When my husband and I were first married, friends of his gifted us with this massive dining table. I love it for its stout, elaborately carved legs that remind me more of porch posts than table parts. I knew when we first had the table that I wanted to pair it with a sleek, understated chair. By keeping the chair simple, I was able to draw attention to the sculptural qualities of the table.
Other elements of this pairing that make me happy include the contrasts of texture and of color. We formerly had a simple set of medium-brown ladder-back chairs with this table, and it made for a very medium-brown room. The table, made of wonderfully open-grain, very solid oak, was lost next to the ho-hum chairs, and it didn’t have a chance to snap. When we took those away and brought in smoother, brighter, white and birch chairs, the table came into sharp relief. Visually, the chairs became part of the white surrounding walls, leaving the table to pull focus.
Dining tables from the nineteenth century, especially, often have a great deal of dimensional detail on their legs, from elaborate turning to funky carving. Additionally, many will have a great deal of texture and patina acquired over time. Why not highlight both?
When choosing a dining chair to pair with an antique table, consider drawing obvious contrasts in both line and surface, which will help to keep one piece from overshadowing another. For example, our table has had something of a hard life. It needs some TLC, especially on the top. Placing it in close proximity to smoothly-finished, practically new wooden chairs only made the table look tired and scruffy. It was easy to see what it could/should look like (but didn’t, due to a long, well-lived life). On the other hand, pulling in chairs with a white laminate surface makes the eye less prone to compare. The hundred-year-old oak can then be valued for what it is, a long-loved platform for dinners, homework, and (if the glitter stuck to the corner is any indication) at least a few art projects.
Now that you’ve seen how we played around with the modern/antique mix, here are a few other options from around the web. I like to check out catalogs for upcoming auction at my favorite houses.
Of course, you all know that catalogs like Crate and Barrel, CB2, West Elm, and DWR can be great sources for modern dining chairs:
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that our chairs came from IKEA. While not everything that they make is great quality, there are some very serviceable pieces that appeal to my love for streamlined design. Also, these chairs were pretty darn affordable. We’re not long out of the grad school season of life, so affordable is still among the major criteria in our furnishing decisions.
What do you think about this mix of elements? Have you brought an antique table into your modern dining room?