The best dining table for you will be the one that works for your budget, offers solid construction, fits your space, and has a style you’ll love for years. Even if you’re not thinking forever at this point, you can expect to have a table for at least five to 10 years. “Five years is not a long time,” said Pourny. “If it’s your first table, you may use it somewhere else after a few years, so you want it to be simple and sturdy and a style you’ll like for a while.” So a small, well-made table might find a place in your home for years to come.
Here are the factors you should consider before buying a table for your home.
The number-one rule: Your dining table has to fit in your dining area. But a dining table is a deceptively large piece of furniture, and you need to account for space around it, too.
“In addition to the footprint of the table, you’ll want 3 feet of breathing room on all sides—and more is better!—to comfortably sit in a chair and move around the space,” said Harris. So whether your dining area is part of a multiuse space (such as a great room that you’re dividing into living and dining areas) or you have a separate dining room, start by measuring the length and width of the space you can dedicate to the dining table. Then subtract about 6 feet from those two measurements to get a target dining table length and width.
Next, think about how you’re going to use the table and how many people will typically sit at the table. “Figure that each place at the table needs 22 to 24 inches of table space and that larger scale chairs will require more,” said Dyer. These are the general dimensions you can expect:
|To seat …||Try …|
|1 or 2 people||30- to 36-inch round or square table
30- to 36-inch oval or rectangular table
|4 people||36- to 48-inch round or square table
36- to 48-inch oval or rectangular table
|6 people||60-inch round or square table
72-inch oval or rectangular table
|8 people||72-inch round or square table
96-inch oval or rectangular table
|10 people||Round or square tables not advised
120-inch oval or rectangular table
As a longtime apartment dweller, guide co-author Ayn-Monique Klahre has found that the “visual weight” of a piece of furniture can really influence how big it feels in a room. It may technically fit, but it’ll seem huge if it’s a dark or bulky piece or if it’s too close to other furniture. To visualize how a bigger piece of furniture will look in your room, take the time to block out the length and width on the floor (such as with painter’s tape), as well as the height of the table. Try standing on the tape corners with a tape measure and filling in that space with similar-size furniture (such as a couple of chairs), and then taking a step back to see how it might feel. It also helps to ask a friend to stand there with the tape measure while you take a look. If the table you have in mind wouldn’t have a lot of room to breathe because of other furniture nearby, consider a different table with a thinner frame or lighter-colored materials.
If you’re tight on space, consider options such as leaves that allow the table to expand. “These let you customize the table for different entertainment needs and party sizes,” said Mahoney. The one thing Pourny warned against in this regard was too many mechanisms or leaves that were attached or hidden within the table (versus standalone leaves). “If you buy things that are too complicated, it’s just more opportunity for something to fail,” he told us. The sturdiest expansion tables are those where the leaves are solid, separate units that you place on the base once you’ve opened the table (versus a flip-up or butterfly style). If you plan to use your table very differently on weeknights versus weekends, expansion tables can be a great option.
And don’t forget about considerations for moving your dining table into your home in the first place. Scope out any area the table will have to travel through, including doorways, hallways, and hard turns into a room that will limit your maneuverability. “Measure everything first, and treat the delivery team who brings your furniture well!” said Dyer.
“The shape of the room gets first say, since some tables simply do not work in certain rooms,” Dyer told us. Tabletops come in two main shape families, square/rectangular or round/oval. Ideally, you want your table to fill your space proportionately, so if you have a rectangular room, try a rectangular or oval table; if your available space is more square, a square or round table will look better.
Square or rectangular tables are the most common, so you’ll find the most options in that category in terms of styles, sizes, and extensions. But a round or oval table can give you a little more space to move around because it cuts off the corners but still offers a good surface area. “For tighter rectangular spaces, the oval might be the best option,” said Dyer. Harris added, “Round or oval tables can be great for parties and conversation because there’s no head of the table, too.” As for squeezing people in, you’re limited only by the perimeter of the table—but you can lose a little space for serving pieces once you have all your place settings at a round or oval table.
The base—usually legs, a pedestal, or a trestle—can have an effect on how many people you can fit at the table. “You just want to be sure the leg space isn’t being invaded by the supports,” said Hirschhaut. When you see a table in person, sit at it to see if your legs hit the table’s legs; also verify if you have enough space for your knees when you scoot in all the way, and if you can cross your legs underneath the table. The apron—the frame that holds the tabletop up—can cut down on your room to maneuver.
