Table height is important, especially when shopping for a new table. The most common height for a dining room table is 30 inches. Counter-height tables are 6 inches taller, rising to 36 inches. Add another 6 inches for craft or work tables; they measure up at 42 inches. Each size is appropriate for different applications and tasks.
Standard Chair Sizing
Tables are designed to coordinate with chairs. Chairs follow standard guidelines and typically measure 17 inches for a hardwood seat and 18 inches or more for a cushy, padded seat that compresses when you sit on it. Standard chairs under a 30-inch-tall table allow a comfortable 12 inches between the top of the seat and the bottom of the table. Placing standard chairs under a counter-height table, 36 inches in height, is out of proportion and uncomfortable.
Counter-height chairs are 24 to 26 inches and won't fit comfortably under a standard 30-inch table -- especially if it has an apron. The apron is the horizontal border around the perimeter of some tables; some have them, and some don't. The apron, typically about 4 inches wide, squeezes the available room between the seat and apron down to about 5 inches. Anything taller than a standard chair -- such as a counter-height chair -- might not even fit under it if the chair has arms.
Standard, 30-inch tables are more common, and readily available in more designs and styles than 36-inch, counter-height tables.
Counter-height tables, with the extra 6 inches of height, match countertop height, which is also 36 inches. The matching height makes a counter-height table more appropriate than a standard-height table to serve as an additional food-preparation area, such as a kitchen island.
Standard-height tables are more comfortable to sit at, primarily because your feet touch the floor while you're seated. Counter-height tables can make you stretch to reach the floor. Disabled or handicapped people are also more comfortable, simply because handicapped aids such as wheelchairs fit under standard-height tables -- but only if there is no apron.
Formality and Protocol
Standard-height tables are considered more formal than counter-height tables, which fit into the casual category. Guests typically expect to be seated at a standard table. Counter-height tables create a more relaxed, informal ambiance than sitting at a formal, standard-height table.
Work or pub tables measure in at about 42 inches. When paired with a 30-inch stool, work tables can be more comfortable than counter-height tables or standard tables for working, doing crafts, or socializing. They also match up with common 42-inch bars or countertops.