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Rectangular and round tables are time-honored choices that fit most dining room spaces. Round tables promote easy-flow conversations, and rectangular tables accommodate lots of guests, especially when extended with a leaf or two.
Perk up a lackluster dining room with a table that has a shape that catches your eye. Pick an oval or octagonal table, for instance, to introduce curves to a boxy room.
The carefree charm of a casual cottage calls for a dining table that is equally laid-back. Look for pieces with painted finishes and tabletops nestled on a pedestal base.
The ideal table serves guests but doesn't overstuff the room. Fill a large room with a table that grounds the space. Make the most of a small room with a modest table with leaves that can double its capacity. To allow chairs and people to move around the room comfortably, find a table that leaves about three feet between it and the walls. Measure the room -- and the doorway -- to know what the room can handle.
Think about how you use the dining table. If you host the entire family for Thanksgiving, you'll want a table that expands with leaves. If quiet conversation fits your dining habits, choose a round table that allows everyone to see each other and converse easily. Square or round tables offer ultimate flexibility -- intimate when closed yet accommodating when expanded into a rectangle or oval.
An option to solid wood is veneer, a thin layer of wood glued atop a base, such as plywood or medium-density fiberboard. High-quality veneer tables have a solid core and the legs will be solid wood. Veneer is more affordable than solid wood, and it warps and splits less than wood. However, peeling edges and blistered surfaces can occur, particularly on inexpensive, mass-market pieces.
When considering table finishes, know your tolerance for wear. Glossy sheens and dark stains or paints show nicks faster, while light woods and distressed finishes disguise them. Choose watertight coatings to avoid water rings. Skip glass tops in high-traffic areas or homes with lots of little fingers.
Stained wood is the most popular finish for dining tables. Choose cherry to fit classic traditional style, think oak or maple for a country or cottage look, and pick dark (black or brown espresso) stains to match modern design. Darker stains are sleek and sophisticated but also show dust and scratches more quickly than natural tones.
For a casual look, choose painted furniture that matches your decor. Gloss or semigloss paint hides the wood color and grain and gives the table a cleanable surface. To resist scratches, finish it with a clear sealer. Paint also lets you achieve a certain look, such as a crackle or color-wash finish for country style; bold, graphic stripes for a whimsical effect; or a paint-dipped treatment for a contemporary vibe (shown here).
Consider how the chairs work with a table, especially if you're buying them separately. Make sure the chairs, including arms, fit under the table and that the arms don't bump the table. Sit down and cross your legs -- there should be space between the table apron and your thighs. Also, check under the table to be sure the table legs don't interfere with the chairs.
If you buy an as-is or in-stock table from a local retailer, you may be able to take it home that day. Special orders for pieces with custom details or finishes and online purchases can take two weeks, two months, or longer.
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