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You've Got The Room, Now It's Time To Use It! Make Your Dining Room Less Formal And Enjoy It More Often.

Here at EDN we are big proponents of using every room in your home. If you are going to have a dedicated dining room then by all means, we want you to use it! Gone are the days of using the dining room only on special occasions. Create a space that speaks to you and create something you'll actually use, like on a weeknight (gasp!).

A dining room no longer has to be a grand, luxe space reserved only for holidays and never to be entered by anyone under 16 years of age. While the formal dining room has its place (namely in larger homes with the room to have both a dedicated everyday kitchen table and a more polished dining room), we are seeing many of our clients walking right by this room in their home or overlooking it completely.  We want to change that.

Don't get me wrong, if you live in a larger home, a more formal dining room might still suit your needs and your lifestyle (trust me, we still love a formal dining space!), but if that's not you, consider changing it to a more casual vibe. Somewhere that you will sit down with your family for pizza night.  Somewhere to sit with your friends over brunch.  Somewhere for a casual candlelit dinner for two. Or even somewhere to play a game of cards. You'll wonder how you ever lived without it.

So obviously I am a huge fan of sitting down with friends and family over a home cooked meal and connecting. But what makes a great dining room?

First, let's go over some basics whether you decide to go for a more casual feel or if you're keeping it formal. There are some general rules of thumb to consider when selecting your furniture for this space. Do you go for a round table or is a rectangular one going to be better? What type of chair should you get? What's the best way to figure out lighting fixtures to use? What color scheme should you go with? 

Before You Even Get Started... Clear The Junk! 

Why is it that a dining room table is just so inviting for random junk? Mail you don't want to look at right now? Put it on the dining room table. Returns that have to be made? Dining table. A jacket you just took off? Throw it on the dining room chair. This poor room is used and abused and it's time to make it feel special. So find another spot for your junk (don't just move the junk to your living room) and let this special room shine in all its glory.

Now You're Ready! Begin With The Dining Table 

Size Matters

You not only want the table and chairs to look good in your space but you also want them to be comfortably functional when guests are seated. A good rule of thumb is having 3 feet of clearance from the table to the wall or any other pieces of furniture such as a sideboard or hutch. This will ensure ample space for someone to move around another seated guest.  

Quick tip:

Measure the width of the room and subtract 6 feet from that - now you’ve got your ideal table width. Measure the length of the room and subtract 6 feet - there’s the ideal length. From there you can see if your room requires a narrow table or you’ve got extra room and can even add another piece of furniture like a buffet. If you’re adding, remember to retake the measurement from the wall to the front of the piece of furniture instead of wall to wall so you are looking at the available table space. 

Now, it's time to double check. Use painters tape to mark the outline of the table on the floor and bring over a couple of chairs to really visualize the table in the room. Pull out the chairs as though you’re enjoying an evening at the table with friends and see if there’s enough space to walk around it. This trick is great for you to really be able to visualize your space and is a great idea before investing in new furniture. 

Consider The Shape

The shape of your room dictates the shape of your table. Period. Unless you are planning on modifying the shape of your room by adding built-ins or a large scale piece of furniture like a curio cabinet, generally the shape of the space is the shape that you’d like to fill so keep that in mind before you fall in love with a round table for your very rectangular room. 

Should your room not be a perfect square, no worries, we are talking about a general overall shape. If your room is 10’ x 12’ you can still get that round table but if you are working with a dining room that is 10’ x 16’ you will want to opt for an oval or rectangular option. The way the furniture fits in the space is arguably more important than the design of the table itself. 

Moving on to the chairs... 

Selecting The Perfect Dining Chairs 

You’ve spent time organizing a dinner, coordinating everyone’s schedules, cleaning the house, making the actual food and now you want people to sit and enjoy. If your chairs are not super comfy, your guests are not going to want to sit and linger over an after-dinner drink. Be sure your chairs have both structure and cushion because in a dining room, comfortable seating is a must. 

