best in class

The 18 Very Best Dining Chairs

Including a petproof velvet seat and the historic café chair that gets thrown around at improv theaters.

Photo: Retailer
Photo: Retailer

Dining-room chairs are a unique category of furniture. Unlike couches (for which prices can range from a couple hundred dollars for a West Elm love seat to hundreds of thousands for a Finn Juhl), the designer options are often rather close in price to their direct-to-consumer counterparts. An Eames side chair, for instance, is made with inexpensive plastic and has been so mass-produced that it costs the same as a chair from Wayfair. Because of this, and their small footprints, dining chairs are an easy way to experiment aesthetically, whether you’re looking for a Shaker element or something pink and velvet. To surface the best-looking pieces (that are durable and budget friendly), we asked 15 experts — including design historians, architects, and interior designers — to share their favorites. Below are some thoroughly vetted choices, including a historically significant Viennese café chair with its own Wikipedia page and the startlingly inexpensive, thrice-recommended Article Svelti, which architect Ming Thompson describes as “the perfect piece of furniture for when you want to add color but don’t want to spend $3,000 on a red couch.”

Best overall | Best less expensive | Best square-backed | Best cantilevered | Best cane | Best postmodern-influenced | Best Windsor | Best curved | Best for extra-small spaces | Best Scandinavian | Best clear-plastic | Best bentwood | Best velvet | Best customizable | Best contemporary | Best stackable | Best heirloom | Best stool

What we’re looking for

Material: In general, dining chairs are made of materials that make them comfortable and solid enough to sit in for hours but lightweight enough that you won’t pull a muscle or gouge your floor as you move them around. Most options on our list are made of wood, steel, plastic, or a combination of the three. For a plastic chair, UV resistance is a useful feature; it will prevent it from fading in the sun — something to which even indoor chairs are susceptible.

Style: In a search for a stylish dining chair, you’ll likely encounter too many worthwhile options rather than too few — from zany postmodern squiggles to exemplars of pure “chairness,” a quality design historian Charlotte Fiell defines as “how a kid would draw a chair.” One way to narrow your criteria is by considering an item’s visual footprint. Translucent plastic, caned panels, or thin wooden spindles make for a lighter silhouette (better for small spaces), and a solid back or wide legs are more visually dominant.

You may want to consider how a style complements your other furniture — either through resemblance or contrast. I have some inexpensive, utilitarian Mullca school chairs that have similar curved metal legs to a postmodern coffee table, which look nice together despite coming from different places; if the main thing your chairs have in common is that you love them, that’s a great design scheme.

Price: In most cases, you’ll be buying multiples of a dining chair (although some of the experts we spoke to, like The Little Book of Living Small author Laura Fenton, say it’s okay to mix and match). Start with your budget and table size and work back from there: You may want a less expensive option to fill a six-seater table, or you can splurge on a pair of design-y chairs to round out a set you already own. We’ve sorted the list by price into four tiers: below $100 per chair ($), below $200 ($$), below $300 ($$$), and above $300 ($$$$).

Another option for saving on chairs is to buy vintage, which Charlotte and Peter Fiell (co-authors of Chairs: 1,000 Masterpieces of Modern Design, 1800 to Present Day and Modern Chairs) recommend as a way to “get more for your money.” A good rule of thumb is to search for a design or style that has been continuously produced for many years — like a Parsons chair or Marcel Breuer’s Cesca chair; listings come up fairly frequently, giving you a choice of vendors, and they’ll still be around years later if you need to add more to your set. (Some popular vintage chairs are still in production, but many are quite expensive new.) It is harder to find a pristine vintage chair, but if you don’t mind some signs of wear or doing a light cleaning yourself, it can expand your range of affordable options.

Best overall

Photo: Marcus McDonald

UV-resistant polypropylene | $

Multiple experts told us that Article’s Svelti chair is a prime example of thoughtful design at an accessible price. The plastic construction is durable and “absolutely kidproof,” according to Hunker editorial director Leonora Epstein. She appreciates the chair’s versatility: “You can take it outside. You can use it as a desk chair. You can use it as a dining chair.” Thompson likes that the chair comes in “great colors that are really matte” — like bright orange and a cool moss green — useful for buyers who want to add a trendy shade to their home but don’t want to commit to a larger or more expensive piece in a non-neutral color. Strategist writer Emma Wartzman, who used them as dining chairs for two years before moving them to the backyard, says, “They’ve held up great. No signs of wear and tear at all.”

Best less expensive dining chair

Pine | $

Writer Laura Fenton likes this chair from Ikea’s classic, inexpensive pine-furniture set, which she says “has been in the catalogue as long as I can remember.” She calls it “a great affordable option” and that it’s surprisingly versatile: “The lines are really simple and clean, so they can skew more modern, traditional, or country.” Plus the unfinished pine is easy to customize. “You can paint or stain them to the color that suits your décor and easily refinish them later if your tastes change or you pass them on to someone else,” she says.

Best square-backed dining chair

UV-resistant polypropylene | $$

To design the Élémentaire chair, Hay partnered with the Bouroullec brothers — both preeminent French designers. Despite being made of plastic, the chair that resulted is “comfy, not hard on your back, and designed to be used all day, not just to look nice in a corner of your living room,” says Antoine Pons, owner of Momentum Design Store. He also appreciates the price: “It’s an affordable way to own a collectible from great designers.”

Best cantilevered dining chair

Photo: Retailer

Polycarbonate plastic, chrome-plated steel | $

Strategist writer Leah Muncy owns two of these “extraordinarily comfortable,” wobble-free Ikea plastic cantilevered chairs. They accent four rattan chairs around her six-seater table, but the Tobias chairs are so much more comfortable that “my roommate and I only sit in the blue ones,” Muncy says.

Best cane dining chair

Wood, cane | $$

Interior designer Charlie Hellstern discovered this cane-backed restaurant chair while searching for an affordable, nonplastic dining chair for a client. Several experts we spoke to caveated their love of cane furniture by mentioning its susceptibility to damage, but “choosing a chair made for restaurant use” like this one is a “good way to ensure durability,” Hellstern says. “Caning is one of the most ancient techniques, and I love how classic the look is with black-stained wood.”

Best postmodern-influenced dining chair

Photo: Retailer

Wood-fiber composite, metal | $$

Curbed senior story producer Diana Budds mentioned this chair by Umbra, which she finds reminiscent of Michele DeLucchi’s extraterrestrial First chair in its angled hoop armrest. It’s suitable for indoor or outdoor use and stacks for easy storage.

Best Windsor dining chair

Photo: Retailer

Beech, molded plywood | $$

This Shaker-style spindle-backed Windsor chair, manufactured by historic Czech chair company Ton (originally Thonet), is recommended by Fenton. “Often, when chairs get smaller, they become less comfortable, but this one supports you, even though the square footage it takes up is very small,” she says. The chair’s timeless design works in a variety of settings, “which is a good thing for people in a small space who may move to a larger space later.”