Too Tall, Sally!

Counter-height tables are so au-courant now — but in many homes, they are so calamitously wrong!

The dining room I just redesigned in my Carbondale home near Aspen provides a cautionary tale. This room suffered from many problems, as the “before” photos below will show: dark colors, gloss paint, blocked sight lines and a mish-mash of disconnected styles and motifs. But for this post, I will concentrate on the towering table. Here’s how the room looks now.

Compare the visual effect of this table with the one below.

It’s had a makeover that has included paint, lighting, color scheme and a change of furniture that included the purchase of a round, traditional height table that expands from 42 inches in diameter to a large oval that easily seats six people, and eight if they are friendly. (This is the Ronan table from Pier 1 Imports.)

Here's how the dining room looked before. This was a sales photo from the MLS listings!

As you can see from the “before” photo below, placing a counter-height table in this rather diminutive dining space was a double-dip doozy of a design mistake. First, the dimensions of the table were all wrong for this room — or any small area — because they take up too much visual space.

When you’re short on room, whether it’s floor space or cramped vertical space resulting from a low ceiling, the best approach is choose smaller-scale furniture.

In a small bedroom, for example, a low, modern bed with clean, un-fussy lines will make the room feel more open and accessible. It’s best to leave the raised-platform beds with steps to the mansions up the hill. (However, I am sorry to report that I have seen enormous, ornate beds dominating not-big-enough bedrooms in the grand homes up in Aspen, near where I live. Some of those four-poster beds can make even a generously-sized room feel cramped.)

But back to my place downvalley from Aspen.

The faux pas committed by the too-tall table that formerly occupied my dining room was compounded by the fact that the dining room is raised. To reach it, one climbs two steps up from the adjacent living room. Given this split-level arrangement, the table top, as seen from the living room, was well above the eye-level of most visitors. Coming up to it felt oppressive, like running into a wall.

The shorter table and the removal of a dangling pot rack opens up the sight lines from the kitchen into the dining room.

What’s more, the hulking bulk of the too-tall table and chairs blocked the light coming into the living room and the sight lines from both the kitchen and living room. This made all three areas seem darker than they needed to be.

Finally, I wondered how well that tall table and chairs worked in a family with a young child. Since he was in grade school, I supposed he had learned to clamber up on the high chairs, but the family also had an infant on the way. I can’t imagine those chairs being particularly easy for toddlers or elders to use.

Tall tables work well in rooms that are airy, bright, spacious and have high-ceilings. Unfortunately, those adjectives don’t describe dining rooms in most of our houses.

In this "before" picture, a dangling pot rack, a bar-height table and a too-tall sideboard all conspire to block sightlines and cramp the room.

Bar-height tables feel right in coffee houses and bars, places where we expect to rub elbows with other folks and where we frankly feel a bit uneasy if the crowd’s too thin. But that’s generally not the kind of ambience we want in our homes.

Despite all that, tall tables seem to be the order of the day in small apartments and in houses with children who will without a doubt tip over those towering chairs. I really don’t understand the allure. Who’s buying them? Are these the same people who went for platform shoes?

If you’re not living in a coffee house, a bar or a mansion, my advice – which you didn’t ask for and is worth more than you’re paying for it – is to just say no. Don’t be a fashion victim.


I wanna jump but I’m afraid I’ll fall
I wanna holler but the joint’s too small
Young man rhythm’s got a hold of me too
I got the rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu

Call some other’s baby that ain’t all
I wanna kiss her but she’s way too tall
Young man rhythm’s got a hold of me too
I got the rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu…

– Johnny Rivers


2 thoughts on “Too Tall, Sally!

  1. You have expressed what I have thought, repeatedly, about those high tables and chairs. The appeal to stuff them into too small spaces has never made sense. And as a shorter person, with short legs, I am often left with legs dangling in the air — totally uncomfortable.

    While I liked that pot rack in your earlier photos, I can see why it blocked the flow of the space. The whole environment looks so fresh, light, warm and welcoming now. What an improvement from the former dark, oppressive, claustrophobic, and cave-like atmosphere!

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