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Dining Room Rules


Photo by Zeke Ruelas for EHD

Last week we debuted our “Living Room Rules” and due to popular demand, we decided to break down some of the ‘Dining Room’ rules you should be adhering to in your own home. The purpose of these posts is not to give you hard rules to follow (or reprimand you if you don’t follow them) but more to give you guidelines that can assist you in helping the room feel as pulled together and harmonious as possible. Think of it as the cheat sheet for what your dining room should be doing. As we mentioned last time, there are always exceptions to the rules but in order to break the rules… you gotta know them first. So let’s get into it. 

In case you need more design rules, check out: Bedroom Design Rules | Living Room Rules

Furniture Placement:

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 14
Photo by David Tsay for EHD

RULE: Give 30″ to 36″ of a walkway between large furniture pieces (if your dining room allows for it) if not then at least 18″-24″.

You know how when you are sitting on a flight and the flight attendant pushes that tiny little cart up the aisle basically bumping every single sleeping shoulder on her way up? Well, it’s not the flight attendants fault it is the space they have to move in. Don’t let your dining room be that airplane aisle. Make sure you have at least 24″ of space all the way around your dining room table so that people can move freely around it without having to bump everyone at the dinner party on their way to use the powder room.

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 2
Photo by Zeke Ruelas for EHD

RULE: Give about 24″ of space per person for maximum comfort and food enjoyment.

Here is a seat guideline for rectangle tables depending on size:

  • 48″long table: seats 4
  • 60″-72″ table: seats 6
  • 80″-87″ table: seats 8
  • 92″-108″ table: seats 10
  • 120″ table: seats 12

And for round tables depending on size:

  • 42″-48″ diameter table seats 4
  • 60″ diameter table seats 6-8

Similar to the last one. Rather than for the space around your table, this is for the space at your table. This isn’t a grade school cafeteria where you are all shoved on a table trying to scarf down your food. So, give your family and guests enough room to sit comfortably at their seat and not be curious which water is theirs because they are all so close together.

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 7
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD

RULE: Chairs should be able to slide under the table with ease with or without arms. Ideally, there should be 7″ between the chair arm and apron of the table but that’s not a hard rule. Just for your reference dining chair seats are usually 18″-19″ high and dining tables are typically 30″ high.

This will not only help with flow when the chairs are empty and you need to move around the table, but it also helps those people that need to pull their chair in (little kids) easier accessibility to the table when they are eating.

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 3
Photo by Bethany Nauert for EHD

RULE: This one is more of a guideline than a hard rule. The back height of your chair should be similar in scale to your table. For example, if you have a small round 36″ table you should stay away from a super large scale 4′ tall dining chair because it’s going to look really off. In terms of how short is preferred it doesn’t really matter as much as long as scale-wise it looks right to the table and room. Benches are a great option and have no back:)

This rule can be broken and technically still look good, but use your best judgment when it comes to proportions between your chair and dining table and don’t make the chairs too tall for the size of the table.


Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 6
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD

RULE: Allow at least 36″ from the edge of your table to the edge of the rug. The average dining table will need a rug that’s at least 8′ wide. This let’s gives you room to pull out your chairs without falling off the rug.

Not every dining room needs a rug, but if you do have one make sure there is plenty of room to pull the chairs in and out without having the chair half on and half off the rug.

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 16
Photo by David Tsay for EHD

RULE: Give at least 12″ between the rug and wall if you have the space.

Rugs are rugs, not wall to wall carpet, so make sure that there is some breathing room between the rug and the walls so that it doesn’t feel too tight in there.

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 12
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD

SUGGESTION: Flatweave rugs are in our opinion the best choice for dining rooms. They are the easiest to move chairs around on as well as clean. If you don’t want a flatweave then tufted or low-pile rugs can also work. We just suggest avoiding shags and thick piles. They will catch everything that falls off the table and are much harder to clean.


Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 13
Photo by David Tsay for EHD

RULE: Pick a chandelier about half the width of your dining table. You can also is to add the room’s length and width in feet. That number in inches suggests an approx. size for the diameter of your chandelier. So if you have a 10′ x 12′ room your chandelier should be about 22″ in diameter.

