Ultimate Guide to Dining Room Tables

The dining table is the centerpiece of the dining room. Buying a dining table is an exercise if finding balance between form and function. Use this guide to find a table that complements your decor, serves your dining needs, and withstands the test of time.

By Kristin Schmitt


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Dining room with two light fixtures
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Table Design

    Don't dismiss the dining table as just a surface to gather around for meals. Interesting choices in shape, style, and color can make the dining table a substantial piece of furniture that can set the tone for the entire room.

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Classic Shapes

    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.

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Contemporary Squares

    Choose a square table for a more unique, modern look. For versatility, watch for a rectangle table that transforms into a square by adding the leaf down the length of the table.

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Contour with Character

    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.

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Traditional Dining

    If your style is traditional, then complement your decor with a dining table true to your style. Rich wood finishes and carved legs are classic features.

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Country Charm

    Country style favors distressed or worn woods and chunky construction. Trestle tables are a farmhouse favorite. Pair it with a couple of benches instead of traditional chairs for a casual approach.

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Casual Cottage Style

    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.

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Modern Looks

    Certain materials distinctly speak to modern design. Seek dining tables made from metals, such as stainless steel, or with chrome finishes. A glass tabletop is a contemporary staple.

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The Right Size Table

    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.

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Function of the Table

    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.

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Space-saving Solution

    Conquer small quarters, such as a compact loft or eat-in kitchen, with smart design. A table with self-storing leaves that pop up and lock into place offers all the benefits of an expandable table without the hassle of clunky, removable leaves.

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Multifunctional Tables

    Seek out tables with dual purposes for versatility around the house. A cocktail table that raises to dining table height serves both the living and dining rooms. A drop-leaf table can live as a family room console table or breakfast room buffet, then expand for dining company.

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Solid Wood

    A solid wood table doesn't include other materials, such as plywood or particleboard. These tables are durable and long-lasting because most scratches and stains can be repaired. On the other hand, solid wood tables are more expensive, and the wood can split over time.

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Veneer Options

    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.

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Choose the Right Finish for You

    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.

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Stain Selections

    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.

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Painted Decoration

    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).

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Fun with Colored Stains

    Make a bold statement in the dining room with a brightly colored table. Color stains -- available in a rainbow of fun hues -- make it possible to add color without covering the natural beauty of the wood's grain.

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Test Drive Each Table

    When shopping for a new dining table, take a seat. Test for comfort and stability. Be sure the table has enough elbowroom (about 30 inches between chair centers and across the table) but isn't too big for passing dishes comfortably. Lean on the table from all angles to check for stability.

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Find Chairs That Fit

    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.

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Buying a Table

    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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Getting Your Table Home

    Be sure to ask about delivery options when buying a dining table. Unless you buy a small or assemble-it-yourself table, it may be worth a small fee to have the store deliver and set up your table.

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