Over the past few years, the formal dining room has sort of fallen by the wayside as homeowners and designers alike clamor for bigger, more open and more integrated kitchens. But the maligned formal dining room is starting to make a comeback, with a strong emphasis on the formal. This might be surprising; the trend toward open kitchens is very much a trend towards a more casual, communal eating and entertaining environment. The returning popularity of dining rooms is in response to what those kitchens lack: space for larger, formal gatherings. The difference is a slim but important one, and starts with choosing just the right dining chairs.
Upholstered Dining Chairs
The biggest difference between a kitchen table and a dining room set – besides, of course, the size of the table – is the size of the chairs that go with it. Kitchen chairs tend to be small and made of wood, with maybe a tie-on cushion if you’re lucky. But formal dining chairs need to be bigger and more grand, with high backs and padded seats. Both the size and the upholstery give dining chairs a much more formal look and feel; many homeowners are turning to fully upholstered chairs to play up this more traditional aspect. Even very simple high backed upholstered chairs will do. Rather than rich, ornate fabrics, you want to opt for simple upholstery in a neutral color, like tan or gray. This small twist will keep your space sophisticated without feeling too old fashioned.
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From there, you can get a little fancier; look for chairs with a more traditional design. Nailhead upholstered chairs have become particularly popular lately, especially in tandem with an industrial style decor. They have some of that hand-hewn, turn of the century quality that really defines the style. Again, you want to stick with a fairly simple fabric; a trim of decorative nails around the edge of the chair is enough to get a really appealing finished quality.
Similarly, dining chairs with tufted backs are great for adding a more formal touch to your dining room. Though generally reserved for big, cushy chairs or sofas, this type of upholstery has become common on chairs, too. Even if the chair is otherwise fairly simple, the dimpled pattern of the buttons will give it a traditional quality. To enhance the look even more, look for chairs that have antique style tooled legs. Combined with a light neutral fabric, these features will make for a chair that’s both sophisticated-looking and comfortable… without being too staunchly traditional.
Another option that’s both simple and elegant is to simply cover your dining chairs with slipcovers. These fitted fabric sheaths ensconce the chair entirely, fitting snugly around the back and seat and forming a skirt around the legs. This is a great way to cover up and conceal existing chairs that aren’t quite in line with the style you’re trying to achieve. It also means you won’t have to worry about coordinating the wood on the chairs with your dining table. The look is popular enough that you can even buy chairs that come with their own slip covers. Depending on the cover, you may have embellished ties or laces. But it’s the sweeping folds of material that give the chair its impressively elegant and formal appearance.
There are a whole host of antique-styled chairs out there that will work beautifully, too. You can find all kinds of shaped backs and tooled or styled legs or arms – some more authentic than others. These tend to be a bit shorter than very hgh backed chairs by virtue of the shaped backs; they make great side chairs, though, especially if you have a larger, more assertive chair at either end. The sheer variety of these smaller chairs makes them great for mixing and matching. Having several different types of chairs around a large, formal dining table makes for an eclectic mix that feels a bit less stuffy than a perfectly matched set. For an even more casual look, you can mix in a few midcentury modern dining chairs. Just make sure you still have two very formal chairs at either end to anchor the traditional style.
Choosing simple yet elegant dining chairs in a slightly old fashioned style is the perfect way to give your dining room a sophisticated, formal look and feel.
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