The Surface That Serves 5 Kids

Finding the right dining table for a small space with a large brood is an ongoing evolution for us. The goal is to have something that scales to seat 7-10 people, without using up an inordinate amount of floor space.

Ideally, it should also be easy to clean, weather distress well, and look good doing it.

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Our first table was actually quite a classic, with chairs that stored inside the folded up table. Too bad it was a cumbersome hazard.

Where we started out was a hand-me-down folding table with folding chairs. On the surface, I though this was an excellent solution as it got out of the way when we didn’t need it fully setup. However, a folding table as well as folding chairs provides incalculable ways to pinch fingers. If it weren’t so dangerous, it would have been funny watching chairs close on kids like bear traps. Ultimately, we really didn’t fold the table away enough to warrant its myriad hinges.

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Our second table was a complete misfire, being too small and featuring chairs that functioned as stain magnets.

We then moved on to a second hand IKEA table that expanded to seat more people when needed. However, it was slightly too small and the individual seats were not only cumbersome, but hard to keep clean. Each kid didn’t need their own separate seat and we certainly weren’t in a position to keep a few extra seats stored somewhere in case company came over.

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Our current table is very nearly perfect, scaling up to seat large groups and being distressed enough to hide stab marks but still look good. (shown here serving 3 foot long gummy worm)

Our current solution is a custom built table and two bench combo that clocked in at around $600, total. While its cracks make it less than ideal from a cleaning perspective and its separate planks mean mousing is an off-road endeavour, it ticks all the other boxes. It’s distressed look absorbs countless pen and utensil scratches, so I never stress about pockmarks like I would with a sleeker table.

The benches neatly scale to seat up to 5 kids on each side, if need be. Yes, I realize that won’t always be the case, as they get older, but for now it works. We purchased a simple IKEA stool to go at the end, provided an optional 7th (or 11th) seat, depending on the night’s needs. It makes for a slightly more comfortable seat to work from when the table isn’t in use for dining.

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One of the benches, pressed into action at a kid’s birthday party.

The benches can also be pulled away from the table to provide seating in other areas of the house when we have parties, or to become a makeshift coffee table in front of the couch on Game of Thrones nights.

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My youngest daughter cleans under table… simply by walking under it.

I still haven’t given up on finding a table that folds up into the wall fully or partially. Or a table with a perfectly uniform (but distressed) surface, to make it unnecessary to clean in the cracks. But as a maximizer I’ll always have these tweaks I want to make.

For now what we have is the ideal dining table for our large family in a small condo.

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Adrian Crook is a father of five living in beautiful downtown Vancouver, Canada. When he's not mobbed by his brood, he runs a successful videogame design consulting business.