The dining room is the scene for some of the most important conversations, debates, and yes, meals, that will ever take place in your home. You need a proper stage for those family “plays,” and nothing suits the job better than a fine dining room table. But picking the proper table isn’t a simple matter of choosing the prettiest one. You need to keep in mind several features and functions, as well as the technical aspects of setting it up. To help you get started on making the proper purchase, here are our top tips for choosing the best dining table.
Before you visit the furniture store, woodworker, or what have you, sit down and calculate how much money you have available to buy a dining room table—not to mention the chairs! Obviously, you can buy whatever kind of table you like within your budget but think about the following while choosing the best make, model, and material for you and your family. As a general suggestion, don’t splurge but don’t cheap out wither. A dining room table is one of the few pieces in your home that’s intended to last for an exceptionally long time. Pick a price and set with that in mind.
Measure Thrice, Buy Once
Before you start, take accurate measurements of your dining room. Use a tape measure to record the length and width of the room, as well as the height. Calculate how much area a dining room table can occupy that allows chairs to be pulled out comfortably while leaving room to walk around. A big dining room table might seem like a good choice, but imagine how you’ll feel if you get it home, set it up, and it feels too dinky, cramped, or even worse, doesn’t fit in the dining room. Use graph paper to plot furniture placement, and don’t forget the placement and size of other surrounding furnishings in the room as well. Keep foot traffic and air flow in mind so that your future dining room table fits comfortably and naturally in the room.
Form Follows Function
Next, what do you want this dining room table to do? Yes, the obvious answer is, “to hold dishes, silverware, glasses, and my guests’ elbows.” But think about what will happen at future meals. Do you mostly host small gatherings? Then a smaller round or square table may be all you need. Have a big family, most of whom still live at home? Go with a longer and courtlier table. Do you switch back and forth, mostly serving small groups but hold a big holiday dinner on occasion? Then look for a table with a built-in extension mechanism and leaves for extra guests.
The Style It Takes
Style is really a matter of personal taste, so there’s no hard and fast rule on picking the perfect table in this regard. Look around and get a feel for the different styles available and keep your home’s décor in mind as you choose. If you go for a more rustic and shabby chic look, a dining room table with a live-edge wood tabletop might be your speed. If you go for the more modern look, multiple contemporary styles are available in wood, metal, or a combination of both. If you have the means and can’t find the right look out there, think about having a style specifically for you with custom wood dining table tops created by fine woodworkers like the Carpentry Shop Company. No matter what, go with the style that most feels like you.
We've touched on material by referring to custom wood dining tabletops and the like, but let’s go deeper, past the surface of table tops themselves. Consider how much work you want to put into keeping up your dining room table. Wood is, of course, a classic material, but you need to take steps to protect it and keep it looking rich and luxurious. Kids and fine furniture don’t mix well—the wood is porous and easily scratched or gouged by innocent hands bearing pens and pencils, scissors, and more.
If you go for pricier wood furniture, make it off-limits to the little ones or consider another material. A glass top resists damage but will get sticky and smudged, so prepare to clean it regularly. Marble tops are more durable, but also heavier and more expensive. Plastic is easy to maintain but can look extra chintzy, while metal tables are sometimes difficult to clean, repair, and otherwise maintain. Of course, all surfaces have their advantages, too. Weigh the pros and cons of material before you shop!
Leg room is one of those things you never think of until you’re sitting down, but it is important. While measuring the room can give you an idea about space around the dining room table, also keep in mind how much room is left underneath. Table supports tend to run to legs, pedestals, and trestles, and while some of these look amazing from a design standpoint, visualize how much comfort they’ll afford you and your guests when they’re sitting down. Keep the fact that a lot of legs will be under the table at the same time as well!
Shape It Up
The shape of your dining room table should reflect the size and shape of your dining room. As a rule of thumb, round tables fit well in small spaces, while square or rectangular tables—especially if they are extendible—match well with longer and larger rooms. For longer tables, some experts suggest adding a bench to the sides, rather than more chairs, to make better use of space. Ensure that the bench can still fit under the table. If you want to leave the blockiness of square and rectangular tables behind, consider a long oval table for a slenderer room.
See the Light
As an addendum to our top tips for choosing the best dining table, don’t forget that lighting not only sets the mood, but it’s also a physical feature of your dining room. Pick a table that works well with your overhead light source, leaving enough room between the surface and the fixture, and not reflecting the light weirdly or blinding your guests!