Buying Dining Room Furniture

Try out a table and chairs for comfort, size, and fit -- for yourself and your room. Here are some helpful tips.


Tables for a formal dining room, informal dining room, or kitchen need to be large enough to allow adequate "elbow-room" for comfort without crowding. Allow 24 to 30 inches per person and at least 30 inches across the table. Standard dining height is 29 to 30 inches.

Check leg placement on any table that will be used for seating. A leg at or near each corner, a center pedestal, multiple pedestals, or trestles are stable and common. Complex and artful shapes also work well, as long as the leg placement doesn't interfere with comfortable seating. Lean on the table from all angels to see whether it tips or wobbles.

Dining chairs should have fairly upright backs, so that diners can sit comfortably close to the table and still have the support of the chair back.

Avoid chairs with legs that splay out widely. They fit awkwardly at the table and are easy to trip over, and they may be weaker than other chairs.

Slide chairs up to the table. Chairs and table should fit easily. Arms should be low enough so that the chairs slide under the tabletop.

Determine whether there is adequate space between the apron (the skirtlike extension around the underside of the table) and your thighs. If you decide to use lower chairs because of the apron depth, check that the chairs are still high enough for dining.

Choose the table size that fits your space, family, and entertaining needs. Tables with leaves or drop-leaf styles are options when a larger table is needed occasionally.

Here are the most common table shapes and their sizing and seating capacities:

ROUND: - 36-inch diameter seats 2 - 40-inch diameter seats 4 - 56-inch diameter seats 8

SQUARE: - 38-inch square seats 4 - 60-inch square seats 8

RECTANGULAR/OBLONG: - 36 x 60 seats 6 - 36 x 72 seats 6 to 8 - 36 x 84 seats 6 to 8 - 48 x 96 seats 8 to 10 - 48 x 132 seats 12

Enlarge Image Ladderback chairs
  • Parsons: A popular transitional style, a parsons chair is fully upholstered with a fairly tall, straight back and linear design. The seat may or may not have a skirt that falls to the floor.
  • Queen Anne: Based on 18th-century style, the chair is recognizable by the shaped crest rail (top of back) and urn-shape center splat.
  • Windsor: An early English style characterized by stick legs and spindles driven into the seat. Variations include bow-back and hoop-back.
  • Regency/Empire: Also known as Duncan Phyfe, the 19th-century style features a scroll back, squared top, and saber legs. Copied in the 20th century.
  • Midcentury: Refers to mid-20th-century designs for the modern house styles of the period.
  • Chippendale: Based on 18th-century British design, this style is noted for elaborate splats (center back support). May include ball-and-claw feet.
  • Ladder-back: Also known as Shaker, these plain-style chairs with slat backs are associated with country furniture. Seats may be woven from rush or tape.

More: Drawings of Dining Chair Styles

Bleach: Lightens the color of the wood. Some woods will become almost white while still showing grain. A clear coating, usually lacquer, is applied over bleached wood.

Enamel: Gloss or semigloss paint is applied over one or more primer coats of paint, hiding the wood color and grain. It gives the furniture a rough, cleanable surface that resists scratches.

Lacquer: Generic term for quick-drying synthetic finishes that are brushed or sprayed on, usually in multiple layers. Lacquer may be clear to show grain or colored to change natural color and grain.

Oil: Linseed, tung, or other oils are rubbed into the wood surface in several coats, with the excess wiped from the surface after each application. The result is a natural appearance with enhanced color and grain. Oil finishes are delicate but easily restored.

Paint: Gloss or semigloss paint is often applied to inferior woods to hide imperfections; however, painted furniture in all styles is always popular and easy to achieve. Paint can be applied in a variety of techniques and finishes.

See more types below.

Shellac: A gum dissolved in alcohol leaves a clear coat after the alcohol evaporates. Shellac is easily damaged and will show water spots and other marks. It is often used as a sealer.

Stain: The colored pigment penetrates the wood surface to alter the color. Stain used in combination with a wood type generally indicates that the appearance differs from the actual wood type. For example, mahogany-stained furniture is often made of birch that is stained to resemble mahogany. A clear finish is applied over the stained wood.

Varnish: A gum dissolved in solvent. As the solvent evaporates, it leaves a transparent coating with a brownish tone. Varnish may be matte, satin, or glossy. Varnish is used on many antiques and reproduction pieces.

Wax: Provides a protective surface for a finish while maintaining a natural appearance. Wax may darken the wood slightly and needs to be reapplied periodically. The amount of buffing determines the sheen. Wax is also used over shellac, varnish, or an oiled finish to add protection and sheen.

Wood Furnishings Care

Upholstered Furnishings Care


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