1. High-backed bench on one side, folding chairs on the other. The casual vibe of simple café-style folding chairs is balanced here by a comfortable upholstered settee on the other side and slipcovered chairs at the ends. If you already have a stately, traditional piece (like this settee), folding café chairs can make it feel more casual — plus they are easy on the budget.
2. Different chairs, same color. Sort of like the trend in bridesmaids’ dresses to have the ladies pick their own dresses as long as they are in the same hue, mixing and matching chair shapes is easy when you match the color. It does help to choose chairs in the same general style (modern, traditional) to keep them feeling like a set.
3. Different chairs, same upholstery. Unify a group of lovely chairs, old or new, by having them re-covered in the same fabric. In the dining room featured here, three different pairs of chairs were all covered in similar fabric to create a “set.”
4. Upholstered chairs at the ends. This is perhaps the most popular way to shake up a set, and with good reason — it nearly always looks great. Choose matching side chairs for the long sides and put matching upholstered armchairs at the ends.
5. Different chairs at the ends. The end chairs don’t need to be upholstered to be different — a pair in a style that’s different from the rest is all you need to mix things up. Here, café chairs are on the long sides of the table and beautiful cane-back side chairs are at the ends.
6. Same chairs, different colors. Take a basic set of matching wooden chairs and put your own stamp on them by painting each one a different hue. The trick here is to choose colors that have the same value (lightness or darkness), like all pastels, all midtones or all bright.
7. Same chairs, different upholstery (or seat cushions). Another way to mix up a set of matching chairs is to re-cover the seats in an array of different fabrics. Or, for nonupholstered wooden chairs, simply add fresh seat cushions in a pleasing range of colors and patterns.
8. Same chair, same color family. A riff on the same-chair, different-colors idea, but with more subtlety. The idea here is to choose closely related colors — try earth tones or shades of a single hue.
9. Mismatched chairs, same material or shape. If you love hunting for vintage chairs, a great way to build a set is by keeping an eye out for chairs made of the same material, or in a distinctive shape — cane-backed, ladder-back, wood, metal, wicker and so on. Once you have your set, you can determine whether or not you also want to unify them with paint (see No. 2).
10. Bench on one side, chairs on the other. Putting a low bench on one side of the dining table in place of chairs is an easy way to break up a set, typically costs less than buying individual chairs and is great for small spaces. Try an upholstered bench for comfort during leisurely meals or a wooden bench for a sleeker look.