I've been scoping out lots of dining rooms lately, doing research for some new clients. Their space is nicely sized and has plenty of natural light. It also comes with an existing dining table and chairs. (My clients bought them recently, and want to incorporate them into the design). The table and chairs are pretty, but rather tame. They're a matched, formal set, made of dark wood.
I rarely do matched dining sets: I prefer to mix and match my chairs and tables. So my first impulse was to paint the chairs white. Think something like this:
This path would definitely work, and would help the set feel less staid, more suited to the young family that lives in the home. But my clients really like dark wood, and in case they aren't amenable to painting, I came up with another option: reupholstering the chairs.
The chairs are Louis XVI in tone. They're armless, with rounded backs that have a kind of curvy detailing on the outside. They're upholstered in a neutral linen currently, but I think they've got the potential to be much more exciting. So I suggested we upholster them in two different, but compatible fabrics, using one on the inside back and seat, and one on the back. Something like this:
Mixing fabrics on furniture pieces is not a new trend. In fact, it's a mainstay of English Country Style. One theory--which I haven't been able to corroborate, unfortunately--dates the the trick to 19th century England. At that time, there were many nobles who had inherited homes filled with antiques, but didn't have the income to maintain them well. So they would reupholster only the most worn parts of the seating: the inside backs, seats and arms, and leave the original backs untouched.
Whatever the origin, it's a neat option, and an economical one, too. Lots of upholstery fabrics are costly, and this technique allows you to splurge on an especially nice one, since you won't use as much of it.
I've seen it used on sofas to neat effect.
And it's especially popular to do on wing chairs.
So how do you make this technique work? Obviously some fabrics should not be mixed together. General rule of thumb is the same for all fabric mixing: the scale of the patterns should be different, and they should share the same palette.
There are exceptions to this rule. Take this photo above. The chair breaks the palette rule, but it works because its fabrics are similar in tone. They have a kind of casual, kantha quilt sensibility, which give the chair a boho vibe. The fabrics also work well within palette of the room, and that goes a long way towards making everything feel cohesive, including the chair itself.
My particular chair project has an additional consideration. As they're dining chairs in a house with children, I want to make sure the seat fabric is easy to clean. So I'm thinking something durable for it: faux ostridge or leather, or perhaps a coated cotton. Whatever the choice, you can be sure it will be fun and tasteful, just like the family itself.
So what will they choose? I'll keep you posted. Pics to follow!