There have been few design dilemmas that have perplexed me as much as designing a dining room. I just never seem to be happy with the design of our dining room for very long.
In our old house, we went from this dining room:
To turning the dining room into a playroom for our kids:
To this new and improved, lighter, brighter dining room:
To this mix of modern and traditional dining room:
And then, in our new house, more of a farmhouse-style, rustic/industrial dining room:
Maybe dining rooms are hard to design because of the nature of the room itself: it’s a dining room, but we rarely use it for dining. We eat Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners there, as well as the occasional meal where we need more space than our breakfast room offers, but otherwise, it’s a really more like a giant hallway from the living room to the kitchen. Lately, it’s where the Risk game board stays during weeks-long competitions between the kids and their friends.
I grew up with a formal dining room. I mean, FORMAL with a capital “F.” Like silver that was polished and a traditional-style table with needlepoint cushions on the Queen Anne chairs.
But we just aren’t formal people. Even our holiday “formal” dinners are casual.
So I’m torn between the idea that a dining room is that, i.e., a formal space, and that a dining room could be a more casual room where you actually want to sit down a while and eat or work or play games.
We have a breakfast room off our kitchen, so that becomes the default eating/playing/working surface.
But I wonder – if I made the dining room more comfortable, more casual, less formal – whether we would use it as the default eating spot or, at least, use it more often (SPOILER ALERT: I later find out – here’s the post where I talk about using our dining room more as a result of a disaster!). Then I could turn the breakfast room into something else…although I have no idea what. Maybe more kitchen storage? A more casual eating area with an island for prep and stools for gathering – more of an extension of the kitchen?
In designing the dining room to be less formal and more comfortable, I’ve been thinking about:
- Changing the chairs from upholstered chairs to something less formal and more indestructible?
- Changing the rug from gray to something funky, like a light bright yellow?
- Selling the chunky, orangey-colored buffet for a more modern, stylish cabinet?
Spoiler alert: I ended up selling the buffet! Read about what happened next here.
What do you think? Do you use your dining room for dining or for more casual living? How would you design a dining room to use it more often?
I think your dining room looks really nice and pretty casual. I would not change the table, chairs or buffet. The chairs look very comfortable and the kids obviously use it for games. Looks like a great place for homework too. You can always change the rug and wall decor if you want it to look a bit funkier. However, if you can better utilize the space in your kitchen….storage, counters, etc., then do so. That will “force” you to use the dining room. Once you start to use it all the time it will become the norm.
Karen Cooper says
I like the idea of changing the decor to make it funkier and leaving the larger pieces. We don’t have a budget for a huge overhaul, so that could be the best way. Thank you!
Eliesa @ Pinterest Addict says
We use our dining room several times a year because we always end up having family birthdays, holidays and other random get-togethers here. But, other than that, it’s just a junk catcher. I wish we could do away with it, and make it a more usable space, but I don’t know where we would eat for holidays (between 20 and 30 people to seat). Can’t wait to see what you decide to do with it.
Karen Cooper says
Exactly – that’s the rub! Our dining room table seats 10-12 when extended, so it’s perfect for family holidays and get-togethers, and I love, love the table. I just want to make the rest of it less formal, so we’ll use it more often and not just to store junk. Thanks!!
Cheryl @ Artzzle says
I also like your current dining room. You would have to use it more if you were to go ahead and re-do the other eating area. Plus that project would give you lots of fun extras in the kitchen. You can always tweak the dining room, as you said with changes like a different cabinet. I like your blog because you’re always changing things … me too!
Karen Cooper says
Thanks, Cheryl! I know – it drives Dear Husband crazy that I’m always thinking about how the rooms work and whether to change them around! It’s just what I do. I agree that, if I change the decor to be less formal, we’d probably use the room more often and that might solve the problem altogether. Thanks!
Hi Karen, in New Zealand we don’t go in for formal dining rooms very much but ones that function for formal and informal purposes. I would simply stage your room present room a little differently, lose the lamps on the sideboard unless you NEED them and replace the mirror with a colorful piece of art and an ornament in the sideboard.
The breakfast room could be for the children and their friends, leaving the dining room for coffees, formal or informal dining.
Karen Cooper says
That is a great plan – I love it! I’m going to shop my house and attic first and see if I can make it less formal with what we have. Great! Thank you!! And welcome from NZ!! That’s so cool!
