How to Choose a Dining Room Table


A few weeks ago, I talked with a designer friend about how to decorate dining room tables when they aren’t in use. Of course, that assumes you have a table worth decorating, rather than just covering up.

The dining table — when it gets used — is the heart of the home, so make sure you get the one that’s right for you. There are many, many options to choose from at a variety of prices.

Here are a few things you should consider.

  1. Material.

Wood is the natural choice, of course, but make sure it’s a hardwood such as mahogany, walnut, maple, or oak. These woods will not only be more durable, but the joints that hold them together will be tighter and make the whole table more stable. If you want something a little non-traditional, there are striking tables available in metal, glass, marble, and even concrete.

  1. Finish.

Whatever table you get (even the concrete), you’ll need to protect it during use. Some tabletops are fine with heat but are susceptible to moisture stains. Some can be polished — and eventually refinished — easily, and others must be protected from damage at all costs. I’m looking at you, lacquer.

  1. Shape and size.

Before you even think about table shopping, measure the room carefully. Consider how much space you’ll need for chairs, as well as room to open nearby drawers and doors, or walk around the table. You’ll often need to do this when people are seated, so you’ll need to add these measurements up.

In a smaller room, an oval table will seat more guests in less space and won’t make the room feel overly crowded. Rectangular pieces take up the most space, but make perfect sense in a long, narrow room. Round tables, of course, are the easiest to squeeze a crowd around, but they’re difficult to fit into some room shapes, and it can be hard to reach the mashed potatoes if the table is large. Designs with drop-leaf sides or leaf inserts can offer flexibility for differently sized groups.

  1. Style.

Obviously, if your home has a strong decorative theme, stick with it. For traditional dining rooms, a rectangular table in a rich wood with an interesting base is perfect, while in rustic homes a natural wood slab is more fitting. But don’t be afraid to choose an unusual base or some contrasting chairs to make the room more uniquely yours.

As I said with upholstery, it is important to do this sort of shopping in person rather than from a website. Sit at the table and make sure that your feet don’t hit the base and your legs can fit comfortably underneath the table. Lean on the table from multiple angles and check to make sure it is stable. Ideally, you’ll be able to see how it’s handling the wear-and-tear of the showroom floor (don’t be afraid to move the fake-flower staging) so you’ll have a good idea what it will look like after Thanksgiving with the family.

What’s in your dining room? And what would be in your dream dining room?


Mary Spalding is a Nashville based interior designer with over 30 years of experience. She has overseen countless home revitalizations, renovations, and restorations. She can be reached with your projects and ideas at

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