What is the right size for my table?

What is the right size for my table?

One of the more common questions we get at Cannon Hill Woodworking is: “how large of a table do I need?” There are several key factors that go into choosing a size for a custom wood table, from how much space you have available, to how many people you’d like to seat at full capacity, to how much elbow room you’d like at a dining table. Here are a few considerations you should keep in mind when evaluating table size and making a dining table purchase.

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Are You Replacing An Existing Table in the Same Space? Consider Its Current Utility and History.

It’s easier to replace an existing table because you’re familiar with how your first table fit into your home and how it served your needs over years of dinner parties, holidays, and family gatherings. Consider the table’s size relative to your space. Has it been hard to sneak past people when their chairs aren’t tucked in? Perhaps it would make sense to have a table that is four inches thinner? Is the existing table too big for your day to day use? In this case, you might want to consider a shorter custom table with table extenders, which are also sometimes known as company boards. This way you’ll have more mobility in your dining room for everyday life. Could you use a slightly larger table? Take a tape measure and see how much room you have to spare—it’s always nice to have a little extra space if you can get it. If you have lots of clearance on either end, you may want a table that is a foot or two longer. As a general rule of thumb, 22″ or more will add two guests very comfortably to the table. 


Think about the legs. Does your current table have four corner legs? Corner legs are obviously functional and classic, but you might be losing the ability to add an extra guest in the corners of your table at larger gatherings. A “trestle” base or custom metal base could solve this issue because the legs are inset from the ends and corners of the table. Cannon Hill Woodworking makes all sorts of custom bases for our tables to suit your aesthetic and functional preferences, as well as your table’s needs for stability and strength. We work closely with our clients to get it right and make sure the final product is both beautiful, functional, and well-built.

Think about chairs. Chairs are typically 17 to 18 inches to the top of the seat, but beyond that dimension, chair widths and styles vary greatly. You really only need 15 or 16 inches of width on the seat of the chair. A few extra inches can be a luxury, but over the full length of your table, and the accumulation of 3 or 4 (or more!) chairs per side, you may be losing space that you need. Some chairs have wide back designs that curve out beyond the width of the seat, which could mean you are losing functional space for your family or guests to fit in and out of their place at the table with ease.

Benches are a great option, and, depending on the aesthetic of your table, can look really nice. Benches allow for more guests to squeeze at the table when necessary, and there is no functional loss for seating. The only thing to consider is that older guests may want to be on the ends so they can move in and out more easily.


Buying a Table For a New Space?

If you’re hoping to have a new dining table when you move into your new home then you just need a tape measure and some blue painter’s tape. Blue painter’s tape is best because it doesn’t stick to your floors if you leave it down for several days. Your first task will be evaluating how much space you have to work with in relation to how many people you are hoping to accommodate. If you have a huge dining room, choosing the right sized table in general will not be a concern. 

What are the dimensions of your dining space? Measure the length and width. A very simple calculation as a starting point is to take each dimension and subtract 60 inches. This will give you a thirty inch buffer around the table. A thirty inch buffer allows for comfortable passage when your guests are not fully tucked in to the table. For any dining table to be functional, you’ll need to have space between your table and the walls. Here are some general rules of thumb on clearance and comfort:


  • 30” in any direction: You’ll be able to walk around diners with ease.
  • 24”: This should be fine, but diners may feel the need to “scootch” in when you’re walking behind them, and you’ll turn sideways as you pass.
  • 18”: Any diners at the middle seat will have to squeeze past other guests to get through. This will be a tight fit.
  • Less than 18”: Everyone has to stand up and push in their chairs when another diner gets out. Not ideal.

Measuring Out Your Space

“Eyeballing” your space is nowhere near as accurate as actually mapping out a theoretical table. We typically recommend taking a tape measure with blue painter’s tape and creating the outline of where your table would be. Start off by making an “X” on the floor in the center of your space. (To find the center of your dining room, you’ll need to measure the length and mark center, and measure the width and mark center–where the two lines intersect is the center of your space). 


Once you’ve found the center of your table, you can measure out your desired length and width (we’ll get into those dimensions in a moment) of your table. Gently place blue tape along the “edges” of your table, and create the table corners. The more tape you use, the easier visualizing your table will become. Press the tape down gently so you can move it with ease if you want to make adjustments.

Another option is to take two locking tape measures and lock them at your desired length and width. Then you can lay them on the floor in an “L” shape and imagine that as the perimeter of your table. You can adjust their placement in the room as you see fit.

If you’re in the middle of construction, or a remodel, as your contractor to rip you thin strips of plywood to play on the floor.

Once your “table” is measured with tape, grab some chairs and lay them so the front edge of the chair is flush with your tape table edges. Tuck the chair in a little (you’d be tucked into the dining table of course) and actually sit down at your measured table. Try moving around between your table and the wall, and even ask someone to walk past you to see how much space is available behind seated diners. It may seem silly, but we’ve found this technique to be incredibly helpful.

In fact, the most useful thing of all may be to mock up the table at full size – and full height. Tape together some cardboard boxes at the dimension you’re considering, grab some trash cans or milk crates, and see how the table feels when it’s 30 inches off the ground. Mapping it out on the floor is great, but when you’ve got the actual height in play you can get a much better sense for what walking past and around the table will feel like, and you can even pull up chairs. This full-scale mockup will tell you most everything you need to know about how the table will behave in your space. Our clients always find it to be time well spent.


How Many People Can Fit at A Table?

Another spacing issue you’ll run across is how many people can actually sit at one table. In the image above, we have a table seating guide for rectangular, square, circular, and oval tables. On that guide you will notice that in some cases we show a table with a different number of people across from each other. For example, you may see three people on one side of a table and four people seated across from them. This is to illustrate that there is some flexibility with seating. The side that has four people in this example is still very comfortable with enough elbow room for all, and the side with three people represents a lot of extra elbow room. 


Of course, people come in all shapes and sizes, so our guidelines are general. If your family is comprised of big people, err on the side of caution and give yourself extra room. If your family is petite, you will be able to get away with less wall clearance and more seating on each side. We’re happy to discuss sizing options with you—simply giving Cannon Hill a call at 857-576-2089 or drop us an email at info@cannonhillwood.com. On a case by case basis, we are willing to come to your home and help you measure your room and discuss the size of your table. You can also send us images of your space through the contact form below – we’re here to help!


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