The Essentials to Buying a Dining Set

Having these guidelines handy will help you shop intelligently and help guide you in purchasing dining furniture that will meet all of your needs and last for many years.


More Articles:

Home Gallery Stores understands your dining room is a place where family and friends gather for special occasions. The dining room furniture you choose will show that everyone will be comfortable and welcomed in your home. The most crucial piece of furniture (especially during the holiday season) is the dining table. Whether it's anchored front and center in an open kitchen or positioned in the middle of a formal dining room, the dining table is a gathering spot and a focal point. But beyond being a standout furniture piece, the dining table needs to be sturdy as a rock, comfortably accommodating and, in some instances, even flexible in shape and size. More than likely the dining room furniture you buy now will be the furniture you will have for many years to come. Dining room sets usually include just a dining table, side chairs, and arm chairs but some dining room sets will also include a buffet, china cabinet, or curio cabinet.

(Pictured: American Drew 7-pc Camden Light Round/Oval Pedestal Table Dining Set)

1. Placement and Use

The dining table is going to be the biggest piece to consider when making a choice about which dining room set is best for you. Think about the space your dining table will occupy. Is it a formal set-up, or a more relaxed atmosphere? Will it be in a separate room or an open-concept design? Draw and/or measure the room to help you determine what style, size and shape of table you’re looking for and have the drawing and photos of the room with you while you are shopping. No matter what style you choose, make sure the sizing of the table and other pieces in the dining set match the scale of the room. You don’t want anything too overpowering or underwhelming.

Will the table be used every day or only for big holidays? Will it exclusively be used for dining or will it also be the site of school and art projects, homework, checking emails from a home office set up?  Will there be children using the table? How many people will need to fit? Do you want a smaller table for everyday that can be expanded with leaves when needed?

(Pictured: Liberty 7-pc Messina Estates II Rectangular Leg Table Dining Room Set)

Families with young children may want something different in a dining room table than those without.  Casual wooden sets are often better for households with kids than formal dining room sets. Children often use dining room tables as gathering places for homework and places to do crafts and activities. While glass is less likely to scratch, it also shows fingerprints and water rings more clearly, and it takes some diligence to stay clean. In addition, square tables have edges that can be dangerous for a toddler just learning to walk, or for kids roughhousing in the dining room. If you have a young family consider an oak, cherry or pine table in a round or oval shape.

No matter if you are finding a dining set for everyday or just occasional use, you are going to want a table and chairs that are comfortable. The shape, size, and weight of your dining chairs are going to be essential in deciding what will be best for your needs. For tall people, narrow chairs with a low back are going to be extremely uncomfortable, just as high-back tall chairs are not going to suit petite people. Heavy dining room chairs will be frustrating for children to pull out from the table. Another determining factor in comfort is intended use. For instance, if your dining room acts as a home office as well then low-back side chairs are not going to provide the best support for long work sessions.

 Return to top ↑

2. What's My Style?

Whether you entertain large groups or a small family setting, there's a dining table to suit you and your guests.  For a more formal or traditional look, go for elegant painted designs with curvy carved legs, opt for seriously chunky, detailed wood or go for space-enhancing glass top pedestal dining tables. Then there are contemporary styles with clean lines, cottage styles, rustic and transitional styles. The table should suit the style of your dining room and your entertaining style. Dark woods like walnut and cherry are the most classic and elegant styles, while paler woods lend themselves to a more casual feeling. Glass dining room tables are less heavy in a smaller room, however are notoriously full of fingerprints, so buyer beware if you aren’t the type who loves to Windex. The chairs you use will further dress your table up or down so include this in your research and shopping before you make a final table purchase.

