Choosing a Dining Room Table: Materials, Styles, Sizes

What to Consider When Choosing a Table

Green pendant light hanging over dining table
Caiaimage/Tom Merton / Getty Images

In any dining room, the central piece will be the dining table. It is the largest piece of furniture and is generally located in the exact center of the room, where it dictates the style of the room and sets the mood for the entire dining experience. And it very often is the most expensive piece of dining room furniture you will buy.

As you consider your selection of the dining room table, three considerations are the most important: the materials used in the table, the shape and decor style, and the size of the table.

Materials

Like any other piece of furniture, a dining room table can be made of many different materials, from glass to concrete, from polished marble to rough-sawn pine. Choosing the right material is no easy task since each material has a distinct aesthetic impact, as well as practical considerations. Polished glass might give the exact modern vibe you like, but in a home where active children play, it might not be the best choice. A picnic-style trestle table made from rough-sawn pine made be perfect for everyday family use, but its rustic style might not provide you with the elegance you want. But in a large home where most family dining occurs in a kitchen dining area, the formal dining room might comfortably handle that polished French mahogany table you want.

Choosing the right materials is, therefore, a matter of balancing the look and aesthetics of the material with its practical suitability. Most experts advise that you should first choose several materials that appeal to your sense of style, then narrow down to one that meets the lifestyle need of the dining room. If your dining room must serve everyday needs and you prefer wood, then a good choice will be a more rustic piece that gets better with age as it develops a worn patina.

Styles and Shapes

Of the many ways that dining room tables can be categorized, style and shape are among the most important criteria. Style and shape have on the mood of the room and the dining experience, and on the number of people who can comfortably dine around the table.

Rectangular

This is by far the most common shape for a dining room table, a traditional shape that works well in early any dining room space. Rectangular tables are available in varying widths to match both wide and narrow rooms, and the length makes it optimal for large gatherings. Many rectangular tables include removable leaves to make them highly adaptable to a variety of gatherings, from smaller family dinners to large holiday events. The popularity of rectangular tables means there are more styles available than with round or square tables.

Traditional Oval

Traditional oval dining room tables are classic and beautiful. Often made of mahogany or cherry, they're the type of furniture piece that often gets handed down through the generations in a family. Antique versions can usually be found at auctions and estate sales and new versions of this style are sold in many furniture stores. Oval tables often come with removable leaves, making them very practical, since the size can change depending on the number of people you need to seat. Oval tables generally require a slightly larger room than do rectangular tables.

Round Pedestal

These types of tables are easy to sit at because there are no legs getting in the way—just a single pedestal in the middle. Traditional wood and marble versions date back hundreds of years but they've come a long way since then. There are now many modern (or mid-century) versions available on the market that have a more fluid look to them and suit more contemporary settings. The circular profile of a round table can also work well to balance a room that is square in shape.

Square

Like round tables, square dining room tables work well in small spaces or where dining groups generally include four people or fewer. Larger square dining tables are better for conversation than rectangular tables since guests are in closer proximity and everyone faces one another. Like oval tables, larger square dining tables require more space along both the length and width than other types.

Rustic Modern

This style has become very popular over the last few years. The style is streamlined and modern (usually rectangular) but the material is rough-hewn. Worn woods are popular, as are rough natural materials such as slate. Another very popular look right now is the mixture of wood and metal in the table construction.

Trestle

Trestle tables are made of two or three trestles that make up the table base and support a long piece that makes up the table surface. This is a very old table style that looks best in casual settings.

Farmhouse

Farmhouse-style dining room tables, as the name suggests, are relaxed and rustic, appropriate for kitchens and dining rooms that seek a country decor style. They're typically made of pine, often with a rough-sawn or knotty surface, and have a very laid-back feeling to them.

Sizes

The size you choose for your dining room table will depend somewhat on its shape. Round tables are conducive to conversation but they comfortably fit fewer people than rectangular tables.

Dining table size and seating capacity:

Round and square tables: 

  • 3 to 4 feet (36 to 48 in.): Seats 4 people comfortably
  • 5 feet (60 inches):    Seats 6 people comfortably
  • 6 feet (72 inches):    Seats 8 people comfortably

Rectangular and oval tables:  

  • 6 feet (72 inches):   Seats 6 people comfortably
  • 8 feet (96 inches):      Seats 8 people comfortably
  • 10 feet (120 inches):    Seats 10 people comfortably


Dining room tables are usually 30 inches high, however, it's very important that you check this before buying because some tables are lower. If you purchase a lower table, make sure to choose chairs that match.

Tips for Choosing a Table Size

  • Each person should be given about 2 feet of space in which to eat comfortably.
  • If the ends of the table are expected to accommodate a diner, the minimum table width should be 3 feet; 4 feet if you expect to seat two diners on occasion.
  • Ideally, there should be 3 feet between the edges of the table and the walls. This allows sufficient room for chairs to be pulled out for seating.
  • Consider extendable tables that can be expanded with leaves. It is best to leave ample space around a table for everyday use, expanding the table when necessary for large gatherings or parties.