If you've ever been stuck at the dreaded "kids' table" at Thanksgiving or been seated at a rickety card table stuck in to expand the main table, you know how important it is to have a dining-room table that can welcome the entire family. After years of stressing over how I was going to fit guests during holiday dinners, I finally decided to get a table that had enough room for us all. My only regret is that I didn't do this sooner.
If you are considering inviting a new dining-room table to dinner this year, here are a few tips to help you select one that's as wonderful as the friends and family who will gather around it.
FOCUS ON FUNCTION: First, define what you need in a table. Is your dining room formal or casual? What shape is the room? How many people do you want to seat? Will you need space on the table for serving dishes, or do you prefer to prepare guests' plates in the kitchen or serve off a buffet?
START AT THE TOP: Next, decide what shape will work best for your space and lifestyle. If you have a long, narrow room, you might like a rectangle top. There have always been scads of gorgeous formal rectangle tables to choose from, but now the selection of informal rectangle tables is getting better. I'm crazy about the new farm tables that are so popular today because they are not only perfect for family mealtimes, but they can also double as homework stations.
If you love lively dinner discussions, consider a round or square table so everyone can see each other. One great benefit of today's round and square tables is that they can expand without losing their shape, thanks to new technology in table leaves. In the past, when you added leaves to a round or square table, you ended up with an oval or rectangle. Now, leaves pop up and fit together like puzzle pieces, making the table larger but not longer.
LOOK AT THE LEGS: Look for table legs that work well for the size of gatherings you have typically. Lots of people opt for pedestal tables, where the tabletop is supported by pedestals fixed to the table's center, so no one gets stuck sitting by a cumbersome table leg.
The trestle leg is also a very popular pick. As with a pedestal table, supports fit in the center of the table, but then are connected by a horizontal stretcher. At once rustic and modern, the trestle table is a great pick if you want a beefier piece of furniture.
My new dining-room table features corner legs. I admit that this leg placement can be a challenge when you're seating large groups, but I adored the look of the table so much that I was willing to work around the legs.
DELICIOUS DETAILS: Now comes the fun part: picking the material, style and finish that fits your dining room best. I'm crazy about solid wood dining tables, especially those with trim details like contrasting wood inlays. But perhaps a natural, painted or distressed finish would work best for your dining room. If you want to open up a smaller dining room, you might consider a glass-topped table.
PICK A SEAT: While I'm a big fan of matching dining sets, I also love to mix it up, wedding dissimilar chairs and tables. For example, try surrounding your table with benches, either with a high back or no back at all. For a luxurious look, use upholstered wingback chairs. If your style is casual, try wicker armchairs or armless banana-leaf chairs. If you have large dinner parties, invest in some ballroom chairs that will allow you to squeeze in more friends.