If you want to be more flexible in adding dinner guests, pay attention to the leg width and where the legs are placed. “In general, a table with thinner legs, or where the legs are at the corners, will make it easier to squeeze an extra chair in,” said Harris. And as Dyer noted, be aware: “A leg table is generally limited to how long it can be extended without bowing in the middle.” A very large-scale table might have two pedestals or a trestle base to support it, but a four-leg table that extends really far out could get unstable.
With a pedestal or trestle table, you have more flexibility to add more people to the table. “A center base is the best option to squeeze people in,” said Harris. Pourny told us he was wary of larger round pedestal-style tables because they could be a little less sturdy than a four-leg table. “You have to be able to lean on it and dine on it every day without it tipping over,” he said.
Trestle tables can give you flexibility along the sides of the table but can limit the space at the ends of the table. Dyer said, “The challenge with the trestle table is that there can be spots along the table where a chair is straddling the base.” This situation can be less comfortable and make pushing in chairs impossible. But Pourny told us he liked this style because it’s sturdy and rooted in antique furniture. To make sure you have space for your knees, look closely at how much space a trestle design has between the edge of the table and where the trestle supports are attached.
This is the fun part! You can find thousands of options, so first you should narrow your selections. “Do you want formal elegance or casual comfort? Do you envision a cozy room or a grand one?” said Hirschhaut. If you’re starting from scratch, browse through sites and make a Pinterest board to see what you’re attracted to.
That said, because a dining table is a big investment, your best bet is to find something you’re going to like for a while. Pourny advised against choosing anything too trendy. “If you get something too funky, with too many weird details, one day you may wake up and wonder what you were thinking,” he said. “Keep it simple and sturdy.”
He also said that in general he found that lighter woods (such as white oak or bleached woods), raw or natural finishes, and weathered materials done in cleaner lines tended to stand the test of time. Mid-century-style furniture has become more popular in the past 10 to 15 years, and that popularity continues to grow.
Solid wood is a classic material because it is durable and easy to repair. Pine, acacia, mango, and teak are less expensive woods that are becoming more popular now. Different woods have different hardnesses—pine is much softer than acacia, for example, which in turn is softer than walnut. “Solid wood is the most popular, though it’s often the most expensive,” said Hirschhaut. Manufacturers have been working to get the price of solid wood down—IKEA, for one, has an unfinished solid-pine table for around $80—but a larger-scale table from a different retailer can cost $1,000 or more.
“There’s been a move away from dark stains and back toward very natural materials and wood species that people recognize,” said Dyer. Pre-distressed pieces with rustic finishes can wear a bit better under abuse from little kids.
Wood expands and contracts with heat and humidity and can show scratches and wear, but it’s fairly easy to repair. “If it’s good wood, in 10 years you can strip it and you’ll still have something to work with,” said Pourny. Heat and moisture can damage the finish, so “be prepared to protect [the] tabletop with pads, cloths, mats or trivets,” added Hirschhaut.
Veneer or wood-look
Wood veneer is often a more economical alternative to solid wood. To create wood veneer, a manufacturer glues a very thin layer of solid wood (or material printed to look like wood) to a plywood or other wood core. Depending on the maker and the materials, wood-veneer pieces can be just as sturdy as solid wood—or quite flimsy. “Generally, veneer is used to achieve one of two objectives: a decorative patterned top (for better goods) or to appear as solid wood (to reduce costs by using a cheaper substrate beneath it),” said Dyer. “A well-made veneer will be a little thicker (1/36″ or greater) and will use multilayer, cross-banded plywood as the core that it is glued to.”
Harris told us that she found good wood veneer to be just as stable as solid wood. To identify good veneer, look for tables with clearly labeled core interiors, such as kiln-dried hardwood. “A lower quality veneer, however, will be very thin, poorly printed, and will be applied to multi-density fiberboard (MDF) or particle board,” said Dyer. Harris agreed that a veneer added to composite wood, which is made from fiberboard or other reconstituted wood-pulp-based materials, is less durable and susceptible to delaminating (in which the veneer detaches from the base). “To avoid these lower-quality products, avoid cores made from MDF or particleboard and look out for phrases like ‘all wood,’ which can refer to anything derived from wood—like newspaper—or ‘engineered wood,’ which can mean everything from wood composites to synthetic resins,” said Dyer. You can expect to pay under $500 for a less expensive veneer piece, but the higher-end ones go into the thousands.
