Choosing a dining table

Kate Dyson of The Dining Room Shop in London shares with us the advice she gives to her private customers – and to a lot of decorators too if they are a bit unsure!

What style should you choose? Something antique, something contemporary, something timeless?  Something polished?   Something painted?  To a certain extent this will be decreed by the overall and other furnishings in the room.   There are no hard and fast rules.   Tables and chairs do not necessarily need to match in style, colour or finish.   Whatever style you end up choosing, this advice will help you select something that will fit in your house and lifestyle.

Size.  First work out the ideal size, whether this is for a table  in the kitchen or a dining room.  I do this in my shop all the time for customers.  It is worthwhile homework before you order.

For circulation around the table when people are sitting, you need a minimum of 3 ft  between the table edge and the wall or the next piece of furniture.  More space is more comfortable.   This will help you work out the best table width and length, or diameter if it is a round table.

As a general rule of thumb, rectangular and oval tables work best in rectangular spaces.   Round or square tables work best in square spaces. A rectangular table should be wide enough for large dinner plates on either side with space for serving dishes in the centre.   36 ins is a good minimum width.  This will depend on the space available.

If you are short of space, then 2ft between the table edge and the wall or next piece of furniture, will be enough for someone to sit, but not for someone to walk behind the chair.
You need 22 – 24 ins  minimum of length of table per person sitting, plus an extra amount to compensate for the legs and overhang.  This will depend on the design of table you choose, as well as on the width of your chairs.

Make a template. Now, if you want to do this yourself, make a template of the size you have estimated with newspaper and put it on the floor in the proposed table size.  If you have the space,  make the table as large as seems comfortable within the space.  You will never regret making room for more people.  A good bespoke or antique  table is something to hand on to the grandchildren as a family heirloom.
While the paper is on the floor, lay out a full table setting.  Do the plates and side plates fit comfortably?  If the setting is tight on the corners, see if the table can be a little wider and longer.  We can work this out for you with one of our computer sketches if wanted.
Where a table has four legs in the corners, multiply the width of the chairs by the number you need down the side of the table, then make sure this measurement fits between the “inside legs” of the table.  It is not comfortable to sit with your knee banging into a table leg that is badly placed.
If you are tight for space on a rectangular or rounded table, choose a trestle or pedestal style because it will be easier to accommodate chairs on the corners, rather than working around the legs.   This type also is best for tables in alcoves.
Gently rounded corners are good for tables where families have young children – less chance of banged heads.

Apron height. Think about the apron height.  Most tables need a frame to support the top (the apron or skirt).   Can you fit your knees underneath?  Our tables are made with a 24.5 ins  minimum space under the apron, which suits most people.   Tall customers are asked to measure from the top of the knee to the floor, wearing a shoe when seated.   This enables us to make sure the tables we make are comfortable to sit at.  I call it table tailoring. When buying antique country tables, which often have deep aprons, sit at the table before buying, using a normal height dining chair.

Extending tables. Do you want an extending table?   There are many different types.  I advocate having extension leaves at the ends of a rectangular or square table, rather than fitting them in the centre using a sliding table top.  Why? Because the table looks much better when unextended if it is one solid piece of wood.  Also if there are joins in the centre, especially on family kitchen tables, they are crumb traps.   This does not apply to antique style formal pedestal tables with leaves, nor to circular tables, which need either leaves to fit in the centre, or to fit around the edge to extend the diameter.

Round tables – as a rule of thumb work on a diameter of 4ft 6 ins to 5 ft for six people to sit comfortably, depending on chair width; 5ft to 5ft 6 ins diameter for eight; 5ft 6 ins to 6 ft for ten and 6ft to 6ft 6ins for 12 people.  Again, we will work this out for our customers using computer sketches. Also for a round table, make a template, and lay the plates around it, so you can see how it will look.   Do you need to add a couple of inches to the diameter if you have enough space?

Timber – hardwoods are best because if properly kilned before making up, there is less chance of the timber splitting.   We use well figured oak from sustainable sources for most of our kitchen and family tables, also elm, walnut  and cherry.   For new formal tables, there is mahogany coming through from sustainable forests in West Africa, grown often using seeds from Brazilian mahogany trees to give timber with good figuring.   We do not like to use hardwoods from non sustainable sources, such as South American rainforests.   Our tables are made in England and we are proud of this.
Pine is a soft wood and should not be used for tables in hot conservatories or any room which is centrally heated and has no humidifier.  A hot and dry atmosphere equals a table that can split. Cherry and walnut are beautiful, but should be avoided in a conservatory or a room which gets overhead sunlight, because they can shrink in the heat.

Finishes – nothing beats pure wax for a rich finish, but it needs looking after.  Spills and hot things make marks.  Modern varnishes are more hard- wearing and come in matt, satin and gloss finishes, which are applied above the wood stains to give durability – important for family and kitchen tables.   We supply polish samples so customers can make sure they have their table finished in the best colour – from natural or limed, through to dark tints or painted finishes.

Antique tables. An antique table should keep its value best – though “brown furniture” is not in fashion at the moment and therefore less expensive than it was a few years ago. Buy from reliable sources, so you are sure you are getting what it says on the ticket.   There is much to be said for having a bespoke table that looks antique or new and that exactly fits the space, rather than making a compromise on size.

Before buying, make sure you can get the table through your front door.   Or see if it can be delivered with the top or legs off when there is a narrow  access.   We can tell many stories about lifting tables over garden walls, down narrow brambly back alleys,  through windows, and manoeuvring up narrow stairs.

Chairs. Having chosen the table, don’t forget to consider the comfort of your chairs.   This is just as important.   Hard tiny chairs do not necessarily make for relaxed seating.   Cushions or upholstered seats make for more conviviality – and that is a whole different subject.

The Dining Room Shop makes tables,  chairs and associated furniture in a variety of styles, from the rustic to the formal and from antique-looking to pristine.  It also sells a wonderful selection of antique and new china, glass, silver and linen, and anything else you might need in your kitchen or dining room.  The shop is celebrating its 29th birthday this year.

Visit  The Dining Room Shop at 62 White Hart Lane, Barnes, London, SW13 0PZ. T: 020 878 1020

And for more suppliers of kitchen and dining tables, including made-to-measure tables,  see The House Directory’s listings pages. We also have other inspiring sources of china and glassware, cutlery, tablelinen and tea towels.



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