Sometimes you just want to take the guesswork out of design. While we don’t recommend springing for that 14-piece matching plaid bedroom suite, we do love a vintage dining set. As easy to throw together as takeout and fine china, used dining sets come in every style—from warm-wooded, Mid-Century-inspired dinettes designed by greats like Paul McCobb to futuristic, mod pod sets like those of Eero Saarinen.
THE BEST VINTAGE DINING SET ACCORDING TO YOUR HOSTING STYLE
When you consider how many Bolognese Mondays, breakfasts in jammies, and just plain, old fashioned milestones your dining set is bound to witness during its lifetime, shopping for one can feel akin to interviewing for a new member of the family. Not to put on the pressure, but a vintage dining set is a definite investment piece (let’s just say you probably didn’t run out to buy one for your first apartment the way you did an accent chair or a coffee table), which makes nailing a happy equilibrium between function and personal style a serious must.
To start, ask yourself how you’ll be primarily using your vintage dining set. Are you a frequent hostess, or is style on the back burner given that your dining room is currently the equivalent of a bustling cafeteria (complete with PB & J’s making an appearance at virtually every meal)? Next, what’s your style? Glam, mod, contemporary rustic? Once you’ve assessed these basics, give our used dining set style guide below a try. From size to style to tips for upkeep, we’ve taken out all of the guess work to make secondhand dining set shopping an effortless two-step.
YOU'RE A DINNER PARTY AFICIONADO...
About You: You eagerly volunteer to take on hosting Thanksgiving every year, cocktail parties are seasonally inspired, and you’re founder of the Annual Autumn Pot Pie Bakeoff (yum).
The Vintage Dining Set: A grand, classic dining table with 8 + chairs
Tips for Success: Frequent entertainers know that a successful dinner party isn’t just about the food and flowers, but also crafting the right party for the right number of guests. To accommodate soirees that fluctuate between four and twelve, look for a used dining set with extensions. They’ll make all the difference when the company brings company.
Our Favorite Style Maker: While there’s no denying the appeal of a traditional dining set like a Duncan Phyfe reproduction—all that mahogany!—we house a special place for Milo Baughman’s dining sets. Crafted of glass, chrome, brass, or burl, his tables feature long, feed-a-crowd lengths and simple, Parsons-like silhouettes. In opposition to the table’s simplicity, chairs are low-slung, clubby in profile, and often feature bold, cabana-colored upholsteries. The marriage of the two opposites is glam perfection.
YOU'RE A POP TARTS & CEREAL GAL…
About You: The only pigs in a blanket you’ll find in your dining room are hungry kidlets. A growing tribe has you short on time, making heat-and-serve meals the kind of thing you can really get behind.
The Vintage Dining Set: A round, compact mod pod with 4 chairs
Tips for Success: With kids in the equation, one can never overlook the importance of durability. Look for hardwoods and laminates which will easily stand up in battles with crayons, spilled juices, and elbows. If you can’t live without upholstered chairs, stick with vinyl and leathers rather than liquid-loving linens.
Our Favorite Style Maker: When you figure that Chromcraft was once deemed “The Cadillac of Furniture,” you have to figure them a good choice for an uber-resilient dining set. A popular maker of dining sets and sofas in the 1960s, vintage Chromcraft dining sets offer everything we want in a family-friendly model: a round table with a laminate top, chrome base, and four bucket chairs upholstered in durable, tufted vinyl. The diner-era, fishtail styling doesn’t hurt, either.
YOU LOVE DINING AL FRESCO
About You: Those scenes in the Sound of Music that follow Julie Andrews parading through the Swiss Alps? That’d be you celebrating nature all the time if only you weren’t a city dweller with a pint-size balcony. Until then, you’ll gladly take every meal you can get served with a generous side of sunshine.
The Vintage Dining Set: An outdoor bistro set for 2
Tips for Success: The best part of shopping for vintage outdoor dining sets is that inclement weather has likely already weeded out any sets that weren’t really in it for the long haul. Still, seeking out element-proof materials like powder coated metal, wrought iron, and natural woods like teak will ensure longevity. Also, remember to move your outdoor dining set into a garage or sunporch if weather gets especially wicked. It can add years to its overall life.
Our Favorite Style Maker: Nobody did outdoor dining sets like Salterini. An Italian-born designer who married a Mid-Century Modern aesthetic with an enchanted garden feel, his furniture feels sprung straight from the ground. Wrought iron tables feature simple glass tops, allowing high-backed chairs decorated with twisted tendrils to take center stage. Despite being downright lovely, this is furniture that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which in our opinion, is exactly what outdoor dining is all about.