What's the right height?
Q: I'm from Europe and I have a pet peeve that is driving me absolutely crazy. American tables are too high in relation to the chair seats. When I sat down at a restaurant table recently, it came almost to my armpits. I'm not tall, only 5 feet 4 inches, but I'm not diminutive, either. A tall table like this means it's impossible to manipulate a knife and fork, or use the table for projects or reading the newspaper. I carry a pillow with me to restaurants, and I even cut the legs of my table down to 28 inches.
- Kate, San Mateo, Calif.
I've traveled throughout Europe and encountered tables of all heights, and while I really love the dramatic look of today's large-scale tables and chairs, I know this can be a problem for a lot of people. For years, it's been typical for dining tables to be around 28 to 30 inches high. If you're tall, it's not a problem, but short people may feel uncomfortable with a low chair at a 30-inch-high table.
Ideally, the chairs' scale should match that of the table. While no one should need a step stool to climb into a dining chair, the seat should place a person within comfortable reach of the table.
If your family is generally short, or your house is small, it isn't a good idea to buy a grand-scale dining table. Look for slimmer styles or buy a big dining table for the look and choose smaller-scale pieces for your breakfast nook or crafts areas.
Custom furniture makers and designers specializing in the look you like can probably adjust the size to better suit your needs and keep the table looking good. Adding cushions to the chairs, as Kate suggested, is a great idea, too. If you don't like the look of the cushions all the time, keep them handy for when you entertain.
Jennifer Adams is a designer, author, and TV personality. To contact her: