When you are thinking about ordering a farmhouse table, or any other dining table, it helps to consider all these issues that I’m going to talk about below. I walk through all these points with my clients to help them decide.
The table, and the room and home it’s placed in:
What are the dimensions of the room and how does traffic flow? What activities happen in there besides dining? Is it in a kitchen, a nook, a formal dining space? What dining-related traffic will there be; in other words how will people move through space as they are filling their plates and cleaning up? How many eaters do you have for everyday or on special occasions? If you have no table yet and want to figure out the right size and shape, place dining chairs in your room at the imaginary edge of the table, all around, and walk around the perimeter to see what feels right, and measure the space you’ll need for getting around the table. I like about 24 inches minimum walking room at sides and ends — consider how this will feel with chairs pushed in, and chairs pulled out when people are eating. A chair pulled out for eating will consume another 24 inches of space, so that will take up a total of 48 inches of space from any wall or any furniture along the walls. A very long refectory style table can be pushed up against one wall and stick out in the room like a peninsula. You can measure your room and draw out a simple, to-scale plan, if you like to work that way. Or just take note of your traffic patterns and mark your table out on the floor with tape. Allow about 22 inches side to side as a general rule for each chair, but measure your chairs and mock it up to see how crowded this feels. Certain chairs these days are larger. You can tape off the area for your dining surface onto the floor, and set some plates and glasses down to see how crowded it will feel, and find the ideal placement of each diner. If you want to really see clearly, make a tabletop to the right size and shape with big cardboard.
Farmhouse tables and authentic looking dimensions:
Generally a traditional looking farmhouse table with four legs looks best at a certain width to length ratio. Old style tables look nice longer and narrower. Carol Burks at Justin and Burks in Portland believes that the ideal size for beauty and function is 35 w X 96 l. This picture shows a very narrow refectory style table at 30.5 w X 92 l. We designed and made this one. As such, it looks graceful and sexy. But there’s not a lot of room for dishes in the middle. Here it is shown at Carol and Justin Burk’s beautiful shop in Portland Oregon:
Here are other images of nice antique farmhouse tables.
Peoples’ dining habits nowadays are different. Are you the family who fills plates at the stove or the ones who put the serving dishes in the middle of the table? Fill-it-at-the-stove people might carry trays to the dining room and back, making cleanup efficient. Refectory style – long and narrow – was built for cafeteria style eating. You have less room in the middle for food, but you are closer and more intimate with your family members on the other side of the table. You can play a game across it – it’s the perfect size for chess or sharing newspaper stories. If you opt for this style, people will be getting up for seconds. You must be sure traffic flows around the table nicely with chairs pulled out. Or, spreading out your chairs and putting more space between each chair on the sides would allow more serving dish area on the top and make getting in and out of chairs less of a hassle.
Pile-it-in-the-middle people generally favor 38 to 46 inch widths. At a length of 9 or 10 feet, a 42 inch width will still look terrific. But a 40 X 80 inch table will look funny. Going with a trestle style end, or at least an end where there is a stretcher between the legs, will make more visual sense, however, keep in mind that an end stretcher will limit how far you can scoot in your end chairs. Some end stretchers are curved inward toward the center of the table to help solve this issue.
The farmhouse table and apron widths:
A farmhouse table will look best with a generously sized apron but this will limit knee room. Measure from the floor to the bottom edge of the apron – 24 inches is about the bare minimum comfortable measurement for proper knee room. 25 inches feels better for moderate sized people, and tall people will possibly need more. 30 inches is typical overall height, to the top of the table; 31 is about the very maximum tolerable height. There is often a problem with an antique piece: the floor to apron distance is crucial and is often too low for today’s diners. People are taller these days. Many farmhouse tables were built when people were shorter and chair seats were lower. You can’t always correct this by simply adding something to the feet, because this will raise the overall height, possibly to an uncomfortable level. This one shown above has a lovely wide apron, and with the floor to apron measurement at 25.5 inches it would sit comfortably with plenty of knee room. However, the overall height is 32 which would make our diners feel like kindergarteners. This is all the more important if people bring laptops to the table. You will want a lower overall height for shoulder comfort. This is a crucial issue, and one that gets worked out individually. A too-small apron will look inauthentic while a too-wide apron will limit knee room.
Here are some pictures of farmhouse tables with very wide aprons.
If you are having us build something for you we will talk about the floor to apron measurement. I will ask you to mock this up. Get your tallest man and have him sit in his favorite dining chair, cross his legs, and measure to the top of his knee. He will thank you profusely.
Here is a table being built right now in which we have chosen a trestle end with an end stretcher and a center stretcher. Here is our mockup of the end, and we recruited one of our tall friends to sit and feel this out.
As you see, with his feet on the stretcher, his knees completely bypassed the end apron, which is what we wanted. Due to the large end overhang, the setup is comfortable. This one is going in a small dining room in which the owners like the pile-it-in-the-middle style of eating. We are providing a generous overhang for arm chairs and this one will expand with leaves. It’s going to be very rustic and will go to a client in New Jersey. We are very excited about this style.
The farmhouse extension table with leaves:
Tables with straight tapered legs look great with the end overhang rather large. The ideal dimension depends on the overall dimensions of the table and thickness of the top, but allow at least 6 inches. Cabriole leg tables need a shorter end overhang.
If you will have leaves, the situation with a farmhouse table is usually that the leaves go at each end of the table. There are so-called company board leaves in which the supporting arms are attached to the leaf, and these will fit into holes in the end apron. For stability and strength, these supporting arms will bear weight, and should be quite long. Consider where you might store these, and that you will need to have extra room in your dining room at each end of the table, to swing those long arms around and put them in place. We don’t favor this type of construction because of this issue. We only build them this way if our customer threatens to bite us.
Here is what I mean by company board leaf:
We prefer that leaf arms remain inside the table and use a pullout breadboard end.
Here’s a pullout breadboard example: In this case, on one end there is a drawer too. We made this one and have used it as a dining table for a couple years.
You will be adding people at each end of the table, and keep in mind that your end occupants will not want to straddle a leg. If you can, include a generous length beyond the outer edge of the table leg for two diners, one on each side, and then another diner at the end. On a narrow table, the leaf will have to be longer to accommodate three extra diners, because the closer the plates of the side-sitting diners are, the more the end-sitting diner gets pushed outward. Again, mock it up, set plates and glasses out — you can use your floor for this, tape out your size and set your plates and glasses on the floor.