HOW BIG IS BIG?

We’ve had a lot of inquires about proper sizing of conference and boardroom tables based on seating capacity, room size and functionality.  While there are no strict rules, there are certain guidelines that make sense and we’ll discuss some of them here.

Seating Capacity Parameters

One of the main criteria for sizing tables is based on seating capacity.  Assuming a standard rectangular table with multiple seating on both sides and one at each end, it’s easy to see that a table for 8 will have three chairs on each side and one on each end.  Each chair will average between 24” and 26” wide (depending on design and arms) and allowing for adequate space between, a designer will allow about 28” per chair minimum or 30” per chair for a more comfortable experience.  This would indicate a need for 7’ long table minimum or 7’-6” to 8’ long table for a more user friendly environment.

Another example is a rectangular table for 24, with one seat on each end and 11 seats on each side.  Using the same allowances of 28” and 30” per chair, this gives us a table that’s about 26’ to 27’-6” in length.  As tables grow in required seating, these proportions still work just fine.

Finally, the space around the table will govern certain other dimensions.  For small to medium seating capacities (4-10 people) we recommend 54” of distance from the table edge to nearby walls or furniture for a comfortable pathway.  A smaller opening of 48” can be used if constraints demand it but walls and chairs tend to take a beating.  For larger tables, we recommend a minimum of 54” of floor space from table edge to nearby walls or furniture and 72” if the adjacent furniture is perimeter seating for others.  Reason being, the room is simply more densely populated and movement becomes more challenging when people enter or exit the room simultaneously.

Room Size Parameters

If the room is existing, we will need to work backwards from the wall surfaces and perimeter furniture placement to determine the largest capacity table that fits the room.  A typical example would be a 15’ x 20’ conference room.  Allowing 54” of pathway minimum around the full perimeter yields a 6’ x 11” space suitable for a table (this assumes no other perimeter furniture are in the room). The designer can use any size table from a 4’ x 9’ to seat 8-10 people to a 5’ x 10’, 5’ x 11’ or even 6’ x 11’ table to seat 10-12 people.  If you are using a catalog line of furniture sizes could be limited whereas custom lines will often times offer almost unlimited size options.

Similarly, a 20’ x 30’ existing room, allowing 54” minimum around the full perimeter would yield a space that’s 11’ x 21’ for table placement.  An obvious solution is a 5’ x 20’ or 6’ x 20’ table that seats 18 comfortably.  A 5’ x 21’ or 6’ x 21’ table would seat 20 well but with slightly less space per guest.  Keeping the table to the 5’ or 6’ width allows a good personal distance for meetings and communication.  Unused space for the table width could allow side furniture or side seating to be integrated into the design for additional meeting attendees.  Wider tables are also readily available in custom lines however if interfacing technology is used (table boxes, etc) the amount of devices usually needs to be doubled to create two twos of accessible devices since a single row of center mounted is out of reach for most users.

Good Planning Rules

Always ask the client their seating needs by count and size the room and table accordingly as it’s the best way to avoid disappointment once the room is in use.  Ask about additional furniture needs like conference credenzas or side seating, AV or Technology support, keeping in mind that a video display at the head wall will often void out the adjacent end seat at the table.

Make an effort to adhere to these spacing standards.  Clients unfamiliar with such planning parameters will often feel that more seats can be use, and indeed this can be true for special times when some additional staff members must be included, however as a point of reference clients will also be upset if it isn’t easy to maneuver past attendees sitting in chairs or difficult to get in and out of a too crowded room.

Make certain to plan as needed for housing AV equipment, power connections or data sources in the table itself to avoid the hazardous situations of cables strung from the wall to the table.

Finally, plan adequate zoned lighting for the room.  By this I mean, good work light directly over the table and properly positioned so shadows of people sitting at the table don’t occur, dimmable side lighting, and lights at the head wall or any AV wall that can be extinguished in the event flat screens are used.  

We wish you all the best on your project.  Feel free to call us anytime if you need help.  We would love to share in the excitement of what you’re working on!