There's something about a loaded — and lovingly decorated — Thanksgiving table that can make us wish we could knock elbows more often with the crowd that gathers around it.
But if the elbows are way too close for comfort — and especially if this isn't a once-a-year-problem — it may be time to consider the table beneath all that bounty.
Is it big enough for a centerpiece and side dishes? (Or is it so massive, your guests feel like they're shrieking from Alaska to Russia?) Does the classical pedestal base get a beating from long-legged guests? Do the extra leaves make the top rock around like a ship on the high seas?
Bob Regli thinks about these things all year. He's co-owner of the Treehouse Gallery, a furniture store in St. Petersburg that offers unique and beautiful dining tables at a variety of prices.
"I would say the first thing you have to decide is: Do you want a table your grandkids are someday going to fight over or do you want something that just makes you happy right now?''
The most common problem Regli sees when people pick out a dining table is that they tend to base their purchase decision on style — "just because they like the way it looks" — rather than considering larger issues from comfort to the way the table will fit into their space.
So, if you're in the market for a new (or new-to-you) table, Regli offers some solid tips for making the right choice:
1Size matters. "If you're going to have eight people around your table twice a year, then a 6-foot table is good enough," Regli says, "but if you're going to have eight people all the time, then you need a 7-foot table." The smallest dining table Regli sells is 66 by 33 inches (5 1/2 feet), which will seat six people comfortably. The most common size, he says, is 79 by 39 inches (6 1/2 feet), which will seat six with room for an extra two people when needed. For a crowd of eight or more, consider a table that's at least 84 inches long (7 feet). "We've made custom tables for people up to 16 feet," he explains. "When sizing a table, be sure to leave enough room between the chairs so people can comfortably get in and out."
2Taking shape. You've got three basic choices: round, rectangular or square. "Most dining rooms are rectangular," explains Regli, "so these tables usually fit the best." But consider each shape's advantages and disadvantages. "Persons seated at the ends of a rectangular table are a long way from each other, but those on the sides have an easy time chatting with their neighbor. A large, round table is very communal, but often it's a long reach to the center."
3The material world. "The cheapest and most common material for all furniture is pine," Regli says. "It's a soft wood, easy to dent or scratch, but also easy to repair or replace." Harder woods like oak, teak, mahogany and elm tend to cost more, he explains. Tables made in Southeast Asia are often constructed from rubber wood; Indian furniture from "Indian Rosewood" or "sheesham." Regli's shop leans toward pine or mesquite furnishings from Mexico. These tables "have a slightly distressed patina so that a scratch is not considered damage, but something that adds character to the piece," he says. Also note that a ceramic tile tabletop is a good alternative to wood, as is stone, "but stone is really expensive and heavy to move around." And pay attention to how easy a table is to clean. "If it has wormwood or grooves it may look cool, but getting crumbs out of the holes might be aggravating."
4The finishing touch. The Treehouse Gallery's largest supplier applies colored beeswax to its tables with a rag, making touch-ups a snap. Tables with darker finishes, Regli explains, require stain or paint, which is usually softened with a wax coat. Remember that smooth-surfaced Victorian dining table your grandma used to shine with Lemon Pledge? "We avoid tables with shiny, glossy finishes,'' Regli said, "because one scratch is noticeable and can cost lots of money to fix."
5Built to last. If you want your purchase to get years of use, look at its construction. "The main thing to look for is how the furniture is joined together," Regli explains. "Screws and glues are used in most inexpensive furniture, while joints, with or without glue, are used in quality pieces."
6The long and short of it. If you're buying a table with an extension mechanism, be sure to test it out in the store before buying, Regli advises, "because they all don't work perfectly and the wrong design can be annoying."
7Means of support. Dining tables come with all sorts of bases. Round tables typically have pedestal bases, which can cause some problems with stability (especially if you choose to expand it with leaves) and create issues with legroom. For rectangular tables, a good choice is a trestle base, says Regli, because it "runs down the center and allows free access to any position of chairs."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at email@example.com.