Q: My sister is trying to decide on furniture. She loves the following 2 tables, but she's been reading that they don't hold up to spills and such. I said "I know someone who could tell you." And that would be you. Would you mind taking a minute to look and give your opinion? She really loves the reclaimed look.
Option #1, from Restoration Hardware, an unfinished dining room table in reclaimed pine.
Option #2, from Room and Board, a three-foot round table with a steel base and a reclaimed chestnut top, and a lacquer finish.
Which one will be better for a dining room table?
A: This is a great question, and it addresses some of the issues we struggled with when we made Jules and Kyle's table using reclaimed wood. Like the details in the first link say, reclaimed wood is likely to be uneven and irregular. Its imperfections lend it charm, but they are still imperfections, and they can make a piece difficult to clean and maintain - it's crucial to be aware of that when building, buying, or living with reclaimed wood furniture. But there are easy strategies to keep in mind.
First of all, I would strongly recommend against buying an unfinished wood piece for an eating surface. As an occasional table or an accent piece, unfinished reclaimed or distressed wood can really stand out, but a single red wine spill could ruin the table completely. Without finish, the wood will soak up any kind of liquid. Even if it doesn't leave an ugly stain, liquid will warp or even rot the wood, as it's very difficult to dry. (Air-drying lumber takes about one year per inch of thickness, for reference.)
Personally, I don't think finishing takes away from the charm of reclaimed wood; we finished this coat rack, this cupcake stand, and this dining/bar table and they didn't sacrifice charm for that protection. It produces a glossier look, but I think it can also add depth to the natural color of the wood. (It looks like Restoration Hardware (Option #1) doesn't finish their table, but does stain it, which I don't agree with, either. I'd rather have unstained, sealed reclaimed wood than stained and unfinished wood.)
So, for me, the Option #1, Restoration Hardware table is not a good option as an eating table. I like Option #2 from Room and Board much more from a practical perspective. Lacquer is a solid finish, commonly used for dining furniture. It should hold up much better to spills, as long as you wipe them up quickly, especially since the reclaimed wood probably has a lot of irregularities that might leave minuscule gaps in the finish.
For any fine furniture that you plan to eat on, you should use place mats and coasters with ceramic dishware---otherwise the unglazed bottoms of mugs and plates can scratch the finish. Finally, be sure to use mats to insulate the table when serving food from hot dishes as a very hot dish can leave a heat mark in certain finishes.
Hope this helps!
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