Instant Expert: 5 Steps to Finding Your Perfect Dining Table

wood dining room table with white midcentury chairs
Photo: Photographee.eu/shutterstock
Must-read shopping tips.

It's a fact of life: Food brings people together. That's why the dining table is a home's ultimate gathering spot, a place where friends reconnect and families recount their day. It's a lot to ask of one little table, so you want to be sure to pick the right one. Here are five tips for finding the style that best fits your needs.

  1. 2. Determine Its Function

    ​Sometimes a dining table is more than just a place to eat, often doubling as a work space, a craft area or even an extension of your kitchen counter. Keep these multipurpose functions in mind when you shop, and don't feel confined to a single table and a set of chairs. If you need an extra-wide tabletop where you can spread out and get work done, one smart solution is to place two tables side by side to maximize your surface area while still allowing for versatility. Look for one with clean lines and a simple silhouette that can double up seamlessly or can be rearranged end to end to create more seats for entertaining.

  2. 1. Measure for Success

    Size matters, especially if you're working with limited space. When trying to figure out the table shape and size that'll best fit your dining room or eat-in kitchen, it's important to take into account both the number of people you want to seat and the size of the surrounding area. To prevent bumping elbows when seated, count on two feet of tabletop for each place setting. And you should always leave at least three feet of space between the table and nearby walls or furniture so that there's enough clearance to pull chairs out and sit comfortably. If space is tight but you'd like flexibility, consider a drop-leaf design, which can seat one or two or fold out to accommodate more. (Just keep a few folding chairs in a nearby closet so you're ready for extra guests.)

  3. 3. Evaluate Your Options

    ​If you enjoy throwing dinner parties, hosting Sunday brunch or even just having friends over for book club, you'll need a table that can grow with your guest list. But permanent seating for eight when it's just you and your significant other on an everyday basis can feel overwhelming. If you have a larger room, look for an extendable table with one or two leaves so you can easily change the size when needed. And if you're short on storage space, make sure to get one with leaves that can be tucked under the tabletop when not in use.

  4. 4. Pick The Right Shape

    Rectangles might seem like the obvious choice—especially for long, narrow rooms—but they're not the only option. If your room has a wider footprint, consider a round table; the shape creates a more intimate feeling and encourages conversation. One with a slim and sleek central pedestal also provides extra legroom—no hitting your knees against table legs—and an airy vibe. Square tables work best in similarly shaped rooms or tucked in a corner with built-in bench seating, but they take up more space than other shapes if you plan to seat more than four people. Oval tables offer the best of both worlds: an elongated silhouette with rounded edges perfect for squeezing in an extra chair or two when guests drop by.​

  5. 5. Consider the Material

    ​Durability, style and function all come into play when deciding on material. Wood is super-versatile and can go from traditional to ultra-modern depending on the color and finish. If the top will likely take a beating, a distressed-wood look can help camouflage wear and tear. High-gloss finishes, on the other hand, are prone to nicks and scratches but give a sleek, contemporary appearance. Ask yourself how the material will work with the rest of your space: Is your room feeling a bit cramped? Go with a glass-top option, which will let light through for a barely there look. Whatever you're leaning toward, it's all about balancing practicality and style.