Has this staple of eclectic interiors had its day? Find out if it’s time to update to a uniform seating selection
Houzz UK deputy editor. I’m an interiors journalist and editor, previously for the… More
When designers started to show off interiors with dining chairs that didn’t match but looked well-chosen and perfect for the space, it was a breath of fresh air. Suddenly there were so many options – firstly to save money by not buying a set of chairs, but then also to paint different chairs the same colour, or paint the same chairs different colours; to mix up design eras, textures and materials, and generally make the dining or kitchen table a relaxed and informal spot.
But is the look now becoming a little dated? Is that ‘anything goes’ eclecticism rather passé – or here to stay? And what are the alternatives? Read on and decide for yourselves.
The case for matching chairs: Exhibit 1
Why they’re a contender: They’re a classy way to add character to minimalist spaces
Just because a room has a minimal style doesn’t mean it needs to lack character. And while this could raise the case for throwing in some varied chairs to do the job, in this instance matching designs suit the calm aesthetic far better.
This boxy vintage style of chair works perfectly with the lines of the table and wall panelling, but, crucially, it’s old. As such, it’s lived-in and has the patina and creases to prove it. This all adds bags of warmth to the otherwise clean and serene white interior, but without disrupting its pleasing sense of order.
Second-hand leather is especially good in this sort of context; a seat upholstered in it means you’re not reliant on the wood for characterful imperfections, so you could choose a clean-lined chair with a polished, smooth and reasonably uniform finish on its frame, but a scuffed, characterful seat.
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The case for matching chairs: Exhibit 2
Why they’re a contender: They can be so striking
A shot of vibrant cerulean blue is perhaps the last thing you’d expect to be the star of this rustic, pared-back living room, but what an impact these eight painted wooden chairs make.
When you have a strong existing feature in a room – the lovely stone chimney wall here, for example – it’s wise not to try to compete or, at least, only compete in a complementary way. And mismatched chairs could just be too much.
These blue beauties, however – while they most definitely hold their own against the wall – don’t add a busyness that clashes with the busyness of the stones. Picture an eclectic arrangement of varied chairs in here instead and you can imagine how the eye would struggle to settle.
The same tip is likely to apply for a small dining space, especially if it features pattern or lots of collections on shelves or walls.
The case for matching chairs: Exhibit 3
Why they’re a contender: They can be just as laid-back as mismatched seats
This welcoming Scandi dining spot has all the casual charm of a table fringed with non-matching chairs, proving that coordinated need not mean formal. The dominant mix of white, textured rattan and pale pink keeps the mood soft, and the icing on the cake is the sheepskin on the back of one of the chairs.
Throwing in an accessory, whether a throw like this or a rug or cushion, that breaks up the ‘matchy-ness’ of matching chairs, will soften the feel of your room. But having a uniform foundation of identical seats ensures the space feels pulled-together, neat and uncrowded.
The case for matching chairs: Exhibit 4
Why they’re a contender: They can be a shortcut to grown-up elegance
When your dining chair of choice is plush and upholstered, it’s likely to be a statement enough on its own, without jostling amid a mixed collection – especially if you want every chair to be as luxuriously comfy as these bum-hugging pink perches.
Go for a bank of rich fabric in the same colour and style, and the expanse of material will appear almost uninterrupted, meaning you’ll maximise the feeling of luxury.
Browse dining chairs in the Houzz Shop
The case for matching chairs: Exhibit 5
Why they’re a contender: They can help to keep a lid on an eclectic room design
This wonderful Georgian room has been filled with all sorts of interesting antique and vintage pieces from different periods. And yet, look closely, and the design is carefully controlled; the palette is calm and limited and there’s plenty of space for each element to breathe.
If you like to mix things up but don’t want a full-on eclectic room, steer clear of unmatched dining chairs, but do go for pieces with some vintage, like these model 391 Ercol Windsor numbers.
So, is it really over for mismatched dining chairs?
Coordinated seats have plenty going for them, and they work beautifully in the homes in which they’re pictured, but does that mean mismatched chairs are dated? Perhaps you’ll instead agree with these 5 reasons for cherishing those one-off chairs.
1. They’re perfect in an eclectic-style home
A warm, homely mishmash of styles, patterns and collected bits and pieces has evolved into a bona fide style in its own right: eclectic. And such a vintage-heavy look could hardly be better topped off than with a collection of chairs picked up at junk shops or handed down through the family. In eclectic rooms, it’s all about the beauty or interest of each individual object in its own right, rather than matching for the sake of it.
While this kitchen may look effortlessly thrown together, though, don’t be fooled. See how carefully the palette is controlled – especially when it comes to clashing patterns that magically work together. So if you’re going for this effect, pick your apparently random seats with design-savvy caution.
Different styles but all painted one colour, or different styles but all in one material (wood, in this case) are just two options. Mix ’n’ match chairs but with identically upholstered seat pads are another option for keeping your scheme from running away with itself and giving you a headache.
2. They’ll let you show off a contemporary designer collection…
Style-savvy Danes don’t typically go for the sort of eclectic schemes seen in the previous picture (just check out Houzz’s Danish photo stream for proof). Instead – though of course there are exceptions – the focus tends to be on designer pieces, artfully put together against a backdrop that won’t compete – as seen in this Danish dining space.
And when it comes to dining chairs, there’s in fact a great opportunity to show off a number of favourite designs, rather than limiting you to just one classic, repeated.
In this example, the cool, calm and Scandi aesthetic is only enhanced by mixed-up chairs, because of the focus on monochrome for the backdrop and choosing designs in the same or in a coordinating colour (that pink is picking up on hues in the left-hand artwork).
3. …or display a curation of classics
Similarly, the same idea would work with classic designs collected over the years, as seen in this enviably large eat-in kitchen.
Here, a sprinkling of Eames DSW chairs sets the tone. Rather than creating a junk-shop-cute eclectic look, the effect is a little more formal, showing again just how versatile mixed-up chairs can be. This is backed up by the clean lines and cool greys of the kitchen itself.
Scour eBay for second-hand design classics (throw in some obscure ones for design kudos – a midcentury Tapiovaara Pirkka, say, or a 1920s Stuhl W1). Then dot flea-market finds between them and, if you’re lucky, they’ll be elevated to the status of collectable design pieces in their own right, too.
For elegance rather than higgledy-piggledy homeliness, don’t overcrowd your table with them, but let each design breathe.
4. They can boost the casual relaxed feel of an airy interior
Done right, modern coastal style has to be one of the most “come in and kick off your shoes” looks for a home, and this pale yet interesting kitchen proves the point perfectly. Those wide, pale boards, the painted panelling on the walls, the soft, sun-bleached colours, the vintage radio… It’s a scene that just invites you to sit and slow down.
A risk with this sort of look is that it can border on twee. Here, it’s not only the zinc tabletop and industrial-style pendants that take away any sugar-coating, but also the well-chosen and non-matching chairs. Go for designs in the same colour and you’ll lose none of the airy minimalism.
5. They can give you the best of both worlds
Almost-matching chairs are a clever compromise when you want to break up a sense of order and uniformity… just not too much.
Head-of-table chairs are good to mix up (as seen here), as often there’s room to expand a little and choose a slouchier design. Opt for coordinated modern classics if you want to maintain a formal and contemporary feel.
Do you think mismatched chairs look dated, or are they timeless? Share your preferences and thoughts in the Comments section.