A Buyer’s Guide To Dining SetsBy Ryan Rodgers · February 13, 2019
How to choose and maintain the best dining set for your space.
Dining sets can be an exciting and daunting addition to your space. There are a lot of things to consider, we break it down in detail so you can purchase a great dining set with confidence.
Size of Dining Area, Table, Chairs, and Other Pieces
When shopping for a dining set, it’s easy to overlook one of the most basic facets of choosing the right one: just how much space you have to work with in your dining area. You’ll want to allow around 36” between the edge of your dining table and the nearest piece of furniture or wall (excluding your chairs of course). If you’re space is fairly narrow, you may not be able to have a large dining table and a large china hutch without cluttering the space. At the same time, a large room with a small table can feel empty and bare without other pieces to accompany it.
We recommend starting with choosing your table. Your table determines how many diners you can seat, and greatly dictates the “flow” and style of your space. A good rule of thumb for dining tables is to allow 27-30” per diner for formal dining and everyday use, and allow 24-27” per diner for larger gatherings and occasions. These measurements assume a 19” wide dining chair, which is fairly common in fine furniture, if you are using armed chairs you should err on more space per diner. We’ve got a Complete Guide To: Dining Table Seating Capacity on our blog that includes a quick reference guide and a series of charts for determining how many guests your table can accommodate.
Once you’ve selected your table, you should then choose your chairs. If your table is expandable, consider having folding chairs to supplement your normal seating without compromising the style of your dining area. Dining benches are another great option, especially for kids who can grow with your dining furniture. Many fine benches can have expansion leaves to seat extra diners and offer a beautiful and charming feel to the set.
For a larger space, you should consider other pieces to compliment the dining table and seating. China hutches are fantastic way to display your fine china and other goods. Hutches can also be used for home bars and displaying more decorative items. An equally practical option is a buffet or sideboard to stow your cutlery, serving dishes, and to place food for dining.
Dining Table Construction
Dining Tables come in three basic types of construction: trestle, leg and pedestal. Each style has it's own advantages and disadvantages to consider.
Trestle tables are true classics that have been around for thousands of years. Two trestles sit on either end of the table with a stretcher spanning between them for stability. This design makes trestle tables wildly vary in character, from simple modern pieces, to ornate works of art. Trestle tables make great options for tables that may need to accomodate a few extra leaves, but don't necessarily need to seat 20 diners. Because of the stretcher and trestle construction, trestle tables can only be built to open so far. That being said, trestle tables can still be quite large and offer a stately center piece to any dining set.
Leg tables are among the most versatile option for dining sets. Because of their straightforward design, leg tables can be built in a variety of shapes and sizes. Further, leg tables can expand more than most trestle or pedestal tables of similar size, making them ideal for dining spaces that need the capacity for extremely large gatherings.
Pedestal tables are another classic design, heavily featured in Traditional and Queen Anne designs. Pedestal tables add significant gravitas to the spaces they're in with their eye-catching bases. Pedestals do come at a price, however; due to the amount of material and labor necessary to create the signature pedestals, pedestal tables tend to be the most expensive options for tables.
The standard height for dining tables is 30”, with options for counter height at 36”, and bar/pub height at 42”. Taller table options lend themselves to a more casual or modern environment. Certainly bar height dining tables can look very chic and trendy while maintaining formality, but most diners think of the standard 30” height when they think of sitting down for a formal meal.
Dining Chair Height
Along the same vein as the dining table height, is the height of dining chairs. The seat of most dining chairs ranges from 17.5” - 19.5” depending upon upholstery and construction, with counter height options around 24”, and bar/pub around 30”. You should match the height of your chairs to the height of your table for obvious reasons when it comes to seating height.
An easily overlooked facet of Dining Chair height is making sure that armed chairs have the clearance to be “tucked” under the table and it’s apron. Many dining tables will have the height from the ground to the bottom of the apron (the wood rails that go around the underside of the table). If the dimensions from the ground to the bottom of the apron/skirt of the table are not available, subtract the thickness of the table top and the length of the apron/skirt from the total height of the table. Most of our tables here at Countryside have a 1-1 ½” thick top. When you know the distance from the ground to the bottom of the apron/skirt of the table, compare that to the height of the arms of your chairs and make sure that your chairs can freely slide in and out from beneath your table.
Dining Set Style
As to what style you should choose for your dining set, each space is different, and each person’s taste will vary. An easy way to have your chairs complement your table is to stick with the same style. While there are pre-selected dining sets, most Queen Anne dining chairs will suit most Queen Anne dining tables. You also shouldn’t be afraid to mix and match different chair designs, especially if you want to update your traditional dining room with modern stylings. It’s become quite trendy to match different chairs to give an eclectic look or add visual interest. The same holds true for your other complementary pieces. Varying the degree of
Wood selection often goes hand-in-hand with style selection. Many traditional and more formal tables are crafted of Cherry which has a rich depth of color. Oak, and it’s variation, Quartersawn White Oak, are other timeless choices for dining sets. Even though Oak and Cherry are time-honored classics, any hardwood can make a fantastic choice for a dining set, and each has its own merits. Rustic and live-edge wood choices are great statement-makers that can really make a casual space pop, at the same time, with the right finish and companion pieces they can bring elegant formality to your space. It all depends on how you pair designs and styles with your wood choice. You can check out our handy How-To Guide: Selecting Your Wood Species for more information on the different species of hardwood we offer.
Dining Set Finish and Stain Selection
When it comes to choosing finishes, there are a lot of options. If you’re trying to match existing wood in your home, such as hard wood floors or existing case goods, it is often easier to try to find a stain or finish color that “goes” with your other wood pieces, rather than trying to match it exactly. Over time, stains and finishes will change color slightly, particularly in the presence of direct sunlight and heat, this makes matching finishes exactly a tricky business.
When purchasing a whole new dining set, it’s important to consider whether you would like all of your pieces to have the same color. If you do, then you should consider purchasing all of your set pieces at once to ensure the colors match exactly rather than purchasing your table and chairs one year then waiting to purchase your china cabinet or sideboard.
If you like a particular design, but would like to give it a different feel, try experimenting with different possible finishes. Paints, specialty, and two-toned finishes can dramatically change the style and visual weight of individual pieces and collections. Varrying finishes within a set can really make key pieces pop in your space, giving a beatiful and dramatic look.
Dining Set Care
Quality dining room furniture is a collection of heirlooms that can be passed down for years to come. It’s important to protect your investment in fine furniture by taking a few simple steps in caring for it. In general, try to avoid keeping your pieces near heaters and radiators and keep them out of direct sunlight when possible. Dust your furniture as needed with clean cloths, and whenever you do heavier cleaning, make sure that you dry the furniture with a fresh clean cloth, not one that’s already been used or you could scratch the finish. We’ve written a great deal more about furniture care in our 10 Tips for Solid Wood Furniture Care guide.
As with all of our pieces, if you are in love with a particular design in our catalog, but the dimensions or finish don't quite suite your needs, we'd love to work with you on customizing a piece for you. We're often able to alter dimensions or offer a unique perspective on finishes and color choices to create a look that you'll love.