A cursory search of the internet will reveal many images of beautiful dining rooms - unfortunately, many of the designs depicted rely on having big, open spaces frequently found in American or European homes, or heavily decorated tables crowded with runners, tablecloths, place mats, candlesticks, et cetera. Most Singaporean homeowners have neither the space nor the patience to deal with such an elaborate setup - not to mention what happens to all that finery if an accident happens with a bowl of curry.
Dining tables are not used only during mealtimes, often functioning as meeting places for chit chat or work surfaces where one can sit with books, laptop and coffee and get things done, so choosing to invest in a piece that suits your needs is of vital importance as you'll likely spend a lot of time with it.
This guide to dining tables by Lifestyle@Tagore aims to help homeowners design eating spaces that are both beautiful and practical - it has been written with the average HDB flat owner's needs and concerns in mind.
Dining rooms are unique in terms of interior design because of one factor above all others - food is eaten there on a regular basis. This means that unlike bedrooms or living rooms, little spills and messes are inevitable. Even the most fastidious diner will keep the table surface clean over years of dining.
Table cloths can help to keep surfaces clean, but do so at the cost of hiding the texture and finish of the table itself. Spills also necessitate washing the entire fabric in order to eliminate a even a small patch, meaning that a tablecloth is not that practical. Finally, tablecloths, especially those with interesting patterns or custom cut to fit your table, may not come cheap, often costing up to $50 for a 2 meter table.
For chairs, the same concerns apply, but to a lesser extent, as spills are far likelier on the table. Still, it's a good idea to avoid materials like wicker or fabric for dining chairs.
When following the subsequent suggestions in this guide, or shopping in general, keep the fact that you will be dealing with food in the back of your mind.
This being said, the first thing you should consider when you're planning your dining room is the table. It must fulfil a few criteria.
2.1 Does it seat everyone (your family plus any possible guests)?
The general agreement for designers when it comes to dining in a small home is that the dining table should be as big as the room can reasonably handle. A larger table gives more comfort and flexibility, as it can hold more people (and food!) a table of decent size also helps fill out the room, preventing it from feeling too empty. An expandable table can stretch to create extra capacity for special occasions (where you don't mind bit of squeeze) while remaining a manageable size for everyday use.
2.2 Does it leave enough space for people to move around?
When we said big, we made sure to say "as big as is reasonable". While more is better to an extent, the table still needs to leave room for guests to maneuver while the meal is in progress. We recommend that you leave 40 centimeters of clearance between the backs of occupied chairs and the nearest wall or obstacle to ensure sufficient room.
2.3 Is it of the correct height that you can eat comfortably?
Ideally, you're going to be eating at your dining table for at least a few years, which adds up to a significant amount of time. When shopping around, test out the height by sitting at the table you're considering. If you can comfortably rest your elbows on it, it's likely to be of the right height for you. Be aware that the 'right height' is relative - standard table heights range from 74 to 76cm (28 to 30 inches), but if you and your family are taller or shorter, a custom table might fit your needs better.
Adjusting a table height by adding risers beneath the feet, or even worse, sawing off material from the legs, is almost always a bad idea. Risers can scratch floors or cause a chair to become wobbly from uneven height, and can damage the chair material if fastened with screws. Cutting the legs is messy, dangerous, and can damage the piece if done without undue care. One will also have to re-finish the curt surface, and take the trouble to hunt down the matching shade. Finally, it's almost definitely going to void your furniture warranty.
It's always a good idea to try out your intended tables and chairs together. Buying both from the same retailer can often save time and trouble, as the items can be seen side by side.
The most common table shapes on the market are round, rectangular, and square. Each of these has its own benefits and drawbacks. Since a square is just a rectangle with equal depth and width, they will be discussed together.
This shape is great for saving space - they have a smaller area, and it's easier to move around them. They also look good with any number of chairs. Just try it, round tables can even look attractive with odd numbers of chairs as long as they are symmetrically arranged.
This shape tends to work better with smaller tables - when a round table gets too big, it's difficult to get to the food in the middle. Chinese restaurants get around this with a lazy susan, but unless it's to your taste, they are quite out of place in the home. Round tables are good for a family with children, as there are no sharp corners to bump into.
These tables can seat more than round ones of the same width and can be visually interesting if placed in such a way that the corners line up with the corners of the room. Long, rectangular tables can give a formal and grand feel to the dining room as if diners are always seated for a banquet, but it is often difficult to fit these in to a smaller home. Smaller square tables can fit this niche better, with the classic shape and dimensions easily able to fit attractively into any environment.
Tables nowadays are made from a variety of materials. Each of these has its own strengths and weaknesses. Every household is different, and everyone has their own tastes and preferences. This part of the guide describes different materials' characteristics so you can decide for yourself.
The most striking visual property of glass is its transparency - light passing freely through the table surface can certainly improve the sense of lightness and space in the room. It can also serve to showcase dining chairs instead of partially concealing them beneath the table surface. Transparency can also give additional visual emphasis to the table's contents, highlighting the food and/or centerpieces. This is also great if you have a table with an eye-catching set of legs, or a unique carpet, which the glass top can help show off.
Pictured: The Triple-X Table by Sean Dix
We recommend glass tables for smaller homes because of those properties - like mirrors, the lack of visual obstruction that glass tables create helps to open up the limited space and make best use of it. Smaller glass tables are easy to clean and polish as well - a spritz of window cleaning fluid and a good wipe with a newspaper will have it as shiny and beautiful as new. Glass tables also require no protection from water, saving you the trouble of coasters.
The modern tempered glass used in most dining tables is very safe and durable - it is unlikely to ever shatter if used as intended, and even in the case where it does, it crumbles into small pieces that are not sharp, meaning they are significantly safer than glass from say a broken vase or mug.
This most classic of dining table materials has retained its place in the dining rooms of millions for very good reason. Solid wood is durable, versatile, and some would say even improves with age as the table begins to accumulate patina and achieve a weathered, rugged look that speaks to many meals enjoyed there. Not all woods are created equal however, and some species such as Walnut, Oak, and Beech are far more resilient than the cheaper pine wood, which has a tendency to split and crack before long.
Engineered woods can also be a very attractive option. Offcuts and irregularly shaped pieces can now be transformed into planks and beams that are just as strong and durable as solid wood. These engineered woods are also heavy and stable, giving the substantial feeling that natural wood is loved for. A stable dining table is, after all, key to an enjoyable meal.
In order to match the appearance of solid wood, one solution that furniture makers use is an engineered wood structure with a veneer of natural wood over it. Unfortunately, many retailers skimp on the veneer, meaning that it will peel over time, often from the corners of the table. In order to avoid this, a thicker and more expensive veneer and better quality resin is necessary.
In some ways engineered woods can even surpass their natural predecessors. Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) for example, handles temperature change better than natural wood, and does not warp over time as its molecular structure is more orderly than that of natural wood.
This is another material that has been in use since ancient times. Marble has associations with formality, class, and luxury, showing the sophisticated taste of the owner. It is easy to pair many types of decor, as it naturally stands out and grabs attention. Cool and heavy, marble tables also provide a sturdy platform from which to eat.
While the material is very physically durable and will not chip or break under normal use, the porous nature of the stone means that it needs to be treated with care and protected. Hot dishes should be served on a table mat, and cold drinks on coasters to absorb any drops of condensation. Good sealing on a marble table surface can help to counteract this vulnerability to stains.