11/07/2014 12:46 EST | Updated 01/07/2015 05:59 EST

How to Choose the Perfect Dining Room Chair


In a busy world always hungry for "home-made meals in 30 minutes or less" and other time-saving tips, I understand why many of you don't have the hours for mulling over your dining chair choices. To help you find the perfect seat without all the searching and simmering, here's my recipe for dining design, in just three easy steps!

If you're reading this choose-your-chair choose-your-own-adventure and working with a round or square table, you can skip straight to tip #2.


#1 Start at the end

Okay, I have to admit, before I make your selection process easier -- I'm going to make it a little more difficult! Why? Because choosing the best possible dining chair usually doesn't mean picking just one chair, but really two! (Twice the work, I know.) However, the work pays off later, in double the functionality. By selecting larger, plusher, end chairs and simpler, more compact side chairs, you allow yourself to seat the maximum number of guests even with a limited space and budget, while still providing comfortable seating for everyday use and making a unique style statement.

What to Watch For:

-End chairs are a great place to play with pattern and colour. However, it's also smart to relate these to your living room furniture so they can be pulled to seat guests who stay after dinner, so consider pulling colour inspiration from this space and embracing a wild print or bold shade.

-Using arm chairs here caps the table elegantly (and when you have an elderly, pregnant or just tired guest some day, they'll appreciate not having to lean their elbows forward).

-This concept works well for virtually any oval or rectangular table. Just make sure first off that you check the width and height that can tuck into your table. Table tops can be surprisingly thick so don't assume the listed height is the full arm height you can work with (and check the width between legs too).

-End chairs can contrast your side chairs dramatically for an eclectic feel, subtly for traditional elegance, or anywhere in between -- for more on style see tip #3.


#2 Get on a Good Side

Once you've got some great end chair options, or have a square or round table with no defined "ends," it's time to size up some side chairs.

What to Watch For:

-Simpler chairs will look better in multiples, so it's safest to avoid bold patterns here and instead choose a solid but beautiful material. Plus, if you splurged on stunning end chairs or a treasured table, this is smart place to save.

-Selecting a stackable, weatherproof chair will provide ultimate flexibility, as the seats will move easily to the outdoors for busy BBQs, and stack out of the way to free up space for buffet meals or spring cleaning.

-In a small space, it's usually best to pick light and/or airy chairs. An open back chair allows longer sightlines for a larger looking room.

-If you want a little dose of bespoke drama but less investment, upholstering just the back of a side chair adds a pop of flavour (where it won't receive as much wear).

-Remember that using armrests on your chairs doesn't guarantee elbow room. Slim 18" chairs are fine for six-seat tables, but may leave the middle seats a bit cramped on longer 8+ seat tables (so sticking to 20"+ is safer).


Yanic Simard on the Cityline set with dining chairs from Ikea

#3 Style You Can Sit With

Ultimately, style selection in dining chairs comes down to personal taste, however there are some general guidelines that can help achieve any look.

What to Watch For:

-I'm a big fan of mixing hard materials like glass, metal, or stone, with softer surfaces like wood and upholstery, to create that inviting balance. If you have a table with metal legs and a glass top, for example, a white or light stained wood will reintroduce some warmth. Playing off a traditional wood table, consider chairs using metal and/or clear plastic to add some crisp contrast.

-For those who prefer a strictly traditional or modern look, you can use just one material (say all wood, or all metal), but consider adding variety through different leg styles for the chairs vs the table (ex carved vs plain, polished vs brushed) to avoid a matchy-matchy look. Painted or lacquered wood chairs are also a great option to add flavour in both scenarios!

-When mixing chairs, using a similar back height is an easy way to help them visually relate.

-If you prefer not to commit to a bold look, you can always choose classic neutral chairs (bent wood in a mid-tone stain is timeless) and let a series of table cloths create fresh seasonal statements that won't get stale.

-Trends to try: mismatched wood chairs all painted one colour (especially an appetizing red); cane-back chairs for a breezy Miami Beach appeal; open, minimal chairs revealing an elegant wood table; modern and traditional chairs mixed together in all white or all black.