Having the right scale light above your table will help the entire space to feel more pulled together. Unless your fixture is a more abstract or sculptural piece – stick with something that is to scale with the size of the table, otherwise, your room could feel overpowered by the fixture.

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 21
Photo by David Tsay for EHD

RULE: Center a chandelier or pendant on the table, not the room.

You would think this is obvious enough, but we are including it just so that it is clear. If you do have a junction box that is off-centered to where your dining table is then either swag the chandelier over or have the junction box moved so that the light is directly over the table.

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 19
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD

RULE: Hang your light fixture so the bottom is 30″-36″ above the table. This way no one’s vision is blocked and everyone can see each other:)

You don’t want to feel like you’re in an interrogation room with the light directly overhead, and you also don’t want to lose all sense of atmosphere. So keeping your light at the right distance from your table will help both worlds to work well together.

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 5
Photo by Sara Tramp for EHD

RULE: For rectangular chandeliers give at least 6″ from the edge of the table to chandelier on both sides.

Your chandelier should never go past the edge of your table in any direction. Anything bigger than your table and the room could feel top heavy.

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 20
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD

RULE: For multiple pendants above a dining table we recommend hanging them about 26 to 28 inches apart.

If you choose to do a few different pendants or a row of pendants above your table this rule will help you to space them so that they don’t feel too close and claustrophobic next to each other. It will also help the light to diffuse evenly around the room rather than in one spot.

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 23
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD

RULE: Place wall sconces between 5′ to 6′ up from the floor. If using multiple sconces in dining room (or any room) space them ideally 48″ apart but at least 24″-36″.

This rule not only is for aesthetics but also helps to keep the light bouncing around the room evenly so that you don’t end up with any dark corners.


Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 1
Photo by Zeke Ruelas for EHD

RULE: Your console table or credenza should be at least the same height as your dining table but ideally higher.

When you enter into a room, your eye wants to see the surfaces that objects are displayed on so having your credenza slightly taller than the height of your table will help things to feel proportional and well placed.


Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 9
Photo by Mike Garten for EHD

RULE: Art, whether it’s one piece or a gallery wall, should be at least 2/3rds the size of the side of the table it’s on but typically not any larger than the table.

This rule can be broken, but typically any sort of art on the walls will look best if it is slightly more narrow than the length of your table. If your collection extends beyond it, the proportions in the room can start to feel off.


Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 22
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD

RULE: Keep centerpieces 15″ or lower so again everyone can see each other across the table.

This isn’t a gala, save the crazy centerpieces or floral arrangements for a party. When you are seated at the table you don’t want to have to try and peer around a centerpiece to see who you are sitting across from. And, last but not least and EHD suggestion when styling…

Emily Henderson Dining Room Rules 18
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD

SUGGESTION: An EHD personal rule is to never have a tablecloth on a table unless the table is set. Instead, use a table runner for everyday casual use if you need something on your table.

Let us know if you have any other questions or things that are confusing you when it comes to dining room layout and design, and let us know which room you want us to talk about next.


Check out the rest of our design rules: Bedroom Design Rules | Living Room Rules

Fin Mark


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Thank you for this! I’m finding this series really helpful. Now I’m off to measure how far my light is above my table – it’s never felt quite right.

Julie Gallagher

Such great advice! Bookmarking this for future use!


Such helpful guidelines! I have a situation that has been stumping me. When you are going to have a banquette on one side of a rectangular table, what should be placement of the table be in relation to the edge of the banquette?

Thank you!


I don’t know the right answer, but I do know that I hate when I’m seated at a booth in a restaurant and the edge of the table does not overlap the seating at all. In other words, if I sit back in my booth, the edge of the table is so far in front of me that it’s over my knees. HUGE pet peeve. I like to be pulled in under the table at least a little!! So, I would say…somewhere in the range of the edge of the table overlapping the seating just enough that it’s easy to get into, but also feels like you’ve pulled your chair in a little once you’re seated 🙂


This series is so well-timed for me. We just bought a house and are trying to furnish spaces we haven’t had before (like a dining room with space for more than a 30″ round table).

Dying to know more about the space with the farm table and the Breuer chairs, though!


