Q: My heart is set on a new rustic dining table with bench seating on both sides and big armchairs at the ends so that our entire family can sit together. My oldest daughter thinks benches are hard to get in and out of. I think that more people can squeeze in on benches, especially the kids. How else can I balance the simple look I want with proper seats for everyone?
A: Large tables are wonderful because they quickly become the gathering center of your entire home. Much more than a place just for formal meals, your dining table is a flexible and versatile expression of your lifestyle, especially if there are kiddos and a lot of people coming and going. For hobbies, crafts, a part-time office space, and casual meals, the perfect table is, literally, the setting for it all.
One of my favorite parts of warmer months and holidays is hosting casual gatherings of family and friends. The center of my own dining room is a big dining table. I have individual chairs around my table because that's what suits my house, what I personally like right now. Chairs, especially the large-scale ones that are so popular, look good but limit the number of people you can seat at your table.
And, your daughter is right about long benches: They can be hard for adults to get in and out of. I would probably not have bench seating for a more formal dinner — unless you could limit it to just two people on a bench so they could get up more easily if necessary. For casual meals, however, there is something fun about squeezing in together. Kids don't mind climbing out over a bench, or even under the table to get out. Plus, benches make great forts and play structures.
How about considering a mix of benches and chairs? Think about the number of adults who would fit comfortably at your table and get that many chairs. And get some benches, each no longer than half the length of your table. When you're using more chairs than benches, store the unused benches at the foot of a bed, in a hall or entryway, or behind a sofa for extra versatility.