Dining rooms have to adapt to multiple occasions to survive today’s home renovations. Being a singular, formal place to have a meal together is no longer enough to keep the dining room safe from being turned into a home office. Gathering together and enjoying each other’s company is more important than ever, so it isn’t as if the concept of a dedicated dining space is obsolete! Consider making a few simple changes to transform your dining room into a comfortable gathering space for all the people you know.
Choose a More Adaptable Table for the Dining Room
Eating at massive dining tables can feel more isolating than eating in completely separate rooms. One solution is a dining table with leaves you can add and remove based on your guest list. For normal family dinner night, these tables shrink down to a serviceable size for 4-6 people. Add the leaf in, and you can host a crowd of 8-10. Extendable dining tables fell a bit out of favor because the leaves can be bulky and difficult to store. But good news! Newer models come with motors that pull the leaves underneath the table at the press of a button, storing themselves.
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Or Redefine What It Means To You
You don’t have to all share a single, dining-specific table in order to have a good dining experience together. If you ever ate at a “kid’s table” at the holidays growing up, you’ve got the general idea. But instead of a cheap card table, go for quality. Choose smaller tables that won’t take up your whole dining room, but look good there year round. I like narrow drop-leaf tables that can stay disguised as a thin console until you need them. Multiple tables like this can be pushed together for big parties, or decorated with coordinating tablecloths for a cohesive look. Square or rectangular tables with identical heights are easier to push into a cohesive larger table. Tables with either a center base or thin legs at the edges will help maximize foot space.
Incorporate More Seating in the Dining Room
Dining tables and chairs are often sold together in a set of one table to four chairs. And that’s a great way to save money and ensure you’re getting a matching look! But in my experience, they’re always 2 chairs short. To make up the difference, you really have two options: to anticipate the largest gathering you’ll ever have and buy your chairs accordingly (and leave them stacked in a corner most of the time) or go with the number you’ll use on a regular basis and supplement with folding chairs or chairs from other rooms. High quality, lightweight, stacking chairs offer the best of both worlds if you’re purely practical. However, they might not be a great fit for your dining room’s aesthetic. As an added note, it’s easier to fit spare chairs around a round table than it is a rectangular one. So while round tables are generally on the smaller side, they might be a good option if you tend to host different sized (smallish) parties on the regular.
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Switch to a Smaller Table Centerpiece
If you’ve ever had to figure out how to politely move the host’s central bouquet away to see the face of the person you’re talking to, you know what a problem a centerpiece can be. If not, here’s why bigger isn’t always better. Big centerpieces are great for displaying the table when it’s not in use, but are a social roadblock when seated for dinner. A big table can feel bland without a decorative element, so the solution isn’t to simply go without a centerpiece. Look for something appealing, but not distracting or difficult to pass food around. For instance, clear glass is better than something opaque for a bouquet. However, it still creates a sight barrier – and that’s without the flowers in it! If you must have a showstopper ornament in the center of the dining table, go for wider, not taller. A decorative dish or tray can provide that much-needed pop of color or texture without being too distracting.
Or Use Your Lights as a Centerpiece
Consider replacing your center bouquet with a more permanent fixture. A low-hanging pendant light or chandelier creates visual interest in the center of the table without taking up any table space! Calling a lighting fixture a centerpiece might sound like a cop-out, but a good pendant, chandelier, or island light will really pull its weight in your dining decor. The tricky part is that the light fixture does have to be perfectly aligned for the effect to work. A well-placed lighting fixture can help anchor a dining table placed in a large, open great room. And one on a good dimmer switch can go a long way toward setting the mood for your dinner party.
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Layer Your Lighting for Every Occasion
What counts as “good mood lighting” can depend on the tone you want to set and the type of gathering. Amber candlelight isn’t a good match for a Sunday brunch, nor are bright overheads going to do a holiday meal any favors. Layering lighting – or, having more than one type of light to choose from – can give you the flexibility you need to get the right look for any occasion. Ideally, one of these lights is a big window, as nothing beats natural light. In addition to the iconic over-table chandelier, you also want to consider wall sconces, recessed lighting, or even cabinet lighting on a buffet or china cabinet. They say you eat with your eyes first, and casting your meal in the right light can make all the difference.
Designing a dining room that works with a contemporary family definitely requires foregoing a few tried and true “rules” of interior decorating. A modern dining room has to earn the square footage it takes up, and that means furnishing the space with an eye towards flexibility, comfort, and companionship.