Same. We just moved from a small loft to a house and it’s a whole new world to furnish and decorate. These posts are perfectly timed and soooo helpful. Thank you!

Laura Fox

This is so handy! And all of the spaces are just gorgeous!


This site is wonderful!!
Never seen any thing this helpful. I love it.

patty blaettler

All of these rooms are SO stylish. You guys really do great work. Kudos!


My ideal dining table would be a pedestal or one where the legs don’t get in the way of seating at any point around the table. I always have to configure chairs and leaves on my table to account for oddly placed legs that I didn’t notice when I fell in love with the table. Still love that table, but the quirk of leg placement is a fairly constant irritation.


The example images in this post are all such great eye candy for a Monday morning. You’ve designed/styled some amazing dining spaces over the years. Love these “rules” posts!

Sharon Carroll

I need to know if you need something else in dining room that is sorta glitzy if you have a shiney chrome and beaded chandelier. Something on wall like a starburst or is that overkill?

Lisa Hamel

How do you decide what shape is best for your room? Are there times when you “must” use a circle instead of a rectangle?


I would also love to know this!


Hi Emily,
These dining rooms are dreamy. What do you recommend for a tiny dining room? Ours doesn’t fit 4 chairs without injuring yourself on the kitchen island… It’s an odd long narrow rectangle? What are the “rules” for awkward spaces? (And I know, we want to re do the kitchen island when we can afford to!)



I have the same issue. I am shopping for such now (10′ × 11′), and intend to choose no credenza, a table that’s too large (72″), and a rug that’s too small. On top of it, move the table off center so that it’s not disrupting the flow as Dining room is between living-, family rooms and kitchen. I love this series, but half the rules I think dont work for a tiny space. Smaller table unfortunately won’t work for our family. And I dont want to buy only with a short term in mind.
Emily please do a series for those weird rooms. Even I a relatively large home (1600sq ft) we might have at least one weird room


What about table width? I notice that most tables are too narrow to really handle guests on both sides, plus food, but interestingly, there are very few options in terms of table width, especially for shorter tables. Any thoughts on that?


Great article but for the love of all that is metric is there any way you could include measurements in cm as well? I can’t even tell you how little “65 inches” means to the 95% of the world that uses metric!


I sometimes use an online converter, such as for this purpose.


I keep a school ruler in mind for this. 1 foot (12 inches) is approx 30cm. So 65” is about 5.5 feet, which is roughly 165cm.


Regarding the “let us know which room you want us to talk about next,” I have two nominees. Nominee 1: rooms with low ceilings. I have one room in my home where I’m not kidding, the ceiling is only 7 feet high (all of my rooms are “short” but that one is the lowest). I’ve noticed that a lot of CA and NY rooms I see online, especially in cities and in apartment buildings, have significantly taller rooms, and it’s not easy to apply what I see there to my own space.

Nominee 2: small rooms, e.g. 144 square feet and smaller. I think small rooms are very common in my area, especially in townhomes and in older homes, but I see a lot of loft spaces online and the beautiful ideas I see there just don’t translate well to my own home. For example, my bedroom is about 11 by 10 feet (yes, I measured because I’m a nerd).


This series is SO helpful! Could you do bathroom rules next?


Yes please! Bathroom rules next.


This is great, thank you! It would be great to see a round up of sconce/chandelier option for the dining room. I already have frosted globe sconces but I have been struggling to find a chandelier for my small dining room. More globes? Mix it up? Struggles.


This series is amazing, thank you so much for pulling this together and articulating it in a way that’s so easy to digest.
One general question I have is how does artificial lighting temperature affect your room designs? Usually, photos are beautifully shot in natural daylight, but by dinnertime at my house it’s usually dark and we need the lights on. “Warm white” bulbs look so yellow to me, and I hate that it changes my color perception. “Daylight” bulbs look weird inside though, even if it’s technically mimicing natural light. Why isn’t there a medium light? Do you just always use warm white/soft white?


Also, just want to add a comment that large homes/rooms can be hard to design for too without looking empty or out of proportion, so your size range tips are appreciated!


There is a medium light!

