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Open concept homes and small kitchens can mean having to choose between counter space and a kitchen table (it may even be your only table if you don’t also have a formal dining room). So which do you choose: the table or the island? How about both?!

It is possible to have it all. Choose the right table and it can do double duty, and with a little DIY magic, you can even get the granite or butcher block top of your dreams.

What to look for

A sturdy wooden table with room to slide chairs underneath. In other words, you are not shopping for an island with storage, you are shopping for a table that provides extra counter space that also allows people to sit at it. And don’t think this is strictly a project for tables for eight, a petite bar table for four can also work perfectly.

Consider your height

Take note of the height of your existing counters. Is it comfortable for you to stand while chopping or preparing a meal? If you’re on the shorter side, you may prefer a traditional dining table, which is around 30 inches high. If you’re tall, look for a table that is bar height or counter height, around 40 inches high. Try: Ikea Stornås Bar Table, $249, ikea.ca

If you go the bar table route, you’ll want to invest in bar stools or chairs, as well. If hunching over a bit is a small price to pay for the extra prep space, use your existing table or buy one that’s the usual size.  Try: Ikea Norden Extendable Table, $299, ikea.ca

*A note on the Norden table. Even if you choose to add a more durable table/countertop, you can make use of the leaf that comes with extendable tables. Just buy a piece of countertop to fit the leaf and your table will look just as great with extra guests.

Wood table tops

If you want to use the table’s existing top, make sure it’s made of solid wood and not laminated particle board. Again, you’re looking for a sturdy table, not a bargain piece.

To add longevity to a piece that may undergo a little wear and tear, add a coat of polyurethane. But test your piece first to find out what the current finish is. Rub your table with nail polish remover. If the finish softens, your table is lacquered. If a few drops of water turn white after about 10 minutes, your table is waxed. In both cases, the finish will have to be removed before adding polyurethane. If your table passes these tests, give it a light sanding then brush on the varnish! But be warned: don’t cut directly on this surface. While shiny and durable, the polyurethane won’t withstand knife marks.

Maintenance

If your table is natural or just oiled wood, you can keep it healthy and looking good by applying a treatment oil to it at least once a month. This will add shine and protect the wood. Most butcher blocks are treated this way. Use a food grade linseed or mineral oil for the job. You can find these in most hardware stores.

Marble or granite tabletops

If you want something a little fancier or something to match your existing countertops, look for granite or marble remnants at specialty retailers or at your local big-box store. While an exact match may be tricky, depending on what you currently have in your kitchen, you can probably find something complementary. Maybe the same material in the same colours with a different vein or even the reverse of what you have. For instance, if you have grey counter tops with a white grain, look for white counter tops with a grey grain.

This top will need to be adhered to your table with a heavy-duty adhesive or caulking. Get advice on your particular table and countertop choices at the hardware store.

Maintenance

Marble and granite have to be sealed seasonally or when you notice that water no longer beads on the surface. Look for a sealer made for your counter’s surface. It usually comes in a spray and is made specifically for one material. For instance, you can find sealers just for granite, just for polished marble or specifically for tumbled marble (which is more of a bathroom material).

Chair consideration

Try to find folding chairs or those that will slide under your table so you’re not constantly moving the chairs out of the way.

Results

Hopefully you now have both a fabulous kitchen table for casual meals and some extra elbow room when making meals!