How to Pick the Right Dining Chair Size and Style

This post was updated in March 2022.
How to pick the right dining chair
Dining rooms come in all shapes and sizes — casual breakfast nooks, formal dining spaces, and everything in between. But the most important element in a dining space is your chair. Is your dining chair size the right height for your table? Is it comfortable for the type of entertaining you like to do? Is the fabric durable? There are lots of questions to answer before you pick the right one, and we’re here to guide you through the process.

Choosing the right chair for your dining table1. Dining Chair Size

Measuring is a crucial task when you’re shopping for furniture, especially when it comes to seating in your dining room. Standard seat height is 18 inches, and a standard table height is 30 inches.

Rule of Thumb: You want 12 inches between the top of the dining chair and the bottom of the table.

When you’re measuring dining chair size, be sure to take into account the apron of your table, the wooden panel that connects the legs to the top. Not all tables have one, but if you do, you’ll want to make sure there’s enough clearance for knees!

Once you’ve chosen the correct height dining chairs, you’ll want to figure out how many chairs can fit around your table. Leave 24 inches of room per chair. A 72 in long table comfortably seats 6, a 96 inch table comfortably seats 8, and a 120 inch table comfortably seats 10. Of course in a pinch or for big parties, you can squeeze in a few more, but furnish your table for everyday comfort, not a big gathering you only host once a year.

2. Comfortable Dining Chairs

There are lots of factors in choosing between upholstered and un-upholstered chairs, and both have their advantages. A chair like our Louis can easily be wiped down, so you don’t have to worry about spills. A chair that isn’t upholstered is also usually narrower and easier to fit around a smaller table. But if you love to host long, leisurely dinner parties, you may want to choose something upholstered which will be more comfortable if you linger after meals.

Choosing the right chair for your dining tableAn upholstered armchair dining chair is definitely the most comfortable option if you have a large table or a generously sized room, but be sure you leave 7 inches of room between the arm of the chair and the table.

Right Dining Chair3. Dining Chair Fabric and Finish

If you like a mixed and matched look, you’ll need to think strategically about finishes. You want them to complement each other but not match perfectly. Think about incorporating both one consistent element and one contrasting element. Contrast makes the space more exciting and interesting, while consistency will keep it from feeling hodge podge.

Rule of Thumb: Stick to two different finishes that are distinct but have something in common.

For example, in the dining room above, we used a different table, side chairs, and head chairs. The table has a whitewash finish, and the chairs have a brushed oak finish. Then we have a fully upholstered banquette with a skirt. This works because while the wood finishes are different, they both have a rustic, weathered feel. This is key when mixing wood tones in dining rooms. Then, instead of bringing in a totally third finish, we chose a fully upholstered Parsons chair. A chair with a third type of leg would have been too much. Instead, a skirted banquette breaks up all the wood and softens the dining space.

Stylish dining chairs4. Head Chairs and Side Chairs

We love a layered and eclectic look and a head chairs are a great way to bring more pattern and personality into your space. This is an opportunity to add in a bold fabric, an unusual shape, and a heavier style to ground your dining table. Typically, we suggest choosing a head chair that feels heavier than your side chair, and this is for two reasons.

  1. At the end of the table, you’ll typically have more room than the 24 inches you allow for side chairs. Most tables are between 30 and 40 inches wide, so your head chair can be a bit wider than a side chair since you’ll only be using one chair in that 30-40 inches.
  2. A head chair punctuates the beginning and end of the table. Think of a head chair like a capital letter and a punctuation at the end of the sentence. They indicate the start and finish and visually look good. Dining rooms are often long and narrow, so head chairs that feel heavier punctuate the ends of the room.

Banquettes5. Banquettes

For casual dining spaces or rooms where you’re tight on space, a banquette can solve lots of problems. Since they’re often pushed up against a wall, you can squeeze your table into a narrower room or take advantage of a corner. They also make it easier to squeeze more people around the table since you’ll typically sit closer together in a banquette than you would in a chair.

Not to mention, they’re super comfortable! Thick cushions, storage benches, and fully upholstered banquettes can pack a lot of function into a small space.

6. Dining Room Personality

We use our dining rooms the most in the evenings and on special occasions, and for this reason, they’re the perfect room for packing in the personality. Since it’s not a room you’ll use every day, you can play with color and pattern a bit more. Chairs are the perfect way to layer in unusual patterns, shapes, and colors.

