In many ways, the dining area is the heart of the home. It is of course where the family gathers for mealtimes, maybe the only time of the day where you might all be in one place after work, school, and all other obligations. However, the dining table also serves a variety of purposes that makes it one of the most important pieces of furniture in your home. It’s the desk for homework, the tabletop for board games, the centrepiece around which your guests will gather for a cup of tea and a chat.
It’s the place where life happens at home, and a place where memories are made, so it’s worth choosing the right set to be part of those memories. Our dining buying guide is here to help bring interiors style to the heart of your home.
We’ll cover all your possible dining furniture in future guides, but first and foremost let’s delve into the most important pieces: the table and chairs.
Consider purpose and space
When beginning your search for a new dining set, the first things to consider are where you’ll put it and how it will be used. Will it take centre stage in a dining room or fit into a cosy kitchen space? Will it be reserved for special occasions or everyday meals?
Additionally, although we’ll talk more about extendable options in the next segment, think about whether you’d like a table big enough to accommodate a large family or guests every day, or one that can grow to welcome a larger group on special days. A dining table and chairs can be a statement-maker or slot into a room with a low-profile design, can be hardy and functional or elegant and decorative, and answering these questions about its use are important in deciding which direction you’re going with your choices.
It’s also important to think about the best shape for your room. A square or circular dining table works best in a square room, while a rectangle or oval is ideal for a rectangular room. Rounded off tables are great for conversation because there is no “head” of the table, but you lose a little bit of surface for plates and platters without the straight edges.
If the dining table is sharing space with the kitchen, think of the shape as the area that will be reserved for the table, rather than including the cooking and meal preparation space.
And don’t forget the area around your table either. You’ll want room for the chairs to push back, for people to walk behind and around them, and for any other furniture like sideboards and china cabinets. Leave plenty of space to create a roomy, welcoming feel; it’s no fun to eat a meal in a cramped, uncomfortable environment.
Extendable dining tables
If you’re tight on space, two ways to squeeze in a few extra seats are in the table supports or through an extendable design. A pedestal table takes away the legs around the side in favour of a centre foundation, so there’s more room around the edge for seating. However, keep in mind that this type of table can be a bit less sturdy than one with legs, so it’s better for a smaller table.
There are also a variety of extension types that can allow you to add extra room at the table.
- Removable-leaf extension: In this classic style, the ends of the table slide apart along wooden or metal rails, leaving an open space in the middle. Extensions, called leaves, are stored separately and are placed in the space. Then, the ends are pushed back together to lock in and create a longer table.
- Hidden-leaf extension: Sometimes, extendable tables have a mechanism underneath the table which hides the leaves until they are ready to be used. When you pull the ends of the table apart along the rails, the leaves fold up and out. This saves even more space than a traditional extension table because you don’t need another storage spot for the leaves.
- End-leaf extension: Occasionally, instead of extending a table in the middle, the leaves slot in to the ends. An endcap piece usually finishes the edge to hide the hinges or dowels when the leaves are not attached.
- Drop-leaf extension: For these tables, the leaves are attached to the edges and hang down when not in use. They lift up and attach into place, adding extra space and sometimes turning a square table into a round one. Because the leaves are always visible, they are often incorporated into the design.
- Flip-top extension: Your seating space will double in size with this table type. When not extended, the two halves of the table layer on top of each other. Extending is simple; simply flip the top half over on a hinge and slide the table into place.
An extendable table is especially ideal if you don’t need the extra seating all the time, because you can convert it to the larger size only when you have more guests, and keep it small for everyday use.
The material of your table can dictate its style, durability, and price. Here are the most common options for dining table construction:
- Wood is, of course, a classic choice for dining sets. Solid wood is durable and long-wearing, and can be finished in a variety of varnishes and paint colours, making it a versatile pick. It can even be sanded down for easy repair as it accumulates scratches over time. Wood veneer, a thin panel of solid wood over a plywood core, is a more affordable alternative; look for kiln-dried hardwoods to ensure quality.
- Metal is great for an industrial or modern look—it’s more often used for table bases and is frequently paired with a wood or glass tabletop. Metal is super-durable, although heavy, and can have a polished or matte finish to suit an array of interiors styles.
- Tempered glass is a popular tabletop material, either on its own or as a protective cover for a wood or stone table. Although it requires a lot of cleaning because it shows every fingerprint, it can be very durable. A clear glass table can also make your space seem bigger.
