Design 101: Dining Room Guide - How to pick the right tables, chairs, rugs, & lighting

I’m all for breaking the rules in design. But when it comes to dining rooms, there are a few rules worth following so your furnishings work harmoniously with each other. Typically, you want guests have plenty of arm room and the ability to excuse themselves without bothering fellow guests. Plus when it comes to lighting and rugs, there are a few guidelines you’ll want to follow for a pulled-together look.

It’s also important to think about your lifestyle and picking the right materials that will last. If you are a house with kids/grandkids, you like to host your wild friends, or your a chef that loves to explore the tastes of India or Italy, (so that’s basically anyone) you’ll want to look at durable materials that can handle the occasional spill.

Keep reading for the specific rules I follow to get it right!

 Via  Domino

Via Domino

Table Sizes

  • Typically allow 24” width per person. 30” is more generous

  • Seating for 6 = 5’ long or 5’ round is comfortable

  • Seating for 8 = 7’ long or 7’ round is comfortable

  • Seating for 10 = 8’ long or 8’ round is comfortable

Chair Sizes

Pay attention to the dimensions of chairs. Not all are created equal.

  • 21” wide is average but can be as narrow as 18” or as wide a 24” wide

  • Wider chairs are more comfortable but will accommodate fewer guests unless you go for a larger table.

  • If a chair you like has arms, pay attention to the clearance between the floor and bottom of table to make sure the chairs can be tucked in. 27” is typical distance between the floor and bottom of table top.

  • Decide how many guests you want to be able to host on average and go from there. Unless you regularly host large gatherings, it may be overkill to design for the occasional large party. Most households account for 8 guests.

Rug Sizes

A rug under a table is a nice way to anchor the dining area a common mistake is skimping on the size.

  • A rug should be large enough so that when the chairs are pulled out, ideally all four legs remain on the rug. If space is tight, at least the front 2 legs should remain on the rug. Otherwise the chair legs will get caught.

  • A 5’-6’ table works well with an 8 x 10 rug

  • A 7’-9’ table works well with a 9 x 12 rug

  • Round tables look best with square rugs

Lighting Sizes

Scale can be fun to play with when it comes to lighting, for example placing an oversized light above a smaller table makes a whimsical feel. But you wan to avoid something so over-the-top that it feels uneasy.

  • Keep lighting within 6” from edge of table

  • Hang lighting between 33”-36” above table for clear sight lines.

  • For longer tables, consider hanging 2-3 fixtures above the table for better scale.

  • Always put lighting on dimmers!

  • Center lighting on the table placement NOT the room! The best place for the dining table isn’t always the exact center of the room. You can choose to relocate existing lighting or swag the light to the center of the table if it has a chain.

Dining Room Circulation

When guests are seated, you want to ensure anyone that needs to leave the table has room to walk around without disturbing other guests.

  • Aim for 30-36” between the back of the chair (when someone is seated in it) and the wall (or other furniture pieces)

  • For smaller spaces, 18-24” can work.

  • For very tight spaces, consider a banquet vs chairs on one side.

Table Design

  • Table Tops: A few common table top options are wood, stone, glass, and metal. A rustic wood or a honed stone are my go-to choices for durability. I prefer a manufactured stone or dark marble over a true marble that doesn’t handle stains very well.

  • Table Bases: A pedestal base allows for more leg room and therefore more chairs when you need additional seating.

  • Many tables expand for more seating on special occasions.

  • Pair a modern table with vintage/antique chairs (or vis versa) for a more collected look.

Chair Design

  • Wipeable chairs such as wood or leather upholstery are ideal. Some leathers hide stains better than others so test out a swatch before you commit. Look for vinyl options as well.

  • Avoid woven seats where food can get stuck when young kids are common.

  • Choose outdoor fabric if you really love the look of a textile. Some fabrics can be treated with stain guard. Also, patterns hide stains better than solid fabrics.

  • Reupholster old chairs with a great silhouette for a custom design.

  • Splurge on special chairs for the captain seats and save on the rest of the dining chairs.

Rug Design

  • Flat weave rugs are easier to clean than rugs with a deep pile

  • Consider indoor/outdoor rugs that don’t absorb spills as fast

  • Busy patterns like those seen in traditional rugs will hide stains better than a solid or simple pattern like stripes.

  • A table with no rug works too sometimes.

Table Top

  • Avoid centerpieces that are so tall you can’t converse with the person across from you.

  • Never use scented candles on a dining table. It interferes with the smell/taste of the food.

  • Use table cloths with place settings for a more formal look. Use a runner for a more casual feel.


We know that mixing the right elements and getting the right sizes can be tricky. There are so many choices! Hopefully this guide helps you make smarter design choices so you avoid making mistakes and wasting money!