  • Zenergy Ball Chair
    Zenergy Ball Chair
    Height Adjustable: Only by how much the ball is inflated
    Assembly Required: Yes
    Price: $247 at
    Benefits: Active engagement of those core muscles -- and the ball can't roll away!
    How It Felt: Much more secure than sitting on a ball without feet, which likely makes it a little easier on muscles. Still, it encourages fidgeting because a spill won't catapult the ball across the office. It's a comfy, squishy seat, but not all that active.
  • Swopper
    Height Adjustable: Yes
    Assembly Required: Yes
    Price: $699 at
    Benefits: This stool encourages movement in all directions, requiring core-muscle engagement.
    How It Felt: Even the flexibility of the stool is adjustable, so you can adjust how much you bounce and wiggle, eventually making it more difficult as you grow comfortable Swopping. It felt surprisingly sturdy to our testers, and the seat is quite plush, but one of our testers noted if it was too bouncy, it started to distract from work tasks at hand.
  • Wobble Stool
    Wobble Stool
    Uncaged Ergonomics
    Height Adjustable: Yes
    Assembly Required: Yes, and a little tricky
    Price: $179 at
    Benefits: The rounded bottom makes for very natural tilting motion in all directions, so your core muscles will work overtime to keep you balanced. The Wobble Stool is also adjustable enough to work as a seat and as a standing aid.
    How It Felt: The consensus among our testers was that the seat could use slightly more cushion, especially on its angled sides. The base allows movement in all directions, which many of our testers noted as particularly fun. A few wished it had an even lower setting to fit perfectly at our desks, but overall it was one of the biggest hits.
  • Rockin' Roller Desk Chair
    Rockin' Roller Desk Chair
    Height Adjustable: Only by how much the ball is inflated
    Assembly Required: Yes, but at least it came with a foot pump!
    Price: $149 at Pottery Barn Teen
    Benefits: Thanks to the bouncy nature of the ball, this also targets the core muscles, and once again, the ball can't roll away!
    How It Felt: Like sitting on any other ball, with an additional dose of fun. Just don't plan on sitting on one of the furry ones in your best black suit if you don't have a lint roller nearby!
  • Humanscale Freedom Saddle Seat
    Humanscale Freedom Saddle Seat
    Height Adjustable: Yes
    Assembly Required: No
    Price: $279 at
    Benefits: The saddle position is optimal for opening the hips because it lowers the thighs, promoting that natural curve in the spine.
    How It Felt: While this option certainly doesn't have the bells and whistles of some of the others we tested, it got major points for a soft, cushiony seat and created instantaneous posture adjustments. Because of its sturdy nature, though, one of our testers noted it was easy to find herself slouching on the Saddle Seat.
  • Wigli
    Height Adjustable: No, but available for purchase in three different heights
    Assembly Required: No
    Price: This European import is tricky to get your hands on in the U.S., with only one retailer in Chicago, but you can nab it for €339 at
    By allowing pelvic motion in all directions, the Wigli makes you work even harder to keep yourself balanced.
    How It Felt: Tough. You cannot zone out while sitting on this ultra-wiggly (they aren't kidding with that name) stool. "This one really forced me to use my core and keep my feet flat on the ground in order to sit up straight," one of our testers noted. Compared to some of the other options, there's not a lot of cushion. This probably isn't an all-day option... unless you want to risk what one tester called "semi-permanent flattening."
  • Gaiam Classic Balance Ball Chair
    Gaiam Classic Balance Ball Chair
    Height Adjustable: Only by how much the ball is inflated
    Assembly Required: Yes
    Price: $79.98 at
    Benefits: Like other ball-based options, this requires core muscle engagement -- and the ball can't roll away. Plus, this setup has the additional benefit of some low-back support.
    How It Felt: Some of our testers noted that the low-back support didn't quite match their bodies perfectly; it may take some tinkering with the level of inflation of the ball to find your perfect position. Otherwise, this was a comfy and sturdy option.
  • Buoy
    Height Adjustable: Yes
    Assembly Required: No
    Price: $199 to $298 at
    Benefits: The curved base of this stool means you're always moving, encouraging core muscles to engage.
    How It Felt: Keep in mind the Buoy was not designed to be an all-day desk chair. Still, there's not a lot of padding, and it doesn't allow for as much range throughout the hips. "As a fidgeter, this chair is up my alley," one of our testers noted, thanks to its rounded base. Despite all that movement it inspires, the Buoy felt surprisingly stable to our testers. "It wobbled in a comfortable way, so that I could pick up a dropped pen, but I never felt unbalanced sitting on it," one tester commented.
  • Muvman
    Height Adjustable: Yes
    Assembly Required: Yes
    Price: $599 at
    Benefits: Movement in all directions engages the core muscles. The adjustability allows it to function as a stool or as a standing aid.
    How It Felt: The Muvman encouraged wiggling, but not excessively so, and not in a way that was distracting from work. One tester named this her favorite of the bunch, while another felt it was too stiff, like a high school lab stool.