When you are faced with confined space, getting the size of your dining room right is imperative. Don't be wooed by style if it is simply too large for your area. You will regret your impractical decision when you must suck it in, squeeze or make the kids sit on the far side of the table at every meal. Get out your measuring tape!
I just spent a week researching the perfect table for a couple that moved into a retirement facility in our area. There is a built-in buffet in the room that is 7-by-11 feet. My job is to assist in finding new furniture that will be both flexible and look attractive. I ran into trouble from the start.
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The first thing you will notice if you start the hunt for a smallish dining table is that most are at least 48 inches in diameter. That proved to be too large for this situation, and thus I began my worried search. It is nearly impossible to find an extension table that is less than 48-inches round. Fortunately, in this particular instance, we didn't require that function.
I thought that I could waltz into any number of retail furniture stores and find exactly what I wanted. Not true! I learned quickly that 42 to 44 inches was a difficult size to locate. Plenty of 36-inch round tables were found, but they were simply too small and barely fit place settings for two people, let alone four.
In desperation, I decided I would scour local antique malls. That did yield several options in positive sizes, but the wrong styles. A few were 32-inches round, but were also an odd height at 31 inches. Dining height standard is 29 to 30 inches. Note that if you find a center table, used in an entry hall, it will more than likely be taller than the typical dining height.
I whizzed through consignment stores and finally found a pedestal table with a 41-inch glass top. Although this modestly priced table was not the style we wanted, I bought it as a temporary solution. It seemed important to demonstrate that this would be the ideal size and the purchase was less than renting a table for six weeks.
You may not want to spend $275 on an experiment like I did, but you can cut out a cardboard pattern and put chairs around it in an effort to visualize certain sizes. Some clients have even "built" furniture shapes out of plywood when they are particularly worried about getting it just right. Generally, we allow a generous 3 feet between a table edge and the wall for a chair to be moved. You can get by with 30 inches, but any less is uncomfortable visually and physically.
The table shown is 44 inches and is a typical size for an in-kitchen breakfast table, as well as a workable size for a compact dining room. Analyze your needs: If you will rarely accommodate four, you have more flexibility. If you must incorporate a leaf for guests, then consider a 48-inch diameter or custom table, which can become costly.
Pay attention also to the look and style of your table. Obviously, a glass top can be lighter in presentation and place emphasis on the base. Avoid bulky designs, as they will appear to eat up space. Stay with simple lines and thin details.
Be aware that although you can find vintage gateleg tables, they very often are far too wobbly to become a satisfactory primary dining surface.
• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at email@example.com.