(Pictured: AICO 9-pc After Eight Rectangular Dining Table Set)

Will It Suit My Room?
One of the ways to narrow down the style of dining set you want will be the set up on your dining room in relation to the rest of the house. If your dining room is a separate room, it leaves you with more options if you want something totally different from the rest of the house. For an open plan, you are going to want the dining set to match the style of the rest of your home. For example, an open plan kitchen diner needs furniture that will co-ordinate with kitchen appliances and more than likely, is going to have a more casual look that is suitable for every day. If your dining room connects with your living room, the style of the rooms will need to be complementary; i.e. a traditional dining set in a dark finish is going to clash with a contemporary, light-colored living room. High back chairs are a good way to section off a dining area in a living room or kitchen, while low-back ones help to enlarge the feeling of space.

With a totally separate room, it is easier to pull off decorating in a style that is not consistent with the rest of the home. In a room that's solely for dining, you can choose your furniture to create a particular ambiance, whether that means rich woods, polished to a shine, or glamorous glass.

Return to top ↑

3. Shape and Size

Measure the room: It's important to have the exact measurements of the room for your dining table and chairs. This is especially crucial with smaller dining rooms, as many people buy tables that are too big for the space. For example, a rectangular table in a small rectangular room can easily fill up the space and make it look cramped instead of cozy. Remember that you have to be able to walk around the table after chairs have been put into place so it's good to at least a 36" space between the edges of the table and the walls all around. You should leave at least 48” between the entrance of the dining room and table to leave enough space for people to comfortable enter and exit the room.

(Pictured: Steve Silver 5-pc Matinee Round Pedestal Table Dining Room Set)

Decide on your table's shape. While the style of your dining table -- whether farmhouse-style or industrial or something in between -- is purely your call, there are some general rules when it comes to a dining table's shape and the room it is best suited for. Dining room tables typically come in square, rectangular, round, or oval shapes. In general, round or oval shapes are better for smaller groups of people. For smaller rooms, go with an oval table to keep the space from looking overly crowded. A round table is going to need a larger room to keep the flow of traffic open. If you are looking for an oval or round dining room table that accommodates many people, your dining room is going to have to be quite sizable. For example, an oval or round table that sits twelve takes up more area space than a rectangular table that accommodates the same amount. In general, rectangular tables are better for large groups, oval tables better for medium-sized groups of around five or six and square and round tables are best for 5 or less people.

Choosing a size: The bigger your dining room, the bigger your table—right? Well, not necessarily. You should work with the space you have when picking a dining room table—but you should also consider the amount of people you intend on hosting. What if you have a sizable dining room, but only host large parties occasionally—if ever? The problem with a big dining room table and a smaller gathering is that it’s difficult for a small group of three or four to converse around a table that seats twelve. If you rarely host large parties, consider buying a smaller dining room table that folds out with leaves—or even two tables that can be pushed together in a pinch. That way, the size will be there when you need it—not when you don’t.

Once you know how big your room is, and how many people you need to be able to seat at the table, you can determine what size of table to buy. Place settings should be about 60 centimeters wide for comfort, and keep 90 to 120 centimeters of space between the table edge and the wall or nearest furniture so people can sit comfortably and pull out their chairs.

When working out how many people you can fit around the table, allow at least 21” per person; for a round table, allow around 75cm, or alternatively, measure the diameter in inches, then divide by eight.

At holidays or for dinner parties, extra places are often needed, so consider tables with drop-leaf, drawer-leaf or center and end leaves so allow room for these when you're measuring the space in the room.

How Many People Can Sit at the Table?

Number of People   Typical Dimensions
Four 28" to 40" square or 36" to 48" round
Four to Six 28" x 46" to 40" x 58" rectangle or 58" to 78" round or 28” x 46” to 42” x 54” oval
Six to Eight 36" x 60" to 48" x 72" rectangle or 36” x 56” to 42” x 64” oval
Eight to Ten 36" x 80" to 48" x 92" rectangle or 42″ x 72″ to 42″ x 84” oval
Ten to Twelve 36" x 96" to 48" x 108" rectangle or 42″ x 90″ to 42″ x 96” oval
Twelve to Sixteen 42″ x 100″ to 42″ x 120″ oval
Fourteen to Sixteen 36" x 124" to 48" x 126" rectangle



