July 15, 2024

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Best Dining Chairs 2024 | The Strategist

12 min read

Dining chairs are an easy way to experiment aesthetically, whether you’re looking for a Shaker element or something pink and velvet. To surface the best-looking pieces (that are durable and, for the most part, budget friendly), we asked over a dozen experts — including design historians, architects, and interior designers — to share their favorites. Below are some thoroughly vetted choices, including a historically significant Viennese café chair with its own Wikipedia page and the startlingly inexpensive, thrice-recommended Article Svelti, which architect Ming Thompson describes as “the perfect piece of furniture for when you want to add color but don’t want to spend $3,000 on a red couch.”

I’m a huge chair-design nerd, and although there’s a soft place in my heart for history’s wackiest seats, I also believe that the best chair is one you enjoy sitting in and doesn’t rush you to move somewhere comfier. Of course, a lot of chairs fit those criteria, from exemplars of pure “chairness,” a quality design historian Charlotte Fiell defines as “how a kid would draw a chair,” to zany postmodern squiggles. One way to narrow the criteria is by considering an item’s visual footprint. Translucent plastic, panels made from rattan with an open weave (also known as caning), or thin wooden spindles make for a lighter silhouette, better for small spaces, while a solid back, upholstery, or wide legs are more visually dominant.

I also considered how a style complements other furniture — either through resemblance or contrast. Lightweight, industrial chairs might have a similar silhouette to a postmodern coffee table; if you’re buying wooden chairs, you may want them to match the finish of other wood furniture. Still, there’s no need to overthink it: if the main thing your chairs have in common is that you love them, that’s also a great design scheme.

In general, dining chairs are made of materials that make them comfortable and solid enough to sit in for hours but lightweight enough that you won’t gouge your floor as you move them around. Most options on our list are made of wood, steel, plastic, or a combination of the three. For a plastic chair, UV resistance is a useful feature; it will prevent it from fading in the sun — something to which even indoor chairs are susceptible.

In most cases, you’ll be buying multiples of a dining chair (although some of the experts we spoke to, like The Little Book of Living Small author Laura Fenton, say it’s okay to mix and match). Start with your budget and table size and work back from there: You may want a less expensive option to fill a six-seater table, or you can splurge on a pair of design-y chairs to round out a set you already own. We’ve sorted the list by price into four tiers, all per chair: below $150 ($), below $250 ($$), below $400 ($$$), and above $400 ($$$$).

Another option for saving on chairs is to buy vintage, which Charlotte and Peter Fiell (co-authors of Chairs: 1,000 Masterpieces of Modern Design, 1800 to Present Day and Modern Chairs) recommend as a way to “get more for your money” and is, to be honest, the only way I buy furniture. A good rule of thumb is to search for a design or style that has been continuously produced for many years — like a Parsons chair or Marcel Breuer’s Cesca chair — and set alerts on eBay, your local Craigslist, and resale sites like Chairish and 1stdibs. Listings for popular styles come up fairly frequently, giving you a choice of vendors in your area, and they’ll still be around years later if you need to add more to your set. (Some popular vintage chairs are still in production, but buying vintage is usually a better deal.) It is harder to find a pristine vintage chair, but if you don’t mind some signs of wear or doing a light cleaning yourself, it can expand your range of affordable options.

Article Svelti Chair

Photo: Retailer

Material: UV-resistant polypropylene | Price: $

The Article Svelti is a Goldilocks chair, with several just-right qualities that suit anyone — elegant design, lightweight yet sturdy legs, a durable, wipeable material, and an affordable price point. Multiple experts recommended it, all for different reasons. The plastic construction is durable and “absolutely kidproof,” according to Hunker editorial director Leonora Epstein, and reports that it’s highly versatile — she uses a version of the Svelti as a desk chair. Thompson likes that the chair comes in “great colors that are really matte” — like the bright orange you see in a lot of mid-century décor and a cool aloe green — useful for buyers who want to add a trendy shade to their home but don’t want to commit to a larger or more expensive piece in a non-neutral color.

The Svelit also durable enough to last you for years and years. I’ve seen them at tons of restaurants and cafés, an indicator that they’re hard-wearing enough for professional use. They’re also made of UV-resistant plastic, so resist fading in the sun whether indoors or out. Strategist writer Emma Wartzman used them as dining chairs for two years before moving them to the backyard, and attests that “they’ve held up great. No signs of wear and tear at all,” she says.

Ikea Ivar Chair

Material: Pine | Price: $

For an even less expensive chair, the Ikea Ivar is a classic. Writer Laura Fenton recommends them as “a great affordable option” “has been in the catalogue as long as I can remember” (a helpful quality if you might add to the set later). For a basic wooden chair, Fenton says that it’s surprisingly versatile: “The lines are really simple and clean, so they can skew more modern, traditional, or country.” Plus the unfinished pine is easy to customize. “You can paint or stain them to the color that suits your décor and easily refinish them later if your tastes change or you pass them on to someone else,” she says.

Hay Elémentaire Chair

Material: UV-resistant polypropylene | Price: $

To design the Élémentaire chair, Hay partnered with the Bouroullec brothers — sibling preeminent French designers. Despite being made of plastic, the chair that resulted is “comfy, not hard on your back, and designed to be used all day, not just to look nice in a corner of your living room,” says Antoine Pons, owner of Momentum Design Store. He also appreciates the price: “It’s an affordable way to own a collectible from great designers.”

Ikea Clear Tobias Chair

Photo: Retailer

Polycarbonate plastic, chrome-plated steel | $

Former Strategist writer Leah Muncy owns two of these “extraordinarily comfortable,” wobble-free Ikea plastic cantilevered chairs. They accent four rattan chairs around her six-seater table, but the Tobias chairs are so much more comfortable that “my roommate and I only sit in the [Ikea] ones,” Muncy says, one of the qualities I look for in a good dining chair. Strategist contributor and furniture reseller Billy Domineau also includes the chair on his list of ten Ikea pieces that are made to last: “It’s durable, versatile, and surprisingly comfortable,” he says.

Anthropologie Velvet Elowen Chair

Photo: Retailer

Material: Cotton velvet, hardwood frame, brass legs | Price: $$$

For something soft and plush but still durable enough for dinnertime, these Anthropologie velvet chairs have the unusual endorsement of being “rabbitproof,” per Biggs. She uses them around a breakfast table in the room where she keeps two free-roaming pet rabbits. The velvet is “really plush,” she says, but its dense weave makes it tough enough to withstand animal-related wear and tear. (I’ve noticed the same effect with cats who treat every bit of upholstery as a scratching post — the density of a velvet weave just doesn’t interest them.) Fur brushes right off — “I don’t even need to use the lint roller,” she says — and the bales of hay that Biggs stores near the chairs don’t damage the fabric.

Affordable Seating Cane Wood Restaurant Chair

Material: Wood, cane | Price: $$

Interior designer Charlie Hellstern discovered this woven cane-backed restaurant chair while searching for an affordable, nonplastic dining chair for a client. Several experts we spoke to caveated their love of cane furniture by mentioning its susceptibility to damage, but choosing a chair made to stand up to restaurant-tier wear and tear like this one is a “good way to ensure durability,” Hellstern says. “Caning is one of the most ancient techniques, and I love how classic the look is with black-stained wood.”

Mullca French School Chairs

Photo: Retailer

Material: Steel, plywood | Price: $

I bought four of these steel-framed, plywood French school chairs while searching for a dining chair under $100 (they fit the criteria if you buy from Etsy), and they’ve become one of my favorite home purchases. The chairs are quite sturdy, easy to clean, and comfortable — they’re effectively my working-from-home office chairs, too, and I haven’t noticed any back or neck pain from sitting in them for hours at a time. And although they’re school chairs, they’re proportioned for adults, with a seat that’s 18 inches above the ground and approximately 16 inches wide, depending on the model — roughly the same dimensions as the Ikea Ivar chair. (There’s also a style with an extra-wide seat you can find on vintage marketplaces.)

Although the Mullca chairs are vintage and no longer available new, they were mass-produced in their prime and are easy to find in a wide range of styles, colors, and finishes on resale sites like Etsy, 1stdibs, and Chairish. If you’re trying to match a specific color you can’t find online, spray-painting the steel components would be a quick DIY workaround. I’m not their only fan — Dimes Square bar Le Dive has a bunch of them with cherry-red frames.

Ton Ironica Chair

Photo: Retailer

Material: Beech, molded plywood | Price: $$

This spindle-backed Windsor chair, manufactured by historic Czech chair company Ton (founded by Austrian furniture-maker Michael Thonet), is recommended by Fenton. “Often, when chairs get smaller, they become less comfortable, but this one supports you, even though the square footage it takes up is very small,” she says. The chair’s timeless design works in a variety of settings, “which is a good thing for people in a small space who may move to a larger space later.”

Arrmet Pocket Folding Chair

Photo: Retailer

Material: Polypropylene or wood, steel frame | Price: $

For a dining-chair set you can bring out for a group and fold away into the thinnest stack possible when you’re not hosting, Fenton recommends these chairs from Armett, which collapse “extremely slimly” compared to similar models, down to less than an inch in width. The design is “nice enough that you wouldn’t be sad to sit on it every day,” especially in cheery colors like tomato red and petrol blue.

Normann Copenhagen Form Chair

Photo: Retailer

Material: Polypropylene, oak | Price: $$$

Normann Copenhagen is known for producing “beautiful furniture that’s super sturdy and built to last,” says Thompson. (Her firm has used its pieces to outfit offices, which demand furniture that can stand up to constant use.) She particularly likes the Form chair, which, in addition to a comfortable molded-plastic upper, has oak legs that offer a little more weight and gravitas.

Victoria Ghost Chair Designed by Philippe Starck for Kartell

Material: Polycarbonate | Price: $$$

Two of our experts praised Kartell’s Ghost series of translucent plastic chairs, created by French industrial designer Philippe Starck in the early aughts. They’re especially good for avoiding visual clutter in small spaces: Design editor Caroline Biggs has seen them around a table with six dining chairs, and says that the plastic fabrication is “so transparent and streamlined” that a full set makes a space “feel airy, which is not typical in a room with six dining chairs stuffed at a table.” (Plus, she reports that they’re surprisingly comfortable.)

