Bring Your Living Room to Life with Mismatched Chairs

If you think your living room has to feature a set of matching side chairs, think again.

In fact, purposefully mismatching lounge and accent seating is one of the easiest ways to fill your living or family room with personality and visual interest.

“So many times, people go the safe route by using matching chairs, which can sometimes lead to a more ‘catalog’ look,” says Chicago designer SuzAnn Kletzien.

Wilmette designer Deb Reinhart likens design to fashion. She says to think of your living room as your little black dress—a neutral palette that you can accessorize to create a variety of different looks. Whether you’re putting together an outfit or a room, accessories that don’t match usually create the most interesting look.

“If you are doing leopard shoes, you aren’t going to use a leopard bag,” Reinhart says.

So, what are the interior-design rules for artfully pairing two different chairs?

Chairs don’t need to be from the same era.

Fortunately, designers say that just about anything goes. Park Ridge designer Edyta Czajkowska says you can mix different textiles, fabrics and patterns.

“Putting a very modern chair next to a more classic and ornate one can be exactly the feeling you are going for,” Czajkowska says. “The two against each other will add so much interest and each will accentuate the other’s beauty.”

Czajkowska paired a classic Louis XVI square back side chair by Century Furniture with an ultra mod Vitra cantilever chair for a bold, stylish look. The similar scale and color allow them to live harmoniously in the same room.

Keep scale in mind.

Karyn Musick of North Shore design firm Divas ‘N Design says mismatched chairs should be similar in size.

“If you have one gigantic piece of furniture next to a really small piece, it may look like a sore thumb,” Musick says. “Each chair has to look like it was meant to be there even though they are different.”

Two vintage chairs live in harmony in the bay window of this Wicker Park townhouse. While the chairs are made from different textiles, Kletzien says she was careful to keep the scale the same – both are small enough to let light in from the window.

Winter says the Mission-style rocking chair was the only existing piece of furniture when she started this project, so she designed the living room around it. She added a neutral-colored couch and an armchair covered with patterned upholstery. 

Incorporate heirloom pieces.

Lake Forest designer Tina Dann-Fenwick says mixing and matching chairs is the perfect opportunity to update and showcase an heirloom piece that might otherwise go unused. You might reupholster or refinish an older chair and then pair it with a couple new and unexpected comfy desk chairs. Just make sure the two pieces have one design element in common that ties them together.

“When you have two completely different chairs in one room, they need to speak to each other, but they don’t need to necessarily resemble each other,” Highland Park designer Paula Winter says.

To mix up the solid orange upholstery in this Chicago beach house overlooking Lake Michigan, Reinhart added a hammered copper lounge chair with plump floral cushions. Photo by Tyler Mallory

Reinhart gave the sunroom of a classic Tudor home in Evanston a playful and relaxed vibe with a variety of seating. “The desk, settee, ottoman and gilded antique chairs are all from different periods, yet they unite the room with their style and approachability,” she says. Photo by James Yochum