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Old Meets New: Retro Cross Back Dining Chairs

For a long time now, the design world has been putting a lot of focus on the kitchen – specifically, large kitchens and kitchen islands. But after a few years of neglect, formal dining areas are starting to get a little love again. Many old fashioned designs are coming back in vogue, and cross back dining chairs are at the front of the pack. These simple, slightly rustic chairs are perfect for adding a homey touch to your dining set, and look great paired with everything from an old fashioned dining table to formal button upholstered chairs.

Cross backed dining chairs can add a nice homey touch to just about any dining room (by Timeless Design by Kate FitzGerald-Wilks)
Cross backed dining chairs can add a nice homey touch to just about any dining room (by Timeless Design)

The renewed popularity of cross back dining chairs is part of a larger old-is-new mentality in home design. Along with other antiques, many retro dining chairs are starting to show up in all walks of design. From reclaimed and restored factory style seating to sleek, shapely polished wood chairs that hearken back to the 50s and 60s, many old wood (and sometimes metal) chairs are seeing new life as statement pieces in contemporary dining rooms. That said, cross backed chairs are among the most popular right now, in no small part because their simple rustic appearance allows them to pair well with a wide variety of styles.

Pairing Rustic Cross Backed Dining Chairs With Crisp White Liniens And An Antique Chandelier Creates a Look That's Both Inviting And Sophisticated (by Margaret Everton)
Pairing Rustic Cross Backed Dining Chairs With Crisp White Linens And An Antique Chandelier Creates a Look That’s Both Inviting And Sophisticated (by Margaret Everton)

Of course “cross back chair” isn’t exactly a precise description – many, many dining chairs have X shaped back supports, but the one in vogue these days have a very distinct appearance. Rather than a solid wood crisscrossing the back at perfect 90 degree angles, these dining chairs have two reedy, slightly more flexible pieces stretched from one side of the chair back to the other. Each half of the X is a separate piece, and each end is visibly affixed to the back of the chair.

Cross backed dining chairs are often made with a weathered appearance, either lightly distressed, aged, or whitewashed to enhance their cottage or farmhouse feel (by deluxe design studio)
Cross backed dining chairs are often made with a weathered appearance, either lightly distressed, aged, or whitewashed to enhance their cottage or farmhouse feel (by deluxe design studio)

The effect is slightly uneven, with cross bars that overlap the edges of the chair and aren’t quite so pristinely finished. The nails or bolts that hold them in place can clearly be seen, and give the chairs a rustic, hand-crafted appearance. Combined with weather worn wood or aged whitewash or black paint finishes, the kind of cross back dining chairs that are particularly popular now don’t just look retro, they look intentionally old.

Despite being vintage-inspired, cross backed dining chairs are surprisingly ergonomic (by French Dressing)
Despite being vintage-inspired, cross backed dining chairs are surprisingly ergonomic (by French Dressing)

That said, while the chairs have a hand-hewn quality to them, the banded cross backs are actually quite comfortable. If you look closely, you can see that the two reedy pieces of wood bend at the back and curve where they meet the seat of the chair, creating a sort of person-shaped hourglass that curves the chair to the contours of the body. Unlike more modern chairs, these have no rigid angles, and are designed for practical comfort.

Simple Cross Backed Dining Chairs Paired With A Rustic Wood Table And Floor Evoke A Country Style Even In A Contemporary Setting (by Warmington North)
Simple Cross Backed Dining Chairs Paired With A Rustic Wood Table And Floor Evoke A Country Style Even In A Contemporary Setting (by Warmington North)

This blend of old and new has gotten a lot of different labels – shabby chic or reclaimed industrial being just a few. But while these specific styles are popular, they’re also quite distinct, and the trend really extends above and beyond both. Essentially, homeowners and designers alike are pushing back against the stark, straight lines of a modern decor and opting for a softer contemporary look. This new trend focuses on blunted rather than sharp edges, natural materials, and a smattering of antiques and retro items to create a more casual, homier style.

Combining Rustic Cross Back Dining Chairs With Crisp, Clean Upholstered Ones Creates a Style That's Both Casual And Classy (by Sabal Homes)
Combining Rustic Cross Back Dining Chairs With Crisp, Clean Upholstered Ones Creates a Style That’s Both Casual And Classy (by Sabal Homes)

Cross back chairs also pair spectacularly well with nailhead and other upholstered dining chairs. Placing one or two upholstered chairs at the short ends of a long table with several cross backed chairs along the sides gives the whole setup a more upscale appearance. Especially with very weathered wood chairs, a high quality upholstery can make the wear and tear feel antique rather than run down, while creating a nice textural blend between rough wood and cloth that enhances this slightly homey yet classy contemporary vibe.

What do you think of these cross back dining chairs? Do you like the old-is-new look, or do you have a strong preference for one or the other? Let me know in the comments!