Much ado is given to the comfortableness of office chairs, but what about dining chairs? As dining continues to pivot toward a more at-home-centric affair, dining chairs with backs that dig, seats that squeeze, and arms that inhibit are becoming more and more difficult to overlook. Au contraire (chair?), dining chairs that cushion and cradle are increasingly shifting from “nice-to-have” to “absolute must.” If you’re among those choosy chair shoppers who are hunting for a dining chair with ergonomic clout, but also packs style in spades, we’ve assembled your go-to dining chair checklist. From back height to arms, this is everything you need to know in order to pick a dining chair that sets the ultimate comfort mood.  

Photo by Brie Williams / Design by Barrie Benson

3 Steps to Sitting Pretty—And Comfy

1. Choose a Muss-Worthy Material

You don’t need to have an overly precocious wool allergy to know that a material can have a major impact on comfort levels. While wood dining chairs can be sculpted and planed to gently mimic the curvature of the body, the fact remains that sitting on a wood dining chair for hours—even a comfortable wood dining chair—is more or less akin to riding out a 3-hour ball game in the cheap seats. That’s not to say wood chairs should be chucked to the side, but they are better suited for a breakfast nook where hours-long, wine-soaked dinner parties aren’t the norm. If you are inclined to go with wood in a formal setting, do your guests one solid (or not, actually) and spring for a set of dining chairs with upholstered seats. A set of carved mahogany Chinese Chippendale chairs outfitted with cushion-capped seats, for instance. 

Upholstered dining chairs, of course, are a relative no-brainer when it comes to comfort—especially those bolstered with a bit of batting. Whether decked out in leather, mohair, or velvet, upholstered chairs offer up a tactile experience that literally delights the skin. What upholstery feels most comfortable is mostly a matter of personal preference, though in some cases, climate is the biggest factor. Leather can feel especially cooling in warmer climates, while cotton-wools hybrids and mohairs can retain heat. 

Designers who routinely design for young families are quick to remind that a materials’ tactility isn’t the only factor that contributes to comfortable dining chairs; durability can have an effect, too. The less precious a fabric, the more it encourages guests to eat, drink, and be merry (or very liberal with the wine pours). Indoor-outdoor fabrics like Crypton or Sunbrella have become popular choices in recent years, renowned for the ability to mimic cottons and twills. In a similar vein, animated patterns or textures with more pile can effectively camoflouge everyday dirt and spills. 

Design by Jeff Schlarb

2. Go With an Anatomy-Following Form

When you consider that the chair is one of the few furniture pieces designed to mimic the form of the body (resulting in a high density of touchpoints), it’s clear that its form is worth allotting some consideration to. When asked about how to best maximize comfort at the dining table, many designers will caution against anything too upright, such as a Parsons dining chair or ladder-back chair. A staunch 90-degree angle between the seat and back provides no lower back support (a golden rule of ergonomics), which can result in guests not wanting to linger long after the dishes have been cleared. If you do fall for a set of straight-backed chairs, consider the seat depth. A roomy seat will prevent guests from feeling like a washboard is strapped to their backs. 

Another element to consider when selecting a dining chair is where the edge of its back hits (and what material that edge is made of). Dining chairs with towering backs forgo any assessment in this category, which makes them noteworthy in their own right. Many designers like to point out that chairs with shorter backs tend not to flatter a dining table as much as ones with higher backs, anyway. If a higher back leaves you feeling overpowered, oval backs or barrel backs, even when low enough to hit mid-back, tend not to dig into skin as much as a blunt, straight-cut back.

Photo by Dustin Halleck

3. Armed and Fabulous

Farewell to arms? Not when it comes to comfortable dining chairs. While arms are typically reserved for the head-of-table chairs, you’d be remiss not to consider them on all of your dining chairs if you can squeeze it. Arms allow occupants to rest their arms comfortably when not actively engaged in eating, easing stress on the body. Comfortable dining chairs with arms are a bit of a catch 22, as their presence can cramp personal space and make excusing one’s self from the table an exercise in elasticity. To promote elbow room (and detour elbows to the eyes), allow approximately 24” to 26” of personal space for each diner, as well as 6” of space between each chair. 

While on the subject of scooting in and out of the table, it’s worth calling out that chairs with lighter frames will aid in the endeavor, and castors—should you be lucky enough to find a style of chair that teams well with them—serve a real purpose, espeically on rugs. 

Photo by Caroline Allison / Design by Hannah Crowell

3 Comfortable Chair Classics to Consider

French Louis Chairs

With their fully upholstered backs and seats, Louis chairs—be they XV Louis dining chairs or XVI Louis chairs—are a safe bet when it comes to comfort. True comfort seekers may be most sedated by oval-backed Louis chairs, as the oval can be designed slightly concave to bolster the back. 

Klismos Chair

Ergonomics don’t often get a rap for being beautiful, but the Klismos chair, a Greece-born beauty with aesthetics to spare, spins that notion on its head. Eminently elegant, the Klismos chair features a gracefully arched s-shaped back and curving legs. The swell of the s-curve gently bumps the lower back, providing that much-needed low back support. 

Wishbone Chair 

Featuring a wrap-around bentwood armrest that’s supported by a single slat that recalls a forked bone, the Wishbone chair is an inspired choice for anyone looking for a short-backed chair that doesn’t also break backs. Danish Modernist Hans Wegner first cued up this now enthusiastically-emulated chair in 1949, culling inspiration from horseshoe-shape-backed Ming Dynasty chairs. 

Photo by Richard Powers

Bonus!: Banquet 

The canny designer’s answer for the most comfortable dining chair of them all? A banquet! Essentially the sofa distilled down to dining-friendly form, the banquet is the epitome of unrestricted dining. Just like a sofa, a banquet is capable of supporting laying, lounging, and loafing (a particularly novel idea come those holiday feasts). The banquet really is the zenith of comfortable dining chairs.

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Lead image by Paul Dyer

January 18, 2021

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