In the dining room above, we used a bold chinoiserie village print on the back of our Louis Chair. The pattern excites the space, draws you in, and ties all of the other elements together. We paired the colorful fabric on the back of the chair with a calming velvet blue on the seat and a terra cotta welt.

7. Mix and Matching Furniture in an Open Floor Plan

Open floor plans can be tricky because every piece of furniture needs to relate to one another since you’re seeing everything at once. Should bar stools match dining chairs? No, not necessarily.

Rule of Thumb: Have at least one coordinating element.

That coordinating element could be a finish, a chair style, a fabric, or a shape. Repeat that one element on both barstools and dining chairs to unify the two spaces but keep them distinct.

Above, we chose two open floor plan kitchens and the stools and chairs match almost exactly. It’s a pulled together look that always works, but there’s no right or wrong answer.

8. Extra Dining Seating

It’s normal to think of big holidays when we’re furnishing our dining rooms, but we take a different approach. Furnish your dining room for the everyday, then worry about seating 12 when Thanksgiving rolls around. That means that if you have a family of four, make your dining space comfortable for four people so you’ll use it every day. Table leaves, folding ballroom chairs, and side chairs are great tools for accommodating larger gatherings and can be tucked away for everyday life.

One of our go-to layouts in a dining room is to flank a console on one wall with side chairs, although you could also put those side chairs in an adjacent living room. Use extra dining chairs scattered throughout the house so you can have them when you need to host, but they don’t overwhelm the space everyday.

Find more How To guides for decorating your space, or browse all of the dining rooms from our catalogs.

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Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.


  1. Reply

    Judith Kornfeld

    August 6, 2021

    I have a round dark wood table and I don’t know what color dining chairs to choose. The floor is light wood.

    • Reply

      Mallory Thomas

      August 24, 2021

      We have a blog post all about mixing wood tones that I think you would find helpful! You can read it here.
      Happy Decorating,

  2. Reply

    Julie Wallis

    July 18, 2021

    Hi Caroline, can you tell me where I could get the wing back chair that’s in the picture with the table ??
    Or one almost like it ?

  3. Reply


    June 5, 2021

    Hi Caroline
    I’m shopping for a dining room set, my question is do I have to get a set with upholstered chairs since it is a formal dining room or can I go without? And what color set match with cherry floor color and is the side bord has to be same design and color of the table?

    • Reply

      Abbey Nolte

      June 10, 2021

      Hi Vivian,
      If you don’t want upholstered chairs in your dining room one way to make the space seem more formal is by adding a rug underneath your dining table. When picking furniture for your dining room I wouldn’t worry too much about matching your floors, especially if you do end up adding a rug in there. You don’t want the room to be too matchy so use this as an opportunity to choose a different color or material for your sideboard.
      Hope that helps,

  4. Reply

    Christine Robinson

    July 9, 2020

    Caroline, does Ballard have any side chairs that we can use for the dining table for the two ends when we need, and yet keep on an everyday basis in our great room. We are moving to a smaller home that is really open and we need to be creative.

  5. Reply

    Lori Arthurs

    May 18, 2020

    I’ve read anywhere from 10″ to 13″ between top of dining chair and table. I have a bench that is 20″ so if purchase a table that is 30″ will that be too tight (10 ” between top of bench and table top)? I can’t decide if I want to pair it with a bistro table or a rectaugular table. The area is small and my current 42″ round table is a bit too large.

  6. Reply

    Frank DeVita

    March 25, 2020

    I am single father in need of decorating help!

    • Reply

      Abbey Nolte

      March 27, 2020

      Hi Frank,
      We have a team of interior designers who would love to help you figure out your decorating dilemma. Simply upload images of your room and your question here.

  7. Reply

    Arabella Davies

    December 9, 2019

    Hi Caroline, I didn’t realise there were so many rules! But they make sense. I need to coordinate my dining area a bit better it seems!

    • Reply

      Caroline McDonald

      December 11, 2019

      Think of them as guidelines not rules! This is just a way to help if you’re having trouble deciding, but certainly shouldn’t limit you buying something you love. Best of luck!

  8. Reply

    Easton Memmott

    September 28, 2018

    I like the tip you gave to make sure that all of your kitchen furniture matches each other, so it will look nice. I am looking to get a new kitchen furniture set, so it will look nice for family dinners. I will be sure to get furniture that matches the color scheme of my kitchen, so it will look nice.