Dining tables aren’t just for dinner time these days - they’re often the centre of the home and family life. Here’s Raft’s guide to form, function, and choosing the right dining table for you...
Many homes once had a dining room, often kept ‘for best’, with the dining table in pride of place, highly polished and well protected. With the shift to open plan living, however, today’s dining – and eating, generally - is likely to take place alongside other focal points or activities.
Today’s dining table has to be versatile. A bit like a repertory actor has to switch roles frequently and still look good. So how do you go about choosing one that is right for you, your family, your lifestyle, and your home?
Choosing a dining table – the five essentials
Unless you are opting for low budget, flat pack furniture, you’ll probably view a dining table as an investment that will give years of loyal service. These are the essential points you need to consider before deciding what to buy:
- where will the dining table be located?
- how will you use the dining table?
- what’s the best size for a dining table
- what’s the best shape for a dining table
- what’s the best material for a dining table?
Where will your dining table be located?
Unless you have a separate dining room, your table will be in a room that’s used for other purposes too - a kitchen diner, a combined sitting room / dining room or a completely open plan space. It needs to look right and fit into this space and setting.
If you are shopping in person, rather than online, take along a note of the relevant room or space dimensions and, ideally, some photos too. And, although this might not be a priority now, your dining area is an important focal point, if and when you plan to sell your home.
Estate agents advise vendors to make the most of these areas, with dining tables looking their best.
How will you use your dining table?
It’s likely to be used for far more than eating. We asked a group of people, including solo flat dwellers, professional couples, parents with young and older children, and retired people, how they used their dining tables, apart from mealtimes. These were some of the things they mentioned:
- working at laptops, sometimes several laptop users at once
- home office
- sorting household paperwork and filing
- children’s homework
- art and craft activities – children and adults
- pattern cutting and sewing
- board, party and card games
- informal meetings, such as book clubs
Several people admitted that the dining table had become an extension of the hallway, with laptop and school bags, keys, loose change, scarves and hats, the dog’s lead, and various random items, just dropped there when people arrive home. A new dining table gives you the perfect excuse to reimpose some order!
What’s the best size and shape for a dining table?
It depends on where your table is going and how you plan to use it. Make sure that there is enough circulation space to move around the table and move dining chairs away from the table as easily as possible. These are the most popular styles:
- Folding tables – the smallest and most efficient type when space is at a premium, in a studio flat, for example.
- Circular tables - work well if space is limited, also in a square room or as part of a combined sitting room / dining room, where they can soften the linear emphasis of other furniture.
- Square tables - also work well in tight spaces or if there is usually just one or two of you at the table. You’ll still have room for dinner guests!
- Rectangular tables - perfect for larger rooms and larger families or groups, offering plenty of space for everyone. They’re also a good choice if your table has to be multi-functional, day to day.
- Extending tables - ideal if the space is limited but you want the flexibility to seat extra guests from time to time. (Raft’s Lifestyle extendable table range comes in different seating sizes, from six to eight people up to a 10-12 seater.)
- Refectory tables – these long, rectangular tables work best in large areas, such as open plan barn conversions.
Table legs and drawers
Often overlooked, they can turn a good table into an even better one. If you need to seat as many people as possible at daily mealtimes, or at frequent supper or dinner parties or children’s parties, for example, choose corner set legs, rather than inset, for maximum flexibility and comfort.
Otherwise, inset legs are fine. If storage space is at a premium, or your kitchen is some distance away, a table with drawers to store cutlery, place mats or table linen is a practical choice. (Raft’s Tamara and Megan tables (below) have inset legs and our Classic tables are fitted with drawers.)
What’s the best material for your table?
Again, it depends on location and use but you also need to think about how it will sit within the overall style and design of your home. Will it adapt to changes in decoration or colour schemes? Do you want your table to last well? We’re assuming that you do, so we’ve not included materials such as plywood or MDF. They’re cheaper but nowhere near as long lasting as hardwood or glass tables.
- Hardwood tables - a robust table made from mahogany, teak, maple, walnut or oak, will last for years. However, if your table has to cope with hard wear and varied use, you might want to think about something like reclaimed teak. It wears its history with pride but the marks have mellowed and it’s not the end of the world if you, your family, or guests inadvertently add more marks. If you want eco-friendly, sustainable furniture, this is a great choice.
- Glass-topped tables – work well with almost any type of décor, and brighten up a darker area. They’re easy to clean and modern versions are made of heat and scratch resistant safety glass: a practical and stylish choice. Great for adults and families with older children but can be a hazard for toddlers, who don’t always look where they’re going or see the glass top, resulting in bumped heads. Glass tables are also very revealing . . . (Take a look at Raft’s glass-topped tables, which come with a reclaimed teak root base – the best of both worlds.)
Raft handcrafted dining tables are available in reclaimed teak or glass and come in a choice of styles, finishes and sizes. Browse the full range of dining tables here.