trying to pull their chair up to the edge and not realize that the arms are too high, so they crash into the tables’ edge.
Some manufacturers are using plastics to create unique looking dining chairs in see-through materials in a variety of colours and looks. These chairs can be quite interesting in your interior, especially if you have smaller rooms, because they take up very little visual space. The actual chemical composition of the plastic itself will determine the durability and longevity of the product. Some plastics are very resilient to sunshine and won’t discolour or become brittle.
Most manufacturers will have a variety of woods to choose from in a vast amount of wood colours. If you’re not positive of the colour you are seeking be sure to take some samples home so that you can see them in the lighting in your home. This is always the best way for you to feel confident with this decision. The same goes for fabrics. Some textiles are extremely durable and can take a ton of abuse. They can handle sit rubs, spills and clean ups and still look terrific for many years. However, know what you are getting. Some fabrics look wonderful but six months after you get them home they start to show wear and tear and spill marks, and nobody wants that. Take the fabric samples home and see them in the space and lighting you wish to use them in. Most showrooms will take a deposit on your credit card for you to take some samples home, but it is fully refundable when you return them. I could never figure out why so many people take samples home and never bring them back to the store. Oh well, it’s their money. The best place to look at fabric choices is in your own home. That way you can take a couple of days to make sure you are making the right decision. Remember, you may have that set of dining chairs for the next 15 years, so you want to make a well thought out choice.
Many people underestimate how much space a dining room chair will take up in width, so here is a little tip. On average, a dining chair will have a footprint of 24” wide per chair. Most people then assume that you can have four chairs on each side of an 8’-0” long table however, it doesn’t work that way. 24” is the width of the seat pan and if you placed all the chairs edge to edge down one side of the table, the users would have no room to move. Think of each person requiring 30” per chair so that there is a little room for moving your arms and sliding the chair away from the table, without knocking into the people seated beside you. Another detail to consider is the leg configuration of your table. A pedestal base is a dream to move around because it only has one center leg to contend with, whereas a four legged table will cause difficulties in fitting users around the legs once you are at maximum seating capacity.