Checklist for picking the perfect chair

It’s important to know what you’re looking for in a chair before you begin to shop.
It’s important to know what you’re looking for in a chair before you begin to shop.
Nell Hill’s / MCT

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

When you love to create home interior spaces that delight your eyes and refresh your senses, you know that a chair is so much more than just a place to sit. It’s an expression of your unique style.

It’s important to have a good feel for what you’re looking for in a chair before you begin to shop. Here is the checklist I go through with my customers to help them pick the perfect chair for their home.

•  How will you use the chair? This is perhaps the most important question, because everything else will stem from your answer. Will this chair stand in a little-used formal room, or be your favorite place to sit and watch TV or read? If this is a chair you want to relax in every day, comfort and durability are king. If the chair is more for show, you can go with a style that’s a little less sink-into-comfy and a fabric that is a bit fussier.

•  What is your style? There are a million styles of chairs. Which one is right for you? Formal? Traditional? Casual? Contemporary? Funky? There are even wonderful pieces that blur the lines between style categories. For example, designers today reinterpreting the timeless classic wing back chair by making the silhouette cleaner, the upholstery bolder, the legs sexier.

We carry some wonderful wooden spool chairs at Nell Hill’s that can span the gamut from traditional to boho based on how you have the wood finished — stained or painted.

You can further add to the chair’s personality through the upholstery fabric you pick, from a classic print like a plaid to an edgy geometric. Not sure what style lights your fire? Flip through decorating books and magazines and mark the photos of chairs you love. Your style will surface quickly.

•  How high should the back and arms of the chair be? Once you know where you will place the chair, this question will be easier to answer. If your chair is going to sit next to an end table, make sure the arms of the chair are either a few inches above or below the tabletop.

When I design rooms, I frequently put higher backed chairs, like a wing back, against a wall or flanking the fireplace instead of in the middle of the room so they don’t obstruct the visual flow of the space.

Another dimension to be concerned about is the height of the seat if you plan to use the chair as extra seating at your dining room table or as a chair for a desk. Most chairs are too low to allow you to reach the tabletop comfortably, so you’ll want one with a higher seat.

•  What kind of cushions do you like? Do you want the chair to have a loose back cushion, which looks more inviting to some people, or a tight back, which offers a cleaner silhouette? Then you have to decide what kind of seat cushion grabs you — a firmer seat or one that is super soft? The best way to decide is to give the chair the sit test.

•  What kind of arm do you prefer? Do you want the arm to show some wood or be padded? Thick or thin? If you want an arm style that will never go out of vogue, consider an English rolled arm. You’ll see this centuries-old classic spotlighted in decorating magazines decade after decade because it stands the test of time.

•  Do you want a skirt? Skirts on chairs are still popular, though the height and depth of the skirt change now and then. If you have pets, you might want to think twice about a skirt. If your cat or dog likes to rest against the chair when it sleeps, the oils in their skin and hair can make the skirt dingy. Dirty shoes can be a problem too.

•  What kind of upholstery do you want? Do you need fabric that is durable enough for pets and kids? Consider covering your furniture with fabulous outdoor fabrics. Do you want a solid or a pattern? A dark or light?

•  What is your budget? I’m a big believer in cheater pieces if you are able to get the same look for less money. But when it comes to upholstered furniture, you need to invest in high quality pieces. Less expensive chairs, made with inferior materials and slipshod workmanship, don’t stand the test of time. They will look good for a few years, then they will begin to lose their shape, pill up and fall apart.

In contrast, when you invest in a well-made chair that uses top quality materials and expert craftsmanship, you’ll get a piece that you will have for generations, one you can recover over and again. My recommendation is to get the highest quality chair you can afford, knowing it’s an investment piece you will have for years to come.

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