Thursday, June 19, 2014

Let's Talk Chairs!

Mid century dining chair designed by Folke Palsson for FDB Mobler
A couple of weeks ago, One Kings Lane contacted me and asked if I'd like to post about a favorite chair in my house to help introduce their Complete Guide to Modern Chairs, and I thought why not? I think it's great when companies help educate consumers about design and finding a style that works for each person...because you know what? It's hard. Even for those of us who are design conscious, pinpointing exactly what you want in a piece of furniture and then somehow making it work with other pieces of furniture in the same room (and on a budget) is challenging. Whether you've just moved into a new place or you simply want to change up your existing decor, identifying characteristics of different styles will help you decide what you like and guide you in your design.

Chairs are a really good place to start because they are frequently hallmarks of different design eras, with defined characteristics, and you need them in almost every room, right? So, I'll tell you a little bit about finding our chairs, the design elements I was looking for, and how I made them work in our home.

Here's what they look like in the dining room, which is obviously how we use them most of the time. Those of you who've been reading this blog since we moved into the house have seen them before, though the rest of the dining room has changed quite a bit.

Mid century dining chair designed by Folke Palsson for FDB Mobler J77
I looked for a long time before finding these chairs. I knew I wanted modern or mid-century modern chairs for several reasons. I like clean lines. What does that mean specifically? Usually it means a lack of ornamentation (or carving on wood pieces). People will often say it means "straight lines" or "simple design," but that's not exactly true. A piece of furniture can be sculptural or curvy and still have clean lines, and a lot of engineering and ergonomics went into the design of most mid-century chairs, which isn't all that simple. Basically, it means that the lines of the chair are clear and defined. For me, I like long tapered legs on furniture. I like smaller scale pieces. I like honest materials and economy of design. And comfort is very important too. Do you see how the seat is curved and tilted slightly? And if you look at the top photo, you'll see that the spindles in the back are also tilted at an angle and the top rail is curved, which all serves to mimic our bodies and the way we sit, thus making a more comfortable chair.

Visually, I like the silhouette of this chair a lot. If you look at the top photo again, you can see how the angle of the rear legs mirrors the angle of the back. That is a handsome silhouette if you ask me. And I knew that the scale and lines of this chair would work with our dining table, which has an iron base with architectural lines of its own. I wanted warm wood chairs that would complement the table, but not compete with it.

Mid century dining chair designed by Folke Palsson for FDB Mobler
So what are those chairs anyway and where did I find them? They were designed by Folke PĂ„lsson for FDB Mobler in Denmark in the 1960s, and I found them in a vintage shop. You can find them fairly often if you look online at ebay or etsy, but we were fortunate to find them locally, in an original set of four (so they have the same wear and coloring) and at a price we could afford. (If you're curious about the dining table, you can read more about it here.)

So enough about me and my chairs. How do you know what you like? First and foremost, I would say to look at the lines of the chair: the legs, the shape and height of the back, the feet (if there are any). Do you like the overall silhouette? Look at the materials, colors, pattern, finish. Is it something you can live with long term? A chair is an investment, and you want a quality piece of furniture in a style that can work in a variety of settings. It's easy to change paint colors, artwork, and accessories, but unless you are working with an unlimited budget, most chairs will need to be loved and used for a long time.

Think about the other furniture in the room. How will it fit in? Antique pieces and modern furniture can work together. It's about balance, scale, and finding lines that are harmonious. For example, we have a very old iron bed that came from my great grandmother's house that's painted a warm white. I wanted contemporary dressers for storage, so we chose these simple Sveio chests from IKEA. Staying in the same color family, with simple lines, helps these furniture pieces from different generations get along nicely. If you have a family heirloom dining table that's solid wood with heavy turned legs, think about balancing that with an appropriately scaled contemporary chair. In that instance, my dining chairs would not work because they would seem much too small, even dainty, by comparison. Upholstered chairs often have a little more heft as well as slightly curvier lines that can complement and even "lighten" a heavier table (if upholstered in a lighter fabric).

It's helpful to take pictures of furniture you're contemplating and place them side by side. Do the colors and materials complement each other? And don't forget to measure before you buy...not just to make sure furniture sizes will work together but to make sure they are appropriately scaled for the room. Also, I've seen many people order sofas only to find they won't fit on the elevator in their building or even through the front door! That is no bueno.

I think everyone has a style; some people just need a little help discovering that style. If you find yourself wanting a change, take a peek at the Complete Guide to Modern Chairs and see if anything speaks to you. You might be a Bauhaus lover at heart and not know it. Or at the very least, it might help you identify what you don't like and then work from there.

I realize that was a lot of information for one post, so if anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask away in the comments. I don't claim to be an expert on all things design, but I did get a Master's Degree in Interior Design once upon a time, and maybe I should use it every now and then. ;)

Also, since I was taking photos of the dining room for this post, I decided to take a few more and do a proper dining room update post. It's been sooo long since the last one. So look for that in a couple of days. xo, Mary


  1. Chairs can be want them to be both comfortable and stylish! I need a new chair in my studio for my work table. The one I have now is comfy...but definitely NOT!
    I love that you found your entire set locally!

  2. I love this post. You made a lot of great points (and I like your explanation of clean lines - something of which I'm also a fan). Your chairs are great - as is your dining room. I love your chandelier/light!

  3. For me, possibly the biggest thing when it comes to furniture is comfort. True, it has to "look pretty" as well (depending on what your definition of "pretty" is and what you're attracted to), but it absolutely, hands down, has to be comfortable. My dad actually gave me a rocking chair a couple of years back--one he was going to throw out, anyway--and I, too, decided to get rid of it, mostly because the spokes in the back were incredibly pokey and spiny. Anyway, like you, I like "clean lines." I admittedly have a mix of patterns in my current apartment, but I am looking forward to white walls and wood floors someday. Just a few pieces of art. And definitely pieces that complement each other and, as you said, not compete. Really, your chairs and your table go really well together! You guys did an awesome job finding both!

  4. Love that chair, I'm really into mid-century modern right now and so wish I could find a good table & chair in that style. I also want to find a fancy chair to use as a desk chair.