Another way to spot cheaper veneers is to look underneath the table at the store. “If just the outside is finished, but the underneath looks like a different material, the manufacturer is cutting costs,” said Dyer. Also look along the table’s outside edges. “On a solid-wood table, or one with a good veneer, the wood grain will run all the same direction, instead of changing direction,” Dyer noted. Russell mentioned another concern: “Beware of products that seem too cheap, and make sure particleboard says it’s CARB compliant, which means it’s passed emissions tests.” And you can always ask the salesperson exactly what the table is made of—if they’re not sure, that’s a red flag, said Dyer. You can usually touch up a good wood veneer with a bit of stain or paint, but as with solid wood, try to avoid direct contact with heat and moisture.
Stone and stone-look
Stone tabletops can include marble, quartz composite, or cast stone (like cement). “There are both natural and man-made options in the stone category, but it is not a big category in dining tables,” Dyer told us. Although stone is durable, it can be porous and can absorb stains easily. “Depending on how it’s made, it can chip or crack,” said Hirschhaut—and once that happens, it can be tough or impossible to repair. Such tabletops can also be quite heavy. The price of stone can really vary, too: Cement-topped pieces can be under $500, but marble-topped ones often run into the thousands.
Glass tabletops can be clear, frosted, or tinted. They’re relatively inexpensive and “can create a feeling of space and openness,” said Hirschhaut. Though glass isn’t susceptible to moisture, it can chip, scratch, or crack from heat. It also shows every fingerprint, making it a higher-maintenance material. A good glass tabletop can last decades if you’re not too clumsy, but it will start to look bad in a few years if you’re prone to chipping the edges or dragging plates across the table. You can find larger-scale glass-topped tables under $750.
Metal, including stainless steel, brass, zinc, and lacquered or painted versions of those, sees use more frequently for table bases than for tabletops. “Metal is durable and not easily damaged,” Hirschhaut told us. But because it has a higher shine, it shows every fingerprint and can require special cleaning tools, making it a higher-maintenance option. And Harris has found that painted metals can be hard to repair: “If you nick a high-gloss or lacquered table, it’s hard to touch it up. I’ve had to try to match nail polish to finishes to try to repair them.” Tables using metal can be less expensive than wood tables, though finding an all-metal dining table beyond utility tables is rare.
Plastic and laminates
Man-made materials, either molded into a shape or glued onto plywood or another core, are an inexpensive option. “They can last a long time but aren’t considered the nicest-quality material,” noted Harris. These materials tend to resist staining and require little upkeep, but the pieces often appear cheap.
A good dining table is sturdy and well made, with a finish that withstands heavy use while suffering little obvious wear. “The material is a major part of good construction, but a table is only as good as the joinery,” said Dyer. Joinery is the industry term for the places where the base and tabletop fit together—the more solid this fit is, the longer the table will last. “Wood is a great material because it holds a screw, as well as old-fashion joints like tongue and groove, dovetailing, mortise and tenon or pegged tenons,” Dyer mentioned.
At a store, you can look underneath the floor sample: Wood joined directly with wood is very strong, whereas too many attachments and hooks can weaken the construction. In general, the simpler, the better. “Look at the connection points where the legs meet the tabletops and at the corners—if the pieces are starting to separate, you see gaps at the corners, or it’s wobbly when you move it, it’s not well constructed,” cautioned Harris. “A good table should have some heft to it; you don’t want the legs to be wobbly,” said Russell. And beware of really inexpensive tables: They could be held together with just staples and glue, which isn’t very sturdy.
On the surface, look for tables with a “smooth top,” suggested Mahoney, and avoid those with deep grooves or “crumb catchers” (Russell’s phrase) in between boards or in a distressed finish that might make them harder to clean. That includes spaces where you might separate the table to expand it. In general, the more moving parts—whether they’re intersections joined with screws or expansion mechanisms for leaves—the more opportunities for the table to malfunction. “The best leaves are the ones where you pull out the table and set the leaves right on it,” said Pourny. “Too many mechanisms—push this, spring that—can get tricky.”