What i do is i search amazon by light bulb color. So all my lights in my living area are 3000k LEDs. 2500k is too warm, and 4000k and up are those daylight bulbs. You could even try 3500k bulbs if you find 3000k is still too warm. I literally search “3000k LED bulbs” into amazon, and i get all the bulb styles i need for my home!

There are so many affordable bulbs even at these weird color temps. The worst thing you could do is just pop down to Target for your bulbs cuz they have only those two horrible options HA!


Just rechecked my bulbs and 5000k and up is true daylight, i have all 4000k in one room and i would say its a true neutral color.


Just wanted to point out that warm white and soft white are actually somewhat standard terms for different color temperatures. Soft white is usually 2700k, which mimics old incandescent lightbulb, whereas warm white is typically much yellower (think edison bulbs). I look for that magic 2700k on the package to know for sure what im getting, its the only color temperature i can stand


The Petersiks at just did a really informative post about light bulbs, in case you are looking for some further guidance.


YESSSSS ANGELA! This is the single biggest issue with my dining room (which, being 10×10′ square and also the only way to get from the living room to the kitchen, has A LOT of issues): the hideous yellow light from the Edison bulbs in my chandelier makes everything look so gross. GE Reveal bulbs are the most neutral I can find, but they look hideous in my chandelier (I use them everywhere else in the house and immediately throw out any white-looking lampshade that casts a sickly yellow pall). What am I supposed to do about this?

The scourge of ugly light is, like, my biggest design bugaboo in general.


I never comment but I have to say: i Love Love Love (!!) this series. Please keep it up!


Where can I get the table in the photo under ‘furniture placement’!?

Rosa Saldana

I have a 732 sq ft house my living room is so small im dying to have at least a small a ranch style please hell me thank u! I like ur designs

Marie Rienzo

Can you talk about what to do if you have a combination kitchen/dining room? Our house is super small and the dining space is my biggest pain point. I’m guessing a built-in bench is the way to go but I love to hear your thoughts.


Love this series. I have no room for a dinning table in my condo but I still found this useful. I do have an eat in counter/bar (with a drop leaf extension who’s value is still under debate). I would love to hear how I could apply some of these rules to that type of situation!


It would be really helpful to hear some ideas for what to put on the tabletop for everyday if you don’t use the table all the time. I saw the tablecloth vs. runner note, but I am interested in hearing about objects for an everyday centerpiece of sorts. The table looks so un-attended-to without something on it! 🙂


Yes!! Please do a post on this!


Seconding (third-ing?) this request!


Thank you so much! I am a first time home owner who is setting up the dining space right now and this post is super helpful.

Carrie B

I am loving these posts – both for the living room and the dining room! I have a question about your choice of flat-weave rugs for dining rooms, though. I understand that they are easier to keep clean, but aren’t they harder to scoot chairs around on them? Doesn’t the rug get bunched up when you move your chairs? I’m on the hunt for a large rug for our dining room, and I was specifically NOT looking for a flat-weave for that reason. Enlighten me!


Thank you for this series!


All great tips! I have a dilemma in my dining room — beautiful old molding and woodwork that goes three-quarters up the wall (it’s painted white), and then plain walls above that (which I painted another color).
Where do I hang artwork? Half on/half off the two colors, with molding in between? If i hang on top third it will be too high.

David Bergman

I’m a retired designer. My favorite use for a dining room is a library combination. Books are beautiful. If yo want Ed you could have 2 identical tables, pull apart or push together.. if it’s a large living dining combo, a large sofa and 2 matching coffee tables with chairs at each. Informal but still elegant. Some things that make spaces appear larger: uniformity in subtle ways. Choose one drawer pull, one door knob, skip overhead lighting and use wall sconces. If you measure the width of a room, multiply that by 1.618 for ideal length. It’s the Divine Means. If you use 3 shades of white (subtle) blue white, (ceiling) rose white (window reveals) and antique white (hint of yellow) you’ve employed the entire color spectrum and people feel healthy. The late great Billy Baldwin said everything you buy for your home should be 3 things: beautiful to your eye, stay within your budget, and be comfortable to your body. Buy quality and you’ll be a happy nester.


