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What Will Fit In My Formal Dining Room? – Furniture Facts

One of the many dichotomies facing today’s consumers is that furniture designers and home architects are obviously not talking to one another. Newer dining room sets are larger than ever before, with 48” wide tables, large Chippendale chairs, and 8’ x 8’ breakfronts. At the same time, architects are reducing the size of formal dining rooms as the least-used room in the home, and using the space in other rooms of 2000-4000 square foot houses built.

The purpose of this paper, then, is to provide a reference to the consumer regarding what types of antique/vintage dining pieces will fit into their dining room.

Standard (Old) Sizes.

The industry standard dining table of the first half of the 20th Century was a double pedestal table measuring 42” wide and approximately 74” long, with one 12” leaf inserted. Acquiring a larger multi-leaf table to have more space for additional company/quests is generally inconsequential, as most people have one leaf in the table and six chairs around it for “everyday use”. Even the largest industry standard banquet table of 130” will fit in a 13’ dining room (assuming there are no case pieces on either end).

Buffets (to the floor) were manufactured in standard sizes of 54” or 62” in width, with an average depth of 20” and 21” respectively. Sideboards (up on legs) were generally manufactured in widths of 66”, with a “junior size” (not as common) of 54”. Unfortunately, they are generally deeper, averaging 22”.

Two-glass china cabinets are typically 36” wide with a depth of 16”, while three-glass china’s are generally found in a width of about 45” and a depth of 17”.

The Formal Dining Room.

Notwithstanding some very unique designs, most traditional home dining rooms have an “industry standard” as well. While varying in size, the typical formal dining room opens from the foyer with a pair of windows at the front of the house, a solid wall opposite the foyer entrance, and an entryway to the kitchen on the rear wall. Typically an overhead light is centered in the room.

For planning purposes, decorators will tell you that only 18” is required behind a chair at the table to allow someone to be seated (access to case pieces is not required once guests are seated at the table), but a 28” passageway is required on any “major thoroughfare” (most direct route) between any two doors to a room. This criteria makes it difficult to place a 9-piece dining room set into many rooms. As shown on figure “A”, a minimum space of about 11’ by 15’6” would be required to fit all nine pieces into a dining room if one wishes to keep the table centered on the light.

Thus, many people opt for eight of the nine pieces, selecting either a buffet/sideboard or china cabinet for placement on the solid wall. A buffet or sideboard provides the opportunity to hang a mirror above the piece, such that the reflection of the room provides guests in the foyer the perception the room appears larger than it is. Conversely, a china on the solid wall reduces the room depth requirement by as much as a foot and provides display space for grandmother’s 524-piece china service.

Extra/Other Pieces.

Corner china’s are very popular today, as they provide a display capability without a space requirement. A word of note, however: the industry standard corner china requires wall space of 25” from each side of the corner. Few new “open and airy” style homes have 25” of wall space off any corner in the house without running into a window frame or door jamb.

Options to having an original 9-piece set for many people is to utilize the china as a bookcase in another room of the house, secure in the knowledge that someday the pieces will all come together again in another house’s formal dining room.

Breakfronts are also popular, used in lieu of china cabinets. Typically measuring 54” to 66” wide and 17” deep, they afford more display space than the standard china cabinets.

And some sets came in 10 pieces, or could have a tenth piece added in the same style: the server. A typical server measures 36” wide by 18” deep, and can sometimes fit on an opposing wall from a china or buffet, thereby balancing the furniture evenly on either side of a room.

Extra chairs, while difficult to find in an exact match given the industry standard of six, are often placed in unused corners or, more popularly, on either side of the case piece on the solid wall opposite the foyer entrance – until needed at the table.