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The kitchen table used to be the hub that brought families together three times a day — breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was extra countertop space for mom’s baking, a place dad figured out the monthly bills, and for the kids, an after-school snack station and a place for homework. I also might vaguely remember it as a place for time out during heated arguments with my sister.
Flash-forward to the open-concept 1980s home, which bid adieu to enclosed eat-in kitchens and bonjour to peninsulas and kitchen islands. All of a sudden, the daily life of the kitchen changed. Mom still had countertop space for cooking but family gathering moved to the other side of the island and even relocated to the family room.
But with the farmhouse kitchen trend, the decline of the formal dining room, and a growing need to unplug and start communicating person-to-person again, families are heading back into the kitchen for some time out together. The island and peninsula have become a staple in kitchen design, but we’re also seeing them being replaced with the return of the kitchen table.
Here’s how to welcome it back into its rightful spot at the heart of the home.
Size and shape
I’ve always said that a round table shape is more flexible when seating people in a dining room, but in the kitchen, square/rectangular-shaped tables work best. The corner legs of rectangular tables facilitate division of space so the table can be used for different purposes at the same time — imagine one end as homework space for older kids while the other end is a snack spot for junior family members. (And no one fights over who has to sit where they’ll keep bumping against the leg of a round table.) Whatever you choose, allow for 30 to 36 inches of space surrounding all sides for easy traffic flow around the table.
Most dining tables are a standard 30 inches high, but for the kitchen I recommend a counter-height table (36 inches high), which creates an uninterrupted extension of countertop work surfaces. This helps the cook work longer at the table without bending over the work surface and getting a sore back. With today’s taller ceilings, a slightly taller table won’t seem too tall for the space.
The kitchen table should blend with your decor, but doesn’t have to match your kitchen cabinets (as does an island or peninsula). Consider it an opportunity to add charm to your kitchen. Also think about durability: if you will be using it as a work surface for food prep or for kids’ crafts projects, opt for a hard-working table like rustic wood (the more dinged it gets, the more rustic its appeal). For a modern esthetic, try a quartz surface (heat, scratch and stain resistant) that looks like stone.
Chairs and lighting
Once you have determined the style and material of the table, and what it will be used for, it’s time to think about seating. If space is limited or if the layout of the room requires the table to be mostly pushed against a wall, then benches for each long side are handy as they can be tucked under the table when not in use. If you’ve got generous space at the ends, consider more comfortable chairs, which are perfect for working on a laptop or casual hangouts. A light fixture hanging over the table will help ground the table and create a centre point to the eating area within the kitchen. It will also project light directly where it’s needed for crafts or homework. I usually say hang light fixtures 36 inches above the tabletop; increase that to 42 inches if using a counter-height table, as you’ll likely stand around the table to accomplish tasks like baking, prepping or craft-making, and you don’t want to bang your head every time you lean forward.
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