When possible, go to the store and actually sit in the chair. This is really the only way to see if it is comfortable for you.  If that's not an option, be sure you're checking the reviews, looking at the dimensions and (pro-tip alert!) check the weight capacity of the chair.

Reviews tell us a lot but I take those with a grain of salt. I usually just see if anyone says it's a horrible piece of crap. If someone thinks the chair is too firm, remember that's too firm for them not necessarily for you. So skim the reviews for anything alarming and then move on.

The dimensions will tell you a lot. Specifically, based on the width of the chair, how many can you comfortably fit at your table? And, to me there is nothing worse than sitting in a flimsy dining chair for the length of an entire dinner party. If you can't sit in the chair, how are you to know? If you check the weight capacity of the chair, that will generally give you a good idea if the chair itself is sturdy. You'll be shocked at the vast difference in this number!

Setting The Mood

The Power Of Lighting

Great lighting is paramount in a dining room. A perfect dinner party has dim lighting. A great dinner party has low lighting.  A terrible dinner party has overhead lighting.  Why does lighting matter so much in this room? Because how are you to have a cozy, intimate dinner with your closest friends and family that lasts for hours when your can lights are blaring and making everyone's skin tone look like they just came down with the latest virus?

Ok maybe that's a bit dramatic but honestly, overhead lighting is a huge no-no for a cozy dinner setting. 

How can you make sure you are not ruining your dinner and your party by screwing up the lighting? Be sure any and all fixtures are on dimmers and, if possible, have multiple sources of low lighting such as a chandelier, wall sconces and table lamps. If that’s not possible, go for candlelight!  

Yes Rug or No Rug?

The dining room area rug is a controversial topic amongst my clients. Usually those with opposing views live in the same household. On one hand, team 'no rug' says that its gross to have a rug under a table where there is food which will inevitably be spilled at some point landing directly on said rug. On the other hand, a rug grounds the room and completes the space so aesthetically, a rug can make a huge difference in a dining room.  

Here's my general rule of thumb:

If you have small children who spill their food on the floor (or messy friends!) forgo the rug.  But then how do you make the dining area feel finished? Focus on the walls. You cannot neglect both the floors and the walls so if your floors are bare, your walls have to do the heavy lifting (pun intended).  

This could mean adding panelling to the lower half of the wall and installing wallpaper on the upper half.  This could mean you dedicate your dining room to your favorite pieces of art and showcase them in a gallery wall. This could mean painting the walls a rich color or texture such as our beloved lime wash and hang an oversized painting flanked by sconces.  You get the point. No rug and all white walls is not an inviting combo so remember no rug equals interesting walls. 

Small spaces are a great way to sneak in a dining room, even if that means intimate dining for just a few. Why is the cozy corner table coveted at restaurants but when it comes to your own home, a dining room needs to seat 8 - 10?? If you have a tiny nook or small home office that goes unused, consider turning it into your very own exclusive dining experience.

Make it special. Paint it dark. Hang luxurious drapery. Panel the walls. Make it a destination. If you need help, its always a good idea to ask for help before making an investment so if you're not sure on how to go about this, call me because this little project sounds like oh so much fun!

Overall Color Palette 

Interior designers love to start with the big picture and work our way down. Deciding if you want your dining space dark and moody or clean and minimal will drive you to make all of your decisions from paint color to your table selection. Gather inspo online and see what rooms make you want to sit down and enjoy yourself. That should be the direction you go.  

Paint, Wallpaper or Both

Painting is your most cost effective option and do not underestimate the value that paint has. Choosing the right color can completely transform a space. I encourage you to go bold and select a medium to dark tone for this space. Your guests will feel enveloped, like getting a big hug from your home, and will want to linger a little longer. Choosing wallpaper is a more in depth process and also comes with a larger investment. That said, nothing can compare to the impact a great wallpaper can have on a room.

Love the wallpaper idea but it is just a bit out of your budget? Find creative ways to use it. If you've got panelling on the lower part of your walls, wallpaper the upper portion or consider wallpapering the ceiling and painting the walls a complementary hue. Need help? Call me, I love selecting wallpaper and paint!

