How to Pick the Perfect Dining Table

Even though we didn’t have plans to go anywhere, Thanksgiving seems a little less celebratory that the state is going back into lock down. Even when we’re all feeling a bit deflated, it’s helpful to have a holiday to remind us we’re only as distant as we believe ourselves to be! This year, our family will still gather around a table, bringing it back to connection and gratitude. And there’s so much to be thankful for! 

The Yokota family smiles in the back yard of their home

If I’m being honest, I’m actually a little thankful we’re not hosting this year. Since moving our family’s dining area from the kitchen to the dining room, (a novel idea!) we’ve been having trouble sticking the landing. We love the bench—the problem is the dining table. We end up with so many banged knees sliding in and out! 

Such a thing is easily solved, but I can’t seem to find the right table. It’s definitely a goldilocks situation, between size, shape, and material. And after polishing up our clients’ modern, table-less kitchen, I’ve been ruminating a lot on what makes a dining table worth gathering around. I’ve got my top tips for you below!

Dining Table Criteria

Over the summer, Travis and I built our DIY Shaker-Style Bench, which was a huge hit! It opened up a ton of space in our kitchen and finally finally got us into our “Bowling Alley” dining space. The road to loving this room has been a long one, maybe even as long as the room itself.

White Shaker Style Bench with blue cushions and wicker details

Now that we’re actually in here, I know the journey isn’t over. We’ve got some exciting things up our sleeve that I know will make all the difference. I promise to show you soon! 😉 

In the meantime, replacing the table will be the best upgrade for how we’re using space. For any big furniture purchase like this, it’s important to bring the criteria down to the relational level to find something that’s just the right fit. Start by asking yourself: what do you need from a dining table? 

  • How many will sit here regularly?
  • Is it important to have a lot of surface space? 
  • Are you working here, too?
  • How often are you hosting? 

Once you have an idea of your own requirements, imagine your family gathering here—or working in the space, before transitioning to a meal. How does it feel to sit here? 

The shaker style bench with an oak table and two low-backed wooden chairs

In my case, I know I need room for my family of 5, plus the ability to squeeze in extra friends. (Someday, in the future, when friends can come over again.) I want a pedestal table, so we can slide in and out of the bench easily. Finally, I want it to be easy to wipe down potential spills, for quick-cleaning of DIY projects before dinner! 

In Consideration of Table Logistics

With my criteria in mind, I have my heart set on a white acrylic table. It’s SO easy to wipe down! Spills are a million times harder with rustic wood tables, where dust, crumbs, and glitter get caught in the wood grain. This is why it’s important to think about your family’s lifestyle, not just aesthetics. At a certain point, you have to live with your choice. 

And of course, we need to be thinking of the existing room in which a dining table will sit. We’ve already done the heavy wooden table thing, and I just didn’t feel like it suited our space. I’m of the mind that the dark wood competed with the floor, and I want to bring people’s eyes up! 

The dining room before: all that dark wood makes the room feel heavy!

With materials determined, the biggest table consideration is shape.  

A round table gives you equal access to everyone dining together, plus the ability to sneak in an extra chair without inconveniencing one side of the table. Of course, it can be limiting: circular seating arrangements can get crowded. Plus, they need the right amount of clearance space to thrive, making it a difficult fit in most rooms. 

On the other hand, a rectangular table gives you a great, sprawling space. These are perfect for big families, and fit well in most dining rooms. Adding benches, even just to one side, can really stretch the number of guests, helping a host to say, “The more the merrier!” 

For the best of both worlds, I prefer an oval table. The shape gives a lovely feminine touch to the dining for an inviting experience. In a room with so many straight lines, an oval table softens the space. It’s easy to pull up a chair without being stuck too close to a corner or a leg. All the length of a rectangular table and all the welcoming charm of the round table. 

White acrylic Tulip Table featured in grey kitchen
Image Credit: Pinterest, via roveconcepts.com

Creating More Space

I’m not sure anyone I know is extending their dining table THIS year. But if you have the rare occasion where the family table just isn’t big enough to handle your guest list, there are opportunities to expand. 

I suggest adding the leaf and swapping chairs for benches on one side of the table. This is the central reason we built our Shaker Style Bench. Four of Natalie’s friends can sit on one side! Maybe the mix of chairs with a bench feels dated… I get flashbacks to Pottery Barn catalogues circa 2005. But the functionality is impossible to give up. Benches are the BEST. 

If that won’t cut it, or you don’t have the kind of dining table that extends, reconsider the meal space itself. A more casual experience might be exactly what your party needs! Use the kitchen island to lay a banquet, and allow people to eat wherever they please. Some adults may choose your dining table automatically, while the kids will likely gravitate toward the family room. 

Anita holding an oven mitt beside the kitchen island

At our house, I let the kids get loud, while the moms all talk over the kitchen spread. Meanwhile, the men congregate together in the dining room. It all happens naturally! It’s full of noise and life, and I like it that way. Mostly, I just want everyone to feel at home.

If you’re not sure what to do, simply set up the space and allow your guests to decide where to go. It’s amazing how people can fall into an easy rhythm when given the chance—no “kiddie table” required. Let go of a formal experience, and watch your gathering thrive, organically! 

Finding the Gratitude 

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if everyone’s sitting on the floor having pizza, as long as we’re all having a great time. And this year, I want to make SURE we have a special Thanksgiving, to get rid of all this gloom hanging around.

There’s so much we still have: our health, our home, (which I’m extra thankful for after the fire scare last month!) our business. In the midst of all of the chaos, good is happening—even if it can feel hard to find. 

The Yokotas gathered around the dining table

I hope no matter what dining table you gather around this year, you find light and warmth present in this holiday. And may there be more to come! 

Xo,

Anita

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