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Contemporary Classic Dining Sets: Updated Antiques For A Modern Home

If there’s one big trend in home design today, it seems to be a push back against modern design. This is somewhat surprising, because modern design has been gaining steadily in popularity for years. According to some, it’s even overtaken traditional design in the bathroom and the kitchen. But increasingly, homeowners are looking for a middle ground: a style that’s sleek, simple, and relaxed, but also elegant and sophisticated. A great example of this shift is the rising popularity of reclaimed dining tables and nailhead upholstered dining chairs. These elegant dining sets are a great example, combining some of the best elements of both worlds.

Richmond Dining Chairs With Soma Dining Table From Zuo Modern
Richmond Dining Chairs With Soma Dining Table From Zuo Modern

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Looking at many of the popular dining sets these days, it’s easy to say the trend is a very traditional one. After all, these high backed, upholstered dining chairs certainly aren’t the glossy, sleek, plastic pieces you’d expect to find in a modern dining room. In fact, quite the opposite – they are, very much, based on old world styles, from the decorative wood legs to the shapely backs, the tufted buttons and nailed upholstery. And the rustic wood dining tables are rough and worn and exactly the opposite of what you would ever consider modern. Except…

Classic Nailhead Upholstered Chair Bodies With Simple Modern Legs Create An Upscale Contemporary Look And Feel (by Red Egg Design Group, photo by Courtney Lively)
Classic Nailhead Upholstered Chair Bodies With Simple Modern Legs Create An Upscale Contemporary Look And Feel (by Red Egg Design Group, photo by Courtney Lively)

…They also aren’t what you’d find in a more traditional setting, either. The Victorian era¬† (which spawned many of the designs we now consider “antique”) put a strong emphasis on ornamentation and luxury. Victorian design was full of rich, plush, colorful fabrics in vibrant and intricate patterns, ornate hand carved details, very expensive wood and stone, and decorations out the wazoo. All things that definitely do not mesh well with a contemporary style.

Natural Wood And Canvas Create A Warm, Inviting Feeling That Softens A Traditional Style, Making The Dining Space Feel More Casual (by Chalet)
Natural Wood And Canvas Create A Warm, Inviting Feeling That Softens A Traditional Style, Making The Dining Space Feel More Casual (by Chalet)

Instead, gem toned silk and velvet are replaced by simple, earthy canvas in light neutral off-whites, beiges, and grays. Ornately carved legs are replaced with simple woodwork or even more streamlined modern legs. And dark exotic woods like mahogany or cherry are replaced by simple, weather-worn wood in lighter (sometimes naturally aged) colors. Even the weathered wood and nailhead upholstery betoken a less ostentatious sort of craftsmanship, and the difference is palpable: this is a much more contemporary “antique” style.

An All Gray Dining Room Is Neither Frigidly Modern Nor As Warm As A True Neutral Decor, Offering A Sophisticated Yet Casual Middle Ground (by Ashley Campbell Interior Design, photo by Beth Singer)
An All Gray Dining Room Is Neither Frigidly Modern Nor As Warm As A True Neutral Decor, Offering A Sophisticated Yet Casual Middle Ground Between The Two (by Ashley Campbell Interior Design, photo by Beth Singer)

The lighter color scheme is no accident, either. Modern and traditional design both tend toward darker colors – “espresso” or mahogany, dark grays or gem tones – but I think this is actually part of what’s causing the fatigue with both styles. No one wants to live in a dark, broody looking house, and especially with modern design, the dark/industrial palette can start to feel pretty oppressive and cold. Using lighter wood and fabric not only makes a room look brighter, but also introduces a relaxing, natural element that meshes with the prevailing “green” mentality in home design. Even a dining set done entirely in lighter shades of gray has a much more natural feel while still maintaining that sleek modern appeal.

Haight Ashbury Table And Richmond Chairs From Zuo Modern
Haight Ashbury Table And Richmond Chairs From Zuo Modern

On the more traditional end of the spectrum, this dining set pairing is a perfect match for the growing popularity of an eclectic, reclaimed or “found” look. This includes both shabby chic and an updated farmhouse/industrial style, and puts an emphasis on the old in old is new. Look for weathered wood and distressed paint finishes (especially in black and white), and pair the dining set with found objects, like old black and white tin signs or other wall art, or simple framed items, especially book pages, old photos, or handwritten letters on aged paper. Together, they create a cozy sense of history that matches well with a relaxed, casual, contemporary home.

Contrasting Antique Chairs With A Modern Table Creates A Chic, Sophisticated Dining Set (by Todd Adams Design Services)
Contrasting Antique Chairs With A Modern Table Creates A Chic, Sophisticated Dining Set (by Todd Adams Design Services)

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This style can also swing the opposite way: to being a little bit more chic and modern. Ironically, one of the best ways to pull this off is actually opt for slightly more antique chairs, but pair them with a highly modern table. Look for chairs in a solid color – black has an especially sophisticated, formal look – and pair them with a table in a more modern material, like glass, chrome, leather, or black lacquered wood. The sharp contrast in styles elevates both, giving them a posh, sophisticated appearance you wouldn’t get from either individually.

What do you think of these contemporary classic dining sets? Do you prefer dining room furniture that’s more classic or more modern, or do you like the hybrid? Let me know in the comments!