Ton 14 Era Dining Chair

Ton No. 18 Chair

Eames Molded Plastic Side Chair

Photo: Retailer

Material: Polypropylene, steel | Price: $$–$$$$

One of the most imitated plastic-chair designs, the Eames molded chair, was first introduced as an entry in a MoMA low-cost furniture competition in 1948. It’s a favorite of Tyler Watamanuk, author of chair-centric newsletter Sitting Pretty, who has sought out the chairs since buying a knockoff that quickly fell apart in his mid-20s. Compared with other historic chairs, its customizable range of materials, finishes, and heights is “seemingly endless.” Maddie Bailis, manager of new product and merchandising at Alex Mill, is a devotee of Eames side chairs. She owns a vinyl-upholstered pair that she rescued from a renovation of her family’s synagogue in a Philadelphia suburb as a 10-year-old; she reports that they’re still in good shape.

Arne Jacobsen Series 7 Chair

Material: Veneer shell, chrome-plated or powder-coated steel frame | Price: $$$$

Originally developed for kitchens and canteens, the Series 7 chair is an “absolute icon of Scandinavian design,” according to Charlotte Fiell. Fiell owns a set from the early 1960s and says that “they look good with more use” — especially in the wood veneer finishes, which take on a beautiful patina as they age. Fiell likes that the chairs come in plenty of colors, stack for easy storage, and have a friendly design with “a curved seat that looks like a smile.”

Carl Hansen & Søn Wishbone Chair

Photo: Retailer

Material: Wooden frame, paper-cord seat | Price: $$$$

Several of our experts recommended the Wishbone as their holy-grail chair, and after sitting in it myself, I agree. The wide seat and curved armrest feel solid and supportive despite their lightweight silhouette, a sign of craftsmanship. Thompson, who has had her set of Wishbone chairs for more than a decade, enjoys their design history — Hans Wegner designed the chair in 1949 as part of a series based on portraits of Danish merchants sitting in Ming-dynasty chairs, and “I love that there’s the Scandinavian purity but also the decorative, beautiful back that refers back to classical Chinese furniture,” she says. She adds that the chairs are durable enough for a family with kids — albeit with a cushion added to protect the paper-cord seat. Her kids will spill “a whole bowl of spaghetti and meatballs on the chair,” she says, and the chairs have been just fine.

Shaker Workshops Straight Chair

Material: Wood, cotton canvas | Price: $$$$

“All I care about are Shaker chairs,” says Washington Post fashion writer and Opulent Tips newsletter writer Rachel Tashjian. “Can you imagine sitting in that chair and singing a plain, simple song?” Tashjian’s retailer of choice — the Etsy store Llanfair Studios — has closed, but I recommend New Hampshire company Shaker Workshops. As of 2020, the Sabbathday Lake Shakers, the last active Shaker community in the world, holds partial ownership of the company, offered “in gratitude and testimony to the legacy of Shaker design.”

Chadhaus Hanko Chair

Photo: Retailer

Material: Walnut, maple, oak, or poplar | Price: $$$$

For a handmade chair that can stand up to larger spaces, Hellstern recommends the Hanko chair by Seattle company Chadhaus. “Some of the homes that are really hot right now are mid-century modern ones with big open spaces and big, wide, open windows … In a space like that, furniture needs to have its own visual weight,” says Hellstern. She recommends Chadhaus for quality craftsmanship and design — particularly this chair’s contoured backrest and seat and non-“wispy” legs. And although it’s a splurge, Hellstern says it’s a fair price for handmade furniture that will last. “I would rather buy one chair every four years — or whatever is my budget — to get a chair that’s going to be with me forever that I love.”

• Diana Budds, senior story producer at Curbed
• Maddie Bailis, manager of new product and merchandising at Alex Mill
• Sophie Collé, furniture designer
• Leonora Epstein, senior content director at Hunker
• Laura Fenton, author of The Little Book of Living Small
• Charlotte Fiell, co-author of Chairs: 1,000 Masterpieces of Modern Design, 1800 to Present Day and Modern Chairs
• Peter Fiell, co-author of Chairs: 1,000 Masterpieces of Modern Design, 1800 to Present Day and Modern Chairs
• Charlie Hellstern, interior designer
• Julia Noran Johnston, founder and president of Business of Home
• Leah Muncy, former Strategist writer
• Caitlin Murray, founder and principal designer at Black Lacquer Design
• Antoine Pons, founder of Momentum Design Store
• Aran Simi, vintage dealer
• Rachel Tashjian, Harper’s Bazaar fashion news director
• Ming Thompson, architect at Atelier Cho Thompson
• Emma Wartzman, Strategist writer
• Tyler Watamanuk, author of Sitting Pretty newsletter
• Michael Yarinsky, co-founder of Office of Tangible Space

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