It doesn't matter how pristine the setting, if a worn or unsightly tabletop makes you frown every time you see it, you probably expect its mere presence to set off the smoke alarm. Every space needs that one rustic, quirky or gracefully aged piece to complement its design, but it likely isn't your ugly table -- at least not in its current state. Rather than introducing it to your axe, cover the tabletop in a simple, smart or artsy way.
Probably the simplest way to deal with an unattractive table is to hide it under a good-looking tablecloth. On the "classy" scale, a linen or cotton tablecloth trumps a vinyl cloth, and you can toss it in the washing machine, as needed. If kids frequent the table, the latter option is crayon friendlier and less expensive to replace as ketchup or grape-juice stains accumulate. Regardless of material, opt for a neutral white, tan or gray tablecloth to make colorful dishware come alive, or choose a cloth in a vibrant color pulled from your decor that lets white or pale-colored plates, bowls and mugs play head of the table.
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Make It Mosaic
Tiling an old tabletop uses up leftover tiles or broken dishware and transforms "ugly" into "interesting." To break whole tiles or large dish pieces safely, place them in a durable burlap sack and hit the sack just hard enough to do the job, using a hammer. Form a low, narrow wood border along the table's edges to contain the tile bits, using wood glue and finishing nails. Do a dry run, fitting the pieces together randomly, mixing sizes and colors for a mosaic affect. Set them in place using mortar and fill the gaps with grout. Lacquer the top with epoxy resin for an easy-to-clean, glass-like finish.
Think of your ugly tabletop as a blank canvas; you can even leave it rough and scratched for character, if you don't want to sand it smooth. Paint the "canvas" to go with your decor, striped for a minimalist or modern effect, or dotted with large colorful blooms as a nod to shabby-chic style, using washable kitchen-and-bath latex paints. Paint worn chairs in a color pulled from the "artwork." If your bold inner designer agrees, paint each chair a different color, matching the table's varied hues. A polyurethane sealer topcoat increases the table art's longevity.
News Flash: Tabletop Goes Undercover
You might be surprised by how many standard objects make smart and relatively easy tabletop covers. Retrofit a vintage door to cover a rectangular table. Reclaimed lumber -- and a coat of sealer to deal with any included insects -- presents farmhouse appeal. Thick, smoked tabletop glass provides opaque coverage; if you prefer clear glass, first cover the table's ugliness with a collage of photos, clip art or magazine cutouts, or wallpaper. Only your imagination limits what you can use to top your tabletop, as long as it's size appropriate, washable, relatively lightweight and safely implemented.