Looking for the Perfect Dining Table? 5 Key Questions to Ask Before You Buy




Believe it or not, the holidays are just around the corner, and you’ll soon be filling your home with friends and family. Where are you going to seat all those hungry guests? If your dining table isn’t up to snuff – too small, too rickety, too weathered and worn — this is the perfect time to consider something new. Get excited because you have lots and lots of fabulous options – furniture makers are designing dining tables and chairs that are so delicious, they may upstage your banquet.

Since a dining table is an investment, it’s essential you pick one that fits you, your home and your lifestyle. Here are five key questions I ask all my customers at Nell Hill’s to help them pick the perfect table.


1. Will the table be used every day or only when you entertain?

How do you use your dining table? Is it the hub of your home, the place where your family gathers for every meal, where the kids do their homework or the spot where you spread out your current project, like the yoga bag you’re sewing or the scrapbook you’re designing? Or do you use it only on special occasions, like when you entertain for the holidays or an occasional formal dinner party?

If your table will be in constant use by an active family, you’ll want one that can take a lot of abuse and still look lovely. I’d steer you to a table that has a more distressed top, so any nicks or dings won’t be  as noticeable. Or, one that has a tough, durable surface that’s also easy to clean. Surround it with chairs that are strong and comfortable, that resist stains and strains.

If your dining table resides in a formal dining room and is only used a few times of year, you can pick a table that is a bit more fine and fragile, eye candy in a beautifully decorated dining room. However, I still encourage you to get a table that can handle the rigor of a robust dinner party. What good is a gorgeous dining table if it’s not surrounded by laughing friends and family? Don’t let your dining room become a museum – fill it with people you love.


2. How many people do you need to seat at the table?

At my house, the magic number is 18. Even though our family is growing, Dan and I are still determined to jam everyone around the dining table during the holidays and other special family gatherings. It’s a tight squeeze, and we are all elbow to elbow, but it’s worth it to having everyone together, laughing and telling stories.

When you entertain your family and friends for the holidays, how many folks do you usually have? If it’s at all possible, select a dining table that can seat them all. If you’re like me, that means having a table with extra leaves – sections of table top you can insert to make the table longer or wider.

Along with added tabletop space, you’ll need to figure in extra seating when you entertain a large group. In the past, I’ve been notoriously bad about ensuring all my holiday guests have a place to sit. Since I’m all about making the table pretty, I didn’t stop and count how many people I had to cram pack in until the last minute. Then I’d scramble to find something for everyone to sit on. One time Dan had to sit on an ottoman, with his chin just clearing the top of the table.

I’ve gotten wiser through the years and have a plan in place for overflow seating. I like to pull in attractive side chairs to serve as dining chairs. The beauty of having extra chairs that look great alone is that when you don’t need them for seating, you can display them on either side of your buffet, pull them up to a desk or use them in your living room. If we’re having a big group at our house, I bring out the nice-looking wooden folding chairs I store in the garage. For large parties, I often use ballroom chairs, which you can rent from most event management companies.

3. What is the style of the room where you’ll dine?

Your dining table needs to harmonize with the style of the room in which it will be placed, whether that’s a formal dining room, a kitchen or a great room with a dining nook. Notice I didn’t say the table needs to “match” the style. I really like it when people mix things up, weaving together different sorts of furniture to keep the look of their interior design interesting, like it’s evolved over time.


Is the space traditional, contemporary or transitional? Formal or informal? What about the overall style of your home? You want the table to look like it belongs. I picked a very formal dining table for my very formal dining room because I wanted the room to be elegant and timeless. But for my kitchen nook, where Dan and I eat most of our meals, I chose a rough and rugged farm table, pictured above.

Whatever style of dining table you’re considering, make sure you will love it just as much in 10 years, that it will be large enough and still capture your personal style. You don’t want to invest in a piece you will grow tired of or outgrow.

4. What size table and chairs will fit your room?

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when purchasing a dining table is getting one that is too large for their space. Remember, you will need to allow guests plenty of room to push out their chairs and walk around the room. You may also want the room to hold additional pieces of furniture, like a buffet or hutch.

At minimum, you need to allow a berth of 36 inches around the table just to pull out standard-sized dining chairs. If you’re using larger chairs, like the gorgeous upholstered chairs my friend Rich put around his dining table in the photo above, you’ll need even more room.  Before you start shopping for your table, first measure the space where the table will be located to determine the maximum amount you have for the table and chairs. If your table will have added leaves, don’t forget to figure in the extra room they, and additional chairs, will require.

5. What type of chairs do you want around your table?

Picking chairs to go with your dining table is lots of fun these days because the sky is the limit. No longer are we confined to matchy-matchy dining sets, where the table and chairs are exactly the same. Today’s dining table and chair combos are exciting and dynamic, giving you the freedom to tailor them to reflect your unique design style.

If you want to mix things up, the only barometer you need to follow is your own comfort zone. For some people, that’s pairing a table with a set of slightly different chairs, like you’ll find in my dining room. For others, that means an odd assortment of dissimilar chairs. Just make sure the end product is pleasing to your eye and suits the room and your overall home design. If you need ideas, come into Nell Hill’s and see how we’ve paired tables and chairs, or thumb through decorating magazines and books.

One of my favorite looks right now is using wing backed upholstered chairs for host and hostess chairs. Furniture makers have reinvented the traditional wing back chairs, and the result is really exciting, timeless and fresh. The only thing you have to watch out for is the height of the chair seat – many are too low to use at a dining table. So measure and make sure before you buy.

A lot of our customers really like using benches instead of dining chairs so they can seat a varying number of people. Some use short benches at the end of rectangular dining tables when they entertain so they can fit in a few more folks. Another fun variation is to use a settee or a pair of settees on the sides of a table. It’s just the right amount of space for a grandparent to sit flanked by two grandkids. What could be better at Thanksgiving?


Here are a few of our most popular dining tables at Nell Hill’s right now:

Jupe tables, a style that has been around for centuries, are one of my absolute favorites because they comes with leaves that store right under the tabletop.

This Jupe table is made of European oak, and I think it’s just beautiful.  When it’s small, it’s just the right size for an intimate dinner for two. Add a few leaves, and it’s a party!

Not bad legs, huh? I think this one is a keeper!


Farm tables are wildly popular right now. Everyone seems to be captivated by these long, broad tables, held up on strong trestle bases. They are a great pick if you have a big group to feed, or if you occasionally want to use your dining table as a workspace.

As much as I have fallen for today’s contemporary look, I’m still a huge fan of traditional, formal furnishings, especially in dining rooms. I think a lovely, formal dining table and chairs is a great investment. They never go out of style or lose their appeal, so you can hand them down from one generation to the next.

Next Week … Buffets are one of the most versatile pieces of furniture you can own. Next week I’ll show you how to use them in your home, plus give some tips on how to pick the one that’s best for you.


P.S. Don’t miss a bit of Nell Hill’s news – stay up to date on my favorite finds, new arrivals at the stores and all our special events by checking the Nell Hill’s Facebook page every day. You don’t have to have a Facebook page yourself to look in on the fun, but if you’re already on Facebook, “like” us today!