6 Ways to Make Mismatched Dining Chairs Look Collected and Cohesive

published Sep 7, 2020
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I decided to have a big ol’ life change in the middle of the pandemic and moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Chicago by myself. This is the first time I’ve ever lived alone, which means I’m solely responsible for furnishing the entire apartment on my own. I’m thrifty by nature, so I immediately knew I wanted to get everything secondhand, and I solidified my commitment to that statement when I saw the price of new dining chairs while browsing for furniture online. Luckily, I’ve always liked the look of mismatched chairs around a dining table, but I noticed that while I really loved some examples, others seemed a tad messy. I couldn’t figure out why some worked while others didn’t, so I went to the experts for the scoop. Ahead are designers’ tips on styling mismatched chairs, so you can curate your own artfully mismatched seating successfully. 

Select pieces from the same design style

If you’re playing with mismatched chairs and they look a little too disjoint, the issue might be that they’re too different stylistically. “I’ve heard the philosophy ‘If you buy what you love, it will all come together,’” says designer Megan Hopp. “Well, I beg to differ. When combining multiple types of chairs, I think it’s important that they all live in the same generation style-wise. Let’s just say I don’t love a mid-century modern Eames next to a 19th century prayer chair.”

Zero in on at least one similarity

Speaking of visual harmony, you want your chairs to look deliberately inconsistent rather than hodge-podge. A good way to accomplish this is to have a common thread running through each of the chairs. “Color, texture, and material are great ways to tie unlike pieces together,” Hopp shares. “For example, perhaps each chair is black or caned or walnut—this way, you can embrace the variation while using the singular commonality to tie the set together.” 

If you have an outlier or two in your mix, don’t be afraid to break out some spray paint to round out your set. Unlike silhouette or texture, color is an easy thing to change. Same with fabric. Sticking to the same wood tone can also create the same effect, according to designer Maggie Griffin. You can always strip and/or re-stain pieces, too.

Credit: Elena Lohse

Watch your heights

If your chair selections aren’t meshing, their heights might be the reason they’re not playing well together. “The best advice is to be consistent and keep heights on the same level, so the configuration doesn’t feel too ‘zig-zagged’ in the lines,” says designer Allison Petty of Hyphen & Co. “With that in mind, also watch out for seat heights. A large difference in seat heights can make it awkward or uncomfortable to sit around.”

Credit: Cathy Pyle

Mix different eras together

Right now, designer Amelia Strat of Kroesser+Strat Design has three very different chair styles around her dining table, so she is a pro when it comes to artfully mismatching. One of her best nuggets of advice is to focus on striking a balance between your chairs. “We love to mix new chairs with vintage chairs for balance and to help prevent the dining room from looking too brand new or too much like hand-me-down central,” Strat says. 

Fool the eye with faux sheepskins

If you don’t want to upholster or paint all of your different chairs to create visual harmony, then cheat a little with the help of sheepskins or pillows. “A quick way to achieve a similar look is to drape the same type of sheepskin over the chair backs or seats, just to create a common element among the chairs,” Strat says.

Credit: Minette Hand

Focus on pairs

To give the mismatched look a sense of purpose, it’s often a good idea to include a couple of pairs of chairs. “I think things need to be done in pairs, and they need to have the same presence—light and airy paired with light and airy, bulky with bulky,” says Michael Rogers, creative director at The Company Store. “Mismatched furniture should be having a conversation—not a fight.”