I agree with the other comments that if you changed the eating area in your kitchen to another use, using the dining room would become the norm. I really like the features in your dining room: the exposed brick, the windows, the silverware art flanking the windows! Maybe you could let that silverware art be the inspiration for a more “informal” dining room. I have used old forks to hang art from in my kitchen. I like the way you have the buffet with the lamps on it. Think about painting the buffet for a more cottage or country look. Make the lamps less formal by changing lampshades from plain to a vintage check, floral or plaid. Changing the fabric on the chairs would relax the look and feel, too. I’d keep the upholstered chairs for comfort, but I know reupholstering is too expensive! Maybe the addition to a plaid or check or vintage table cloth would take the focus away from the formal feel of the chairs. A casual, country centerpiece, too? Find a place in the dining room for the wonderful white cabinet in the kitchen eating area!
I really got a kick out of the stages your old house dining room went through! In our house that my husband built, our now dining room started out as our bedroom when the upstairs was still unfinished (before children!), then it became a den/guestroom, and most recently we removed a wall between that room and the kitchen sitting/eating area to make it a dining room and I love it. When it’s just the two of us (or three when our college age son is home) we sit at a round table in front of a bay window in the kitchen sitting area. When our daughter and son-in-law are here or friends and relatives, we’re in the dining room. I have a rectangular folding table that gets set up to extend the dining table into the kitchen when we have a really big crowd! It’s not a formal dining room, especially as it opens to the kitchen, but it does have a bit of a different feel from the kitchen area. The hutch is painted, the pedestal of the table is painted, chairs are wood. The covers of old Irish themed sheet music are matted and framed hanging on the walls. Old bottles, dug up and collected by my father-in-law, sit on the window sills. The dining room gets used often and without any fuss. I can’t wait to see what you decide to do! I know you’ll have fun doing it, too!
Karen Cooper says
Karen, Thank you for your thoughtful response and ideas! I agree about making it less formal looking. For the buffet, I’m torn, because I could paint it, but it’s really just too big for the space. I bought it eons ago for our old house, and the only place it fits in our current home is in front of the windows, and I hate blocking the windows! I might decide to sell it and get something that fits better in the space and – as a bonus – is less formal, but we’ll see. Will have to save up for that first! Thank you again – I really appreciate your thoughtful ideas!
Mary D says
hmmm how would i change it ——to increase its use—-i like the buffet – but i think it & its staging is what lends a bit of formality to the room, would find another place for it…not fond of round mirror on brick column/ chimney – think its kinda distracting- round and too oversize there… and i like the brick in it simplicity – but could see shelves off to the side the chimney column books/ toys& games wireless printer…somethings maybe n baskets…3 shelves the lowest being at the top of base molding the 3rd at waist level – 3rd shelf can be like buffet top ….can have a mirror behind it and if space 2 shelves above it ! for display purpose….lower shelves are for utility … the flatware prints denotes dining…lets get something colorful or black & white nature, abstract …just not dining related…this room will now serves as homework , satellite office …whatever …other reader suggesting you re-purpose casual eating nook…it might be a plan…
Karen Cooper says
Great ideas, Mary! I agree re the mirror on the brick. Once it was down, I could see more of the detail in the brick and loved it. Thank you!
I also drive my husband crazy with constantly wanting to rearrange our rooms. I’ve always done this – especially when I lived in tiny studio apartments. I get bored and start moving stuff around. But it’s almost like having a whole new house – and way cheaper than an actual real estate transaction!
I’ve been trying to talk him into turning our dining room into a home office. We need one and don’t have the space. I want to move the table into our living room – traditionally known as a “great room” – and put our desks in there. He thinks it would be weird. And we do use our dining room table daily for dinner though, because we no longer really fit into our breakfast nook area comfortably.
I agree with what someone said upthread that if you went ahead and converted your breakfast area into something else, that would force you to use the dining room. If it were me, I would also bring the less formal aesthetic of your breakfast area in to the dining room. I think “formal” formal dining rooms are kind of on their way out – as they don’t really fit modern lifestyles. In our dining room, we eat dinner there, but also do homework, play cards and games, etc. I am in the process of making our furnishings and decor there fit the more multifunction use of the room. We also have a more formal dining room “set” that is way fancier than we have ever been, so I want to switch it out for something less matchy matchy and more funky. You could do that – or make your breakfast area your default dining space and make the dining room something else again.
I think your dining room now is really beautiful and inviting and could be used for meals plus other stuff easily, if you decide you want that.
Karen Cooper says
Exactly! You summarized exactly what I’ve been thinking – that it’s a formal room, but that formal dining rooms don’t really work or aren’t needed anymore – certainly we don’t use it that way – and so I/we have to break out of the mindset that a dining room has to be this formal space and make it more usable. Thank you!!