How to buy a Dining Room Table

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You need to start by knowing how big of a table you can fit into the room it will reside in.  Over the years I have lived by a few rules of thumb:

Dining Room Rectangle Table Diagram A

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  • From the edge of your table measuring outward away from the table you a need a minimum of 24” on each side of the table to have enough room to pull out the chairs for a user can sit down at the table.
  • 30” is a little more comfortable but is still a squeeze for most people of ample proportions. At 30” guests can barely sneak by if they need to excuse themselves from the table, or for serving food.
  • 36” starts to be a far better space between the edge of table and the back of the chairs when they are pulled out. This space allows guests to rise from the table with ease and makes the space large enough that it is easy to serve food to all the guests at the table.
  • 42” is an ideal space from edge of table to back of chair. This space will allow ease of guest getting in and out from the table.  It makes serving food a breeze because there are no obstructions to contend with.
  • 48” and over is luxury living. There are no problems for guests to come and go, and serving becomes a dream with ample space for all of your dining requirements.  Most people do NOT have 8’-0” of excess space in the dining room on both sides of the table.  Remember that you have to add the chair space (8’- 0”) to the width and length of your table.  A 48” wide table with 48” + 48” chair space = 12’- 0”, which would be a wide dining room by today’s standards.  The same math works for the length of the table.  An 84” long table with 48” + 48” chair space would be a 15’- 0” long dining room.  This still doesn’t account for any other dining furniture such as a buffet and hutch or a server or other types of storage cabinets.

Start by measuring the room and use the attached chart, (CHART A), to help guide you to the size that would work best for you.  In most of the dining rooms that I have done over the years we have allowed for a 36” chair space per side and this seems to work well.  Anything more than that is just a bonus.

CHART A - Click for Printable Plan
CHART A – Click for Printable Plan

Another major factor – is there a leaf in the desired table.  If yes, you need to be sure your math is correct so that you don’t bring home a table that just won’t fit.

FACT:  Most families do not have the dining room table fully extended (leafs in) more than three times a year.  Be sure to ask yourself the question, “How many times a year do you entertain a large group?”  The bonus of a leaf table, even if it’s just once a year, is that you have it available to use.

The glide mechanism is a very important part of an extendable table.  When you are in the store try it 20 times minimum.  Open and close it repeatedly while adding and removing the leafs.  How heavy are the inserts?  Can you lift and install them alone?  Can you close the table alone?  Can you open the table alone?  Do you have space in the house to store the extra leafs?  If for one second that you feel there is a potential that this mechanism could fail down the road DO NOT buy the table…because it will fail.  Sometimes showroom furniture will not have carpenters wax on the glides so they can be a bit sticky at the store; ask the sales rep to wax them up.  If it still seems a bit sticky or tough to open and close, find another table.

Another thing to consider with wood leaf tables is that wood changes colour, no matter what, over the course of its life so when you have the one, two, or even three extra tables leafs that you are going to store in a closet or under your master bedroom bed that when you bring them out three times a year their colour will no longer match the rest of your table.  To help with the colour aging process put the extra leafs into the table a few times per year and leave it open to the light.  If space is an issue, it’s best to bring them out and lean them against a wall for a few days just to allow them to be exposed to natural light.

The next question is, which material do you wish to use?  Wood, wood veneer, metal, glass, or stone, or a combination of those materials.  Metal, glass and stone offer exceptional durability.  They are very tough to break or damage.  One of the setbacks of these materials is that they are always cold.  (Unless in a room with direct sunlight on them).  This can be a little uncomfortable for you and guests when every time you lean on the table your arms get that little chill until your body can bring it up to temperature.  Wood veneer is a nice option but you will never get the durability of a hardwood.  I personally do not use softwoods on anything that I am going to use on a daily basis.  They just cannot take the beating and they are usually porous which allows things like a spill of grape juice or red wine to seep into the surface, changing its look by staining the wood.

Hardwoods such as maple, cherry, walnut and oak and many others are a very safe bet on dining room tables.  Solid stock top and legs/bases generally speaking will provide excellent wear and durability.  If you get a scratch or mark or stain on it most of the time can be refinished by a wood working professional.  I have watched many wood experts over the years take product that looked destroyed and hours later brought it back to life.  Sometimes they looked better after they were refinished because the customer had decided to change the colour and enhanced the grain of the wood.

Hardwood frames are a must.  Wood + glue + screws = a pretty tough table.  I have advised customers for years to take their tables home and to re-glue any spots that they don’t like until the joinery has been adequately dosed with glue.  All the glides, skirting and legs should all be hardwood.  Preferably the same wood as the table top but sometimes in order to save a little money the manufacturers may use some combinations.  Make sure there is sufficient hardware connecting the top of the table to the base.

Then of course give the table the ultimate test in the store.  Sit on it and wiggle around.  The sales reps won’t like this test but if it is a well-built table it should be able to handle your weight.  Remember, once you throw the turkey, gravy boat, mashed potatoes, etc. and a couple of bottles of wine onto the table you will start to add some serious weight to the product so it is better to find out at the store if it has some resiliency to it or if it is too wiggly.  And always remember, if it’s wiggly at the store…DO NOT BUY IT.

Table heights are all pretty well the same throughout the world between 29” – 31”.  If you wish to have a slightly lower table most furniture manufacturers will accommodate this request.  If they say they cannot make this adjustment you can always take the table to a local wood shop for the adjustment or if you are exceptionally handy you could cut them at home.  Making the legs a little longer has to be done at the manufacturers’ facility when the product is being made.  It has not happened much to me over the years but it is available most of the time to add a couple extra inches for a very tall family. And of course, it will cost a little extra money for this change.