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Patti Cowger

Dear Readers, this column is just for you. Every other week I’ll answer one of your interior design questions. Just send me an email with your question and I’ll reply right here. This week’s question:

We’re shopping for a new dining table. How do we choose the shape? My husband wants rectangular and I want round.

I always start with the shape of the room created by its furniture (other than the dining table). That is, an empty room may start out as a square, but when a buffet is added on one side and a serving table on the opposite side, the shape then turns into a rectangle. Or, in a different scenario, a rectangular room may turn into a square.

My first instinct is to put a rectangular table in a rectangular room and a round table in a square room. But, there is another consideration to make. Size. This is usually determined by the number of people you want to seat. An easy way to calculate the number of people who can comfortably sit at a round table is to divide its diameter by eight. A six-foot table can seat nine, a five-foot table can seat six, a 54-inch table (a common size) can also seat six. It’s even easier to calculate rectangular tables. Allow a two-foot width per person.

These formulas are flexible given that much depends on the widths of your dining chairs and the configuration of the table’s base. I prefer pedestal and trestle tables to those with four legs, which can sometimes get in the way.

It’s also desirable to have at least three feet of free floor space from the table’s edge to any wall or piece of furniture. Forty-two inches would be even better. This allows people to get in and out of their chairs easily as well as letting people pass behind them. The table should also be at least three feet wide to provide enough room for table settings and food. On the other hand, a table should not be so big that it is difficult for people to reach food.

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As much as I like round tables, if you need a large table, a rectangular shape usually fits and functions better. Some tables have leaves, which come in handy. If you start with a rectangle (which includes a square), adding a leaf still makes the table a rectangle. Adding a leaf to a round table makes it an oval. If the leaf is a rectangle, the table becomes a “racing-track” oval. If the leaf has curved edges, following the lines of the table, it becomes an ellipse. The latter is harder to make and harder to find but easier on the eye.

The last note to consider is a table’s apron. This is the panel that sits directly under the edge of the table’s top at a 90-degree angle. Not all tables have them, but if they do, it decreases the height you have to fit an arm chair and a person’s knees.

The shape and size of a dining table really do matter, but its chairs may be even more important. I like to add personality to a dining vignette with unexpected pieces. Acrylic chairs are strikingly modern and also allow the table base and rug to be seen. They also visually lighten the space. Mid-century chairs are usually a good fit for very simple tables because of their notable lines and shapes. Sometimes, I consider mixing styles or fabrics on chairs or replacing some with a long bench.

If the chairs have a different style than the table, then I coordinate the style of the dining chandelier with the chairs. For example, if I have a Shaker or otherwise simple-lined, wood table, and I pair it with acrylic chairs, then I’d look for a modern, edgy chandelier with glass or acrylic elements.

Dining rooms are one of my favorite spaces to design, especially those that are contained within three or four walls and have a large window or pair of French doors. These configurations are like front doors and foyers that welcome you. Come in. Sit down. Paying special attention to the design and decor of your dining room can bring you, your family and friends years of enjoyment and treasured memories.

So, make it comfortable and make it beautiful.

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Patti L Cowger is a credentialed, award-winning Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at plcinteriors.com call (707) 322-6522; or email plcinteriors@sbcglobal.net.

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