Use leaves to maximize space:  If you have limited space but need a table that can entertain bigger parties, a good solution is to look for a table with leaves, which can fold and expand as needed. A butterfly leaf is a hinged leaf that is kept stored in the table and when stored, folded in half to resemble a resting butterfly. To reveal the leaf, you must pull open the table top and a gap will open to where the leaf is stored. Then the leaf can be opened at the center hinge to create the extra space that you need. The length of your table will vary but a typical butterfly leaf is 18 inches wide. A table with a drop leaf is a good option for people who frequently use need the extra space but do not want the hassle of having to assemble and un-assemble their table. A drop leaf table has a hinge on the side, so that the leaf can easily be propped up when needed or hang down when you need the extra space.

The most common type of leaf is a removable leaf; while it may be a little more inconvenient for those who are lacking storage space, it is a great option for those who need to be able to sit many additional people. A table with a removable leaf requires you to physically lift the table (not just table top like a butterfly leaf) to expand and create the gap where the leaf must be inserted. Depending on the brand, some dining tables can include multiple removable leafs of different sizes. Dining room tables with a self-storing leaf are a good option for those who particularly need space in their dining room when the table is not in use. A self-storing leaf is very easy to use – simply pull the leaf out from the side of the table. Depending on the table, there can be up to four leafs, one for each side, making it a great option if you typically just need a small table but like having the extra room.          

Coordinating chairs with your table: If you decide to create a dining set with a table and chairs from different manufacturers/collections, one of the number one concerns is going to be ensuring the sizes work together. Most dining tables are 29 to 30 inches tall, and you want about 12 inches from seat to the top of the table. Look for dining chairs that are 18 to 19 inches tall for standard height tables. A seat width of 20 to 24 inches will be most comfortable, but other width sizes can be stylish if they fit the scale of your table. This is more of a concern with arm chairs and a general rule is to leave about 7” between the arms and edge of table. You should also leave 24” between each chair to give guests enough room to easily get in and out from the table without getting in the way of other guests.

Chair shape and scale: Generally speaking, dining chairs are going to be a small scale. However, this is relevant to the type. Side chairs are going to be the most space conscious, aside from a dining bench, as opposed to dining chairs with arms. Parsons chairs are going to be a good choice as well for those who want to save space but still make a big impact. The narrow seat and tapered back give it a more commanding appearance while still being a good choice for smaller dining rooms. Side chairs with tall back are another great choice for high-style and small spaces. Make sure that the scale is appropriate for the dining room – you don’t want something that is going to feel overpowering or underwhelmed. As noted above, if you have children, heavy chairs may not be the best choice for getting in and out of on their own. If you have a casual rectangular table, you could opt for a dining bench instead of many individual chairs. Just note that benches are a good option when you have kids using the dining table everyday – it’s not the best choice for adults since there usually isn’t back support and doesn’t give a lot of personal space.

(Pictured: Lexington 7-pc Fieldale Lodge Silverton Rectangular Dining Table Set)

Return to top ↑

Consider the material: It’s best to choose material that reflects materials used elsewhere in the house. Darker woods such as mahogany and walnut tend to have a fancier, more formal feel; oak, cherry and pine are more relaxed and casual. If you have kids who’ll be doing homework and activities on this table, it’s best to go with the relaxed and casual feel; you won’t mind the scratches and spills as much. If you’re particularly concerned about scratches marring your veneer, consider an antique table with carvings that hide surface irregularities a little better than a smooth finish will. For more contemporary designs, consider glass—it resists stains and chips much better than wood does. The one downside with glass is that it’s more difficult to find a glass top dining table that extends.

