With changing lifestyles, hectic and conflicting timetables, lack of space etc. all have contributed to the decline of the separate dining room in recent decades. Once it was the heart of the home, but in modern homes the kitchen has replaced it. Whether you have a separate dining room or it’s part of the kitchen or living room, even it the family only eats together occasionally and you rarely entertain, your dining area needs to be practical and comfortable. Nothing is more disturbing to eating comfort than being in a passage route, having to pull in your chair to let someone past. The dining area should also be close to where the food is prepared. A pleasant view adds to the enjoyment of food, so try to place the table near French doors or a window, where it also benefits from natural light.
Before you decide to site or decorate your dining area consider your family’s eating habits and whether you entertain or not. Consider the number that needs to be accommodated and their ages. Fancy décor may be not such a good idea with small children. Will the room be used during the day or just at night? If you are into entertaining, do you like to have large or small groups, do you like it to formal or informal, and what type of mood to you want to create? A dining room that can be dressed up for special occasions, yet serve the everyday needs of the family can work well.
A separate dining room allows you to escape from the everyday things and to relax over a meal with family or friends. For special occasions, it allows you to bring out eg. the good china or to decorate the table in a special way. You can be more adventurous with the décor on a dining room than eg. in a bedroom or living room, where you spend longer periods of time. If it’s only used at night you don’t have to worry about natural light. You could use colours like reds. If you have well-proportioned windows, you can create a grand windows treatment with swags and tails. For convenience the room should be close to the kitchen and in particular a room leading off the kitchen is ideal for family meals and more formal entertaining. If you don’t have a throughway, a serving hatch is a good idea.
A kitchen / dining area combination is very popular at the moment and is less formal and more family orientated than the separate dining room. Family meals maybe the only time everyone is together so it’s important the setting is convenient, enjoyable and relaxing as possible, you don’t want people worrying about spills etc. You have access to the cooking area, food, cutlery etc. If space permits you could partition off the dining area with eg. a counter-top unit, which could also be used as a breakfast bar. Use colour to co-ordinate the décor and soft furnishings, therefore creating a separate identify for dining.
A living room / dining area can also work well, particularly where a dividing wall has been removed. If possible have the dining area at the end nearest the kitchen. Having the dining area with the living room is a sensible arrangement and can provide comfortable surroundings for mealtimes. It can also provide extra place to study, do paperwork etc. between meals. The room’s shape may suggest the site of the dining area eg. alcove formed by a bay window. If the room is big enough it may be worth creating a visual break between the two areas. You could do this with eg. a freestanding double fronted cabinet or open shelving system. Change in floor level could also be used. The lower level for the seating area and upper level for dining.
You can approach the decorating in two ways. The first is to keep everything simple and use a single range of colours, fabrics etc. for both areas, this will create a sense of space. Or you could emphasise the difference between the living and dining areas with subtle contrasts, but avoid decorating the two areas in very different styles or it will look visually confused. A dual-purpose room is worth considering if the dining room is underused. You could have a study/dining room where the table could double as desk, or have a folding table with a sofa bed, which could act as a dining/guest room. A conservatory would also make a wonderful dining area particularly on a warm evening.
Surface–Wall & Floor Covering
The type of floor covering you use will depend on the style of dining area, but it makes good sense to go for a robust one, because with eating, you have the risk of food spills. A family room will have to stand up to daily wear and tear, more than a formal dining room. To create an easy-going styles choose flooring which is neutral in colour and easy to keep clean eg. wood-strip flooring or polished floorboards. A living room / dining area can have the same flooring throughout for a roomy look with a rug or two to give identity to the separate areas or have the carpet in the living section. Keep the colours tonally close as possible for a chic look. It may be possible to use carpet in a separate dining room. Wall-to-wall carpeting muffles sound and provides comfort and warmth underfoot. Rich colours are very dramatic and help create a sense of intimacy. You could use all-over patterned one or a plain coloured carpet with a border. A washable cotton rug under a dining table offers some protection to the carpet. Terracotta tiles or vinyl are other options for a dining area, but keep in mind the noise of wooden chairs on a hard floor, particularly if there aren’t other soft surfaces in the room.
The wall treatment will also depend on the style and mood you want to create. If you are decorating a separate room, you have more options, as you are not restricted by the décor of the surrounding areas eg. the kitchen or living room. Since the dining room is not a place that is used for long periods every day, you can go for a more striking decorating scheme. Intense colours and rich patterns make a dramatic background for entertaining and will look well at night. Wallpaper creates a cosy quality. Natural prints with leaves, stems or flowers look well in a room, which over looks a garden. To create a period style install reproduction moldings, cornices, and ceiling centrepieces, but only if the room can take them. If the room is small it may be better to have a soft modern style or just use one reproduction feature.
Buying dining furniture is a big investment so shop around before you purchase. The dining table is the centrepiece of dining room/area, so it should be given a lot of consideration. They come in a lot of styles, shapes and sizes. You have round, oval, square, and rectangular shapes. In a small room, a round table can seat more, it also allows for conversation. In a bigger room the choice can be a rectangular or oval table, but make sure it’s not too big for the space. Dining chairs needn’t match the table but they should be in keeping with its style. You need somewhere to store crockery, cutlery, glasses etc. A traditional sideboard, dresser or modern units are all possible choices and they can also double as serving tables.
Lighting & Accessories
Using different light sources in a dining room/area is a good idea. Combine a central light over the dining table with discreet side lighting. Softer secondary light can come from table lamps placed on a sideboard or dresser. Fit lights with dimmers to create atmosphere and don’t forget the charm of real candlelight. Decorating the table with tableware and accessories can be great fun. Colourful tablecloths or tablemats hide a multitude of sins—a cheap table can be disguised with a long, bright cloth and made a feature of it for a special occasion. A fresh flower arrangement adds to the atmosphere, but keep it low so people can see and talk to each other.
Eating should be an enjoyable experience, a time for families and friends to sit together. Balancing a tray in front of the TV or eating at the breakfast bar is ok for snacks, but it is no way to enjoy food on a regular basis.
Mary D. Kelly