Setting the stage for everything from boisterous holiday meals and game nights to quiet conversations and intimate, candlelit dinners, your dining table plays an important role in your home and is often one of your first furniture “investment” pieces.
With that much riding on it, it makes sense to spend a little extra thought when shopping for your forever table—there’s nothing worse than falling in love with something and then discovering you’ve outgrown it. For that reason, along with choosing a table that suits your style, fits your space, and is solidly constructed, it’s a good idea to pick one that offers flexibility in how many people it seats.
The good news is, with extendable tables, you really can have it all.
Extendable tables look and function like regular tables but with a hidden secret—extra sections of tabletop that allow you to extend the length to accommodate extra guests or expand your work surface, as needed. Although the basic concept of taking a smaller table and making it larger has been the same for centuries, there are several types of extendable tables with some pretty cool modern features to choose from today.
Types of Extendable Tables
Whether you host every family gathering or just have friends over on occasion, the right extendable table will make the best use of your space when closed and seat everyone comfortably when extended. Some extension tables provide room for just a couple extra guests while others can be expanded to double, if not triple, the table’s capacity.
To keep things simple, we’ll cover four common types of extendable table: drop in (aka traditional), butterfly leaf, drop leaf, and stow leaf. Each type has its pros and cons, but by the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of how they work and should be able to identify the perfect one for your needs.
Drop-in/Traditional Leaf Table This type of table is extended by sliding its ends apart, creating a gap in the center. Then, one or more table extensions (called leaves) are then placed in the gap and snugged up to create a contiguous surface.
Pros: Strong and sturdy. Tables that allow for multiple leaves allow you to extend your table to just the right length. Cons: Two people are usually required to extend the table because the ends must be lifted and moved at the same time. Table must be empty to extend.
This charming, French-country inspired drop-in leaf table transforms from an intimate round that seats four into a gracious oval to comfortably accommodate two additional guests.
This traditional dining set features a heavy-edge, double-trestle table with a lightly distressed finish for a rustic touch. Use the included drop-in leaf to comfortably seat eight for dinner.
Butterfly Leaf Table The popular butterfly leaf table has a hinged leaf (or multiple leaves) conveniently stored in a hidden compartment beneath its top. It is extended the same way as the traditional table—by sliding its ends apart, creating a gap in the center. Once the table is open, the hidden leaves are lifted into place and opened to their full width, filing the gap.
Pros: Some styles can be extended without moving the base. Leaves are self-storing. Multiple leaves allow you to extend your table to just the right length. Cons: Like the drop-in leaf table, two people may be required to extend longer tables.
Clean-lined and classically styled, the Baltica dining set includes a butterfly leaf table that seats six and can extend to accommodate additional guests.
Three self-storing butterfly leaves take this solid wood pub-height table from 64-inches to 100-inches long when fully extended.
Drop Leaf Table This popular, space savvy style of table has one or more hinged, collapsible leaves attached to the ends or sides of the table. When needed, the leaves are lifted and held in place by brackets mounted to the bottom of the tabletop or gate legs, depending on the style of the table base.
Pros: Drop leaf tables are available in several shapes and sizes and are easy to operate by one person. Table does not have to be moved to extend. Cons: Placing heavy objects or leaning on the leaves should be discouraged. Leg room is limited when the leaves are down.
The compact Hammis drop leaf table is the ultimate space-saving solution for tiny dining areas. The hinged drop-leaf design provides the option of folding down either one or two sides, allowing it to fit neatly against a wall.
Stow Leaf Table Stow leaf tables have leaves which store neatly beneath the tabletop. Unlike the butterfly leaf table, the leaves remain visible when stowed, giving the table a distinctive, double-layered appearance. When extended, they look very much like drop leaf tables, but tend to be stronger and more durable.
To extend the stow leaf table, the extensions are slid out from under the tabletop, then lifted into place with the help of a smooth gliding mechanism. Table can be easily extended by one person, without disturbing place settings or other diners—perfect for making room for late arrivals or surprise guests.
A sleek twist on a classic, the Emma stow-leaf table has exposed chrome mechanisms visible through its glass top giving it a high-end, modern look. Your guests will enjoy seeing this one in action!
Extendable Table Care Tips
Try to keep your drop-in leaves in the same room as the table or in an area with similar temperature and humidity levels (ie: NOT the attic or basement). This will prevent the wood from swelling at different rates which can affect the fit.
Ensure your wood table is set away from direct sources of heating and cooling and kept in a humidity controlled environment. Wood will swell in high humidity and shrink in low, and big fluctuations may cause your table and extension components to warp, making it difficult to open and close.
Metal slides should be cleaned and lubricated occasionally to keep them moving smoothly. First, vacuum or brush out any dust, then use a light household lubricating oil or spray, taking care not to get any on the table’s finish.
Wooden slides should also be occasionally cleaned and treated to prevent sticking. After dusting, rub the contact spots with a block of paraffin or candle wax or a sheet of waxed paper to help them glide.
Opening a drop-in leaf table (and some butterfly leaf tables) is a two-person job! Avoid dragging your table’s legs on the floor when opening and closing the extension mechanism. Not only can you damage the floor, but you also run the risk of loosening the joins in your table. Always lift the legs off the floor before pulling the two halves apart.
If liquid or food spills on your table: clean up the spill quickly, then open the extension to check for leaks, wiping all edges and mechanisms thoroughly. Use a spill-proof tablecloth or underlay to prevent accidents during meals.
Choosing the Right Size Table
To make sure your new table will comfortably fit your space, you’ll need to take some measurements and do a couple easy calculations. First, measure the length and width of the area where you plan to place the table. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least 3-feet of space on all sides of the table, so subtract 6-feet (3-feet times two) from your length and with measurements to get your maximum table size.
Armed with your measurements (and a quick sketch of the room’s floorplan, if you have time), look for tables that fit within your maximum size when fully extended. Sometimes, you may be able to go beyond your maximum size if your floorplan allows (occasionally extending the dining room table into the kitchen or living room, for example) or if other pieces of furniture can be temporarily moved out of the way to make room.
If your space is very tight, look for trestle or pedestal tables that maximize leg room and consider an oval or round table that is easier to squeeze around. On average, each place at the table requires about 22 to 24-inches of table space, so to get the most seats at the table as possible, choose smaller scale, armless chairs that require less space than bulky or oversized styles.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. An experienced furniture professional can help you find the perfect table for your day-to-day and special occasion dining. Book your appointment today to shop our full selection of extendable tables in-store and learn more about your custom options.