If you're going for a wood dining table, always opt for hardwood such as mahogany, walnut, maple, oak, or teak instead of composite wood, which includes plywood, hardwood solids and MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard). And while engineered woods such as MDF -- which is a mixture of hard and soft wood bits that have been compressed into board form -- are durable, they're not as strong and sturdy as hardwood. And while MDF may be stable enough for the short term, hardwood is far more long lasting. One key fact to keep in mind is that tables with removable legs often tend be made of fiberboards, a material made of pressed wood scraps. It's not a good option for the long-run, but if you'll use the table only occasionally (or if you move frequently) then it can make sense to go with fiberboard. You can find wood tables of varying quality and to fit all budgets.

(Pictured: Hooker Furniture 5-pc Vineyard Round/Oval Table Dining Set)

Most typical furniture you see is a combination of real wood veneers and solid woods. It does not have to be solid to be of excellent quality, in fact solid wood can have problems with cracking and splitting as weather conditions like humidity can cause solid woods to expand and contract. Most very high end and expensive furniture is NOT 100% solid, but a mix of excellent quality veneers to get great wood patterns and finishes. Keep in mind that new construction techniques almost always use sold wood and wood veneers. There is a misconception that unless it is solid it is not quality. Solid wood furniture is more likely to crack and warp, that is why most of even the highest priced name brands use veneers, it's a matter of what is the best way to do it, not necessarily that they are trying to save money on manufacturing.

Veneer refers to thin slices of wood, usually thinner than 1/8 inch, that typically are glued onto core panels (typically, wood, particle board or MDF) to produce flat panels such as doors, tops and panels for cabinets, parquet floors and parts of furniture. They are also used in marquetry. Plywood consists of three or more layers of veneer, each glued with its grain at right angles to adjacent layers for strength. Veneer is obtained either by peeling the trunk of a tree or by slicing large rectangular blocks of wood. The appearance of the grain and figure in wood comes from slicing through the growth rings of a tree and depends upon the angle at which the wood is sliced.

The materials of dining chairs are just as important as what the table is made of. Many dining chairs come with upholstered seats, which are comfortable, but are also likely to be spilled on eventually. If you want a material that can be cleaned easily, consider buying upholstered dining chairs in fabrics such as leather, microfiber, or cotton. Heavier fabrics like velvet look and feel luxurious, but will require more work to clean. Wood chairs can usually be cleaned with commercial furniture polish. You can also find dining chairs in other materials, like metal, acrylic, or heavy-duty plastics. For information on individual chairs, it is best to contact a retailer and they can provide cleaning specifics from the manufacturer.   

Other pieces included in sets:  The main advantage of buying a dining room set with all of the pieces at once is that you can count on everything to be an exact match. Sets are phased out over time as tastes change, so you may be out of luck if you want to add a buffet that exactly matches your previously purchased table and chairs. If you are looking at a set that includes more items than just a table and chairs, be sure to map out the measurements of each piece in your dining room to make sure the each piece will fit and flow well together in the dining room. This is a very important step to not skip – just because the measurements will fit, does not mean that you will have enough room to walk and feel comfortable.

A dining room table isn’t just any piece of furniture. You will need to take the time and choose well, because you’ll be living with your choice for a long time. Dining room tables tend to last longer than sofas, coffee tables, and even beds. Chances are, you’ll have yours throughout numerous moves, and may even pass your table on to your children. So when you’re choosing your next dining room table, consider more than taste. Here are a few things to look for to make sure your dining room table fits your needs.

(Pictured: Global Lony 7-pc Square Modern Table Dining Room Set in Wenge)

Check the Furniture Measurements:  Carefully check the furniture measurements. Don’t just assume that the piece can fit where you want it to go; pictures can be deceiving. When you measure the room, make sure you double check the measurements for the length and the width of the furniture. In addition, make sure that doorways and hallways won’t cause any problems.

Think about how the furniture will get into the room, and if necessary, ask for a second opinion about bringing the furniture into your home. A friend bought an enormous couch for an upstairs sitting room. When the furniture was delivered, however, he discovered the couch couldn’t fit around a bend in the stairwell.

Return to top ↑


Editorial Assistance by Home Gallery Stores Staff