Dining rooms for the modern age

Courtesy dreamstime.com.

Written by Jane Morgan

Food has become a cult phenomenon in entertaining these days with a lot of fuss being made about locally sourced, farm-raised, antibiotic, hormone-free, small batch, free-range and environmentally friendly meals.

Not to speak of the plethora of nut-, soy-, dairy- and gluten-free vegan treats for dessert. All of this is to be washed down with ethical bean, fairly traded coffee laced with a broad range of nut milk and organic sweeteners. That’s a mouthful in every sense of the word. This trend is called “high/low,” which means that the best ingredients and preparation techniques are used with even the simplest food. I think of it as bringing drama to the everyday. 

What has followed is a design trend that reflects this vibe, namely open-plan dining spaces, which are considered great for entertaining by every home decorating show host on HGTV. Indeed in recent years, new construction developers have shunned dining rooms completely in favor of the “great room,” where everyone eats, watches TV, works, cooks and all but sleeps. As the pendulum is now swinging back, separate dining rooms are again gaining favor. Instead of returning to a formal dining atmosphere, I believe we can translate the “high/low” trend of eating into a spatial concept by bringing drama to a more casual lifestyle. 

Formal dining rooms went out of vogue, because they felt too precious, turning into museums filled with inherited pieces that may or may not have worked. Then in an effort to cram in as many people as possible, there was frequently too much furniture, making it hard to get in and out of the room. No one enjoys climbing over other guests just to visit the loo. You can create a stunning space that feels more suited to busy lives by keeping it comfortable while adding unusual details. The following are some guidelines for achieving this balance :

Use round or square dining tables. There is no social hierarchy and no one is stuck at the end. Forgo the iron chairs that are a sculptural ode to Industrial Age machinery. If you want people to relax at the table, choose comfy seating no matter what era it’s from. The trick is to mix the style of table and chairs to create interest. Don’t get a matched set. 

Use an area rug under the table both for a cozy feeling and as another opportunity for pattern and color. Paint the walls a bold or dark color or invest in statement wallpaper. Take more risks with artwork by going with oversized prints. Make sure the furniture is varied in materials, incorporating metals, fabric, wood and glass. 

The hottest news in design right now is lighting. The International Contemporary Furniture Fair recently exhibited exciting forms that looked like floating sculptures. New strides in LED technology have created an opportunity for subtle artistry beyond what was previously possible. Even if your taste is not modern, use traditional fixtures in an unusual way. Hang two small chandeliers over a table instead of one large one. The drama is in the details. 

I’ve read a lot of advice given by so-called experts on how to make a small dining area function better. A banquette or a bench used as seating looks stylish, but I wouldn’t want to be trapped on one if the conversation goes south. Those collapsing tables that attach to a wall seem versatile, but nobody ever bothers to adjust them. In reality, they either stay down and useless or up and in the way. And does anybody ever really use those mobile bar carts that are touted as “fun and space-saving alternatives”? If you ask me, they take up more space than they save and scream “single-girl kitsch.” I feel like I should be looking for a princess phone nearby. 

My advice? If your eating space is too small to fit a reasonable size table with adequate circulation space around it, find someplace else to eat. Nobody wants to be monitoring his elbows. Instead, get an oversized farm-style coffee table for the living/family room and set it with placemats, trays, candles and your best china, using large floor pillows for seating.

Think outside the box. Reinvention is the name of the game in 2017.

For more, visit janemorganinteriordesign.com.

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