Incorporating Artwork

I see a ton of dining rooms and many just lack personality. Please do not skimp on artwork!

I repeat: Please do not skimp on the artwork!

Opt for one larger scale piece or a collection of smaller complementary pieces. But... one more time for the people in the back... please, do not skimp on artwork! Artwork really sets the tone for the room. Keep in mind to tie the tones of your artwork into the overall color scheme of the dining room.

Add Storage If Possible

A Curio Cabinet or Sideboard

If space allows I love putting a cabinet in the dining room, preferably one with glass fronts (if you are good at curating a shelf display). This will allow you to have a beautiful display of dishes, glasses and objects. If that's not your forte, do us all a favor and find something with closed doors. Either way, it’s always nice to be able to set the table with items that are right there in the room such as your extra candlesticks, platters or nicer china from your grandma for those more intimate dinner parties. 

A sideboard is also a great spot to put a few table lamps and decor pieces to give your dining room added personality (and again, more low lighting). These items can easily be cleared to make room for a buffet style dinner but when not in use, it adds such an element of design. 

Don't Let These Common Issues Stop You  

The Dreaded Fishbowl

Depending on where your dining room is located, I often hear new clients say they don't use their dining room unless its for a holiday meal because they feel on display for all of their neighbors. This is especially true if you have a front facing room with large windows which is great for natural light but not so great when your neighbors can see you chowing down on your meal.

This is where window treatment options become crucial in the design process. From roller shades to sheer drapery to woven woods and everything in between, I guarantee there is a solution for you. I don't want you avoiding an entire room because of some windows. Get a design professional in your home to go over your options and pick something that works for you to feel more comfortable. The investment will be worth it if right now you've got square footage you only use a handful of times a year!

I Still WFH In The Dining Room

Still find yourself working from home? Is the dining room your go-to spot to set up your station for the day? Or do your kids plop down here to do their homework after school? No worries! Let's just be sure to incorporate easy storage solutions so when you're done, you've got somewhere to store your work and get ready to use the dining room for its original intention - dining and connecting with loved ones. In this case, you may want to opt for less formality so you don't get upset the table and chairs are getting extra use. 

You can achieve a usable multifunction dining room by exchanging your formal dining room furniture for multipurpose pieces. Besides a great table you also need chairs that can be sat in for longer periods of time, and they should have performance fabrics making them easier to clean. Light fixtures should be able to not only have the soft glow needed for a dinner party, but also be able to be turned up when needed so dimmers on every light fixture are a must.

Make sure to opt for extra storage if you've got the room so you can have a designated area to put away your work behind closed doors when dinner time approaches. The last thing you want to do is sit down for a nice relaxing meal while staring at your to-do list for the next workday. 

​We Never Have Anyone Over For Dinner

For one, I think you should fix that! Even a simple home cooked meal shared amongst loved ones with a good bottle of wine can turn into the most enjoyable evening.

But... if sharing a meal together isn't your thing, what is? Do you guys play games together as a family? Design the space around that.  Do you enjoy having your friends over for a cocktail? Ditch the table and add four club chairs around a round coffee table and set up a bar instead of a buffet. Whatever will draw you into this space to make you lose track of time while making memories with friends and family is what you should do. 

Making this room less formal will create a space that is perfect for all of your needs.  Work by day, puzzle on the weekends, dine with family and friends and so much more. So I guess it is time to get a family game night on the books because your dining room is ready! Start by working with what you've got, fill in what you need and create a space you'll find yourself gravitating towards regularly.

See the magic in having small, intimate dinners with those you love and bring the dining room back. If you need any ideas or inspiration, I’m here to help! And if you want to create that dining nook I was talking about, call me!  If you go it alone, don't forget to tag us @elementdesignnetwork so we can see your dining rooms- preferably when it’s all set for a dinner party. Or better yet, invite us over - we make great dinner guests : )


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