This series is so helpful! Thank you, Emily! Do you think you could do a post on bathroom rules? Like, how high should a wall mounted faucet be from the vanity top? Or, how high should the vanity be, etc.? It’s so hard to find height and distance rules for bathrooms.


So helpful – thank you!


We have an open floor plan with exposed beams in our kitchen/dining/living room. When we update our ceiling, I was thinking of just recessed lighting above the table so that the focus is more on the beams and keeps an open feel. Does there need to be a hanging light above the table?


I’m not a elegant type decor person .
I’m more on the country side of things baskets bowls farmhouse table and rot iron chandelier.
None of your post rave about that decor.. Or about apporperte curtains for Windows in a dinning area match wall or not or accent the decor
Fins this posts are a bit over the top and not simple charming and everyday

Laney Wyzykowski

Where are the gray plastic chairs from? Second picture. I need them!!!


I would to see a post on the dining room lighting and links to the lights used in the pictures of this post. So many good good choices!


What about tight narrow rooms? Also, when should a counter/bar height table be used or not used?


These ‘Rules’ posts are genius – thank you!!!! They are such an incredible resource for people who are doing their own decorating. These informational posts are why I have been returning to this blog for over 5 years.


Should a table runner be the length of the table or longer, for example for a 72 inch table – 72 or 108 inch table runner? Are they supposed to hang off or just go on top?


Ugh you’d be surprised about the off center chandelier placement. Our box is located in the center of the room, which is about a foot off of the center of the dining room table. Grrr! We’ve yet to find the perfect piece but I’m dreading it really. I think a flush mount will allow us to leave the electric footprint without sacrificing the visual.

Gilda Stigliano

glad to see this post! excellent information–loved watching you win that competition!


I have no idea how to decorate my bedroom!


You covered everything. Such a great resource! Love your work!!


I would love help figuring out bathroom lighting. How many watts are needed per sink- especially in a room with little natural light? What’s the best combination? Side wall sconces with pot lights? Or fixture(s) over the mirror? If so, how many bulbs do I need? I don’t like the options at big box stores, but I get overwhelmed looking online. I love your roundups so much. But technical help like this is gold. I want to get it right because unlike paint, it’s really hard & expensive to change this stuff.


This is so timely! Just putting a newly furnished dining room together and I have obeyed most of the rules so far! Going to a lighting store with an assistant to tell you some of the rules about chandelier size and proportions to the room and table were a plus(Versus Home Depot). The art scale was something I did not even know about though. I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks for all this info so much!


This is so helpful!!! Please keep this series up– I’m slowly but surely furnishing my new/first home, and this is a lifesaver.

Question: I have a weird-shaped dining room (think “massive bay window shaped”) and a rectangular table. The table fits comfortably, but thinking about ideal rug measurements, there’s no great size that would allow for the chairs to remain completely on the rug without two corners of the rug bumping into the diagonal walls. Should I go entirely rug-free (might feel cold), or allow the chairs to fall off the rug? Is there another solution I’m not thinking of? (barring a custom rug?)

Sua may chay bo

I enjoyed the design of this living room. In the future I will see this is the idea for my room.

Jenna Babbitt

HI! I am moving into a small apartment next month and the dining space is 8 x 8. I am looking into purchasing a skinny dining table because having people over for dinner is everything and more. I am going to look at a dining table that is only 22′ wide. Is this a major no or do you think I can make it work?


Nancy Levesque

The rug rule is difficult if you have limited space in an open floor plan. I have a smaller rug under my table (the chairs’ back legs do fall off the rug when pulled out) in order to create that “room” in an open space. Any larger and it would be in my entryway.


Could you pleaaase do a post on how to break up a very large living/family room into smaller, functional spaces/seating areas, not including dining area? #halp


After renovating my office, my focus was to change some personal space in our house. Our dining room renovation was long due, and guess what? The rules really pushed me to understand some basics of dining setup, and as well as the images of these awesome setups gave me the idea!


LOVE this, thanks! We just bought a new-to-us house that has a round tray ceiling in the dining room. In my mind, it screams for a round table below it. We have a large family. Ideally we would like to seat 12. But then, smaller groups get lost at such a large round table. Suggestions?

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