- Stone tables offer a bold look, but can be heavy and difficult to repair. Ceramic or plastic materials, such as melamine, can evoke the look of stone in a lighter weight, more chip-resistant construction.
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Style and colour
A good dining table will last for years or even decades. Therefore, unless you have the drive and budget to redecorate frequently, it’s probably best to avoid anything that’s so trendy you’ll look back on and regret.
A classic shape and neutral colour palette will suit a variety of interiors through the years, so even if the furnishings around your table change, it will still fit into that look. Or, if you have a favourite style that’s stayed the same over the years—whether it’s farmhouse rustic or industrial chic—a table in that style will surely always match your preferences.
Now, this isn’t to say you have to pick the most boring table possible and can’t incorporate any trends—where’s the fun in that? Chairs and accessories are a great way to add a bit of fashion-forward appeal to your table while maintaining a look that’s designed to last. Bold chairs, dishes, or a tablecloth can bring a pop of colour or a trend-right touch to a neutral table.
Or you can spruce up the room with bright wallpaper, stylish lighting, and other details, and let the dining table be a neutral complement to the trendy accents.
Speaking of chairs, just as important as a great dining table is a comfy seat while you eat. The dining table you choose may be part of a range, with the perfect matching dining chairs already available, and you may even be able to grab a deal by buying both together. However, if your options are a la carte or if you prefer an artfully mismatched look, then you need to know which chairs to choose.
To be sure you and anyone else at the table have enough room to sit, allocate at least 60cm and ideally at least 75cm for each person, so measure the perimeter of your intended table and decide how many seats can fit. This will help determine the size of the seats that you can arrange around your table. Seat height is also an important consideration—select a chair with a seat height (the measurement from the top of the seat down to the floor) about 25-30cm shorter than your intended table height to give plenty of legroom.
When it comes to the way you style your dining table with its chairs, the possibilities are endless. You can go for a uniform look, with all of the chairs exactly the same, or go eclectic with an array of designs. Many rectangular tables utilise two sets of chairs, with armrest chairs at the heads of the table (armrests can be great for people with back or mobility issues) and another style along the sides.
If you’re looking to maximise your space you may also consider a bench—it’s perfect to squeeze in a few extra people along a tableside, and when not in use it looks equally appealing situated along the wall or pushed under the table. A bench can also be a good additional seating option for an extendable table in place of extra chairs that will have to be stored elsewhere when the table is not extended.
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Like tables, chairs can come in a variety of materials. If you’re choosing the same material as your table (i.e. metal table and metal chairs or wood table and wood chairs), make sure that the colours and finishes match or complement each other. Contrasting materials can also merge styles or create a transitional look. Metal chairs modernise a space, while wooden chairs are great for a traditional aesthetic.
You can add cushions to most chairs for more comfort, or opt for upholstery to bring ultimate luxe and cushiness. These will of course require more care and maintenance than plain chairs, but upholstery is a great opportunity to add a pop of colour or pattern, and also bring plenty of comfort to mealtimes.
If you plan to use a bench as primary or additional seating, or you’re placing your dining set in the kitchen near an island or counter where you want to include barstool seating, make sure that you look for a range that includes both, or choose chairs that will easily fit in with each other.
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At the Store
When you’re at the store to buy your new table and chairs, you can’t exactly sit down to have a meal to test them out, but there are a few things you can do to ensure the new furniture you choose is right for you. First, if you’re not buying a table and chairs from the same range, make sure that they look good together. At Corcoran’s Furniture & Carpets, we have in-store interior designers who would be happy to help you find chairs that will complement your chosen table, but if you prefer to do your own thing, don’t just look at your table and chairs individually—get them together and see how they look as a set.
Use the floor models to help judge the quality of your chosen pieces. Look for scratches and gouges—a hard-wearing table that can withstand being knocked around in a warehouse and by the general public is a table that can stand up to daily at-home use. Rock the backrest of the chair back and forth to make sure it is sturdily attached to the seat, and do the same for the table and its legs. You can even check under the table to make sure that the joinery connections are strong.
Finally, sit down. Don’t immediately jump back up; take a few minutes and make sure the chair is comfortable. Scoot close to the table and see if you have enough legroom. Forget your manners and rest your elbows on the table. Imagine you are sitting down to a meal with your loved ones. Is this the table you see yourself sitting at, with a comfy chair to sit on? Congratulations, you’ve found your perfect dining set, ready to make memories.