Here’s a little-known fact - slowly but surely in the UK, the dining room is making a comeback.
Perhaps you’ve previously been tempted to knock down an internal wall to create open plan living space, but are having second thoughts and instead want to breathe new life into your existing dining room? Or you’re moving in to a new build which has a dining room and you need inspiration and ideas? Here we look at the reasons why they’re fashionable again before providing some tips and advice on how to create the perfect set up within your home.
Firstly, here’s some background on how dining rooms became part of domestic living in the first place. They in fact have a long and established history, both in UK homes and worldwide. Ancient Greek and Roman societies were the first to introduce the concept of separate rooms for dining, with the Romans designating a special room within their home, called a triclinium.
Throughout the centuries since, societies have continued to recognise the merits of having a designated, separate room for eating. The Victorians certainly took the concept to a new level, by spending lavishly on all manner of dining room furniture, including chairs and sideboards, in an effort to make dining an event.
Indeed, this Victorian ethos of gathering everyone together and making eating a special occasion is a key reason behind why separate dining rooms are becoming more popular again. The Victorians saw tremendous social value in bringing everyone together in one room and the recent resurgence in popularity is almost certainly due to the fact that modern couples and families like the fact that the dining room brings everyone together in one space.
Over the past decade or so open plan living has been very much in vogue, especially when it comes to merging kitchens or living areas with dining areas. Often, all three share the same open space.
Home owners across the UK have been knocking down internal walls to facilitate open plan living, often at considerable expense. New house builders have also been following the trend, partly as there’s a commercial motivation for doing so – open plan creates an illusion of a greater amount of space which in turn helps market properties to prospective buyers.
The popularity of open plan living certainly isn’t on the wane just yet, but dining rooms are experiencing a quiet resurgence, and for good reason. Open plan dining can feel quite transient and functional, and there’s always the temptation to eat and quickly move on, either to the kitchen or living area. Often, members of the household might well be in the same room, but they’re only convening around the dining table for a relatively short period of time.
Here are some of the key elements for you to consider, starting with the most crucial element of them all…
Successfully choosing the right dining room table is central in every respect to successfully creating your ideal dining room. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider various factors.
For most households, larger gatherings are relatively rare and so it’s best to choose a table size that accommodates regular diners, plus perhaps a couple of guests. A table that’s too big will be under-utilised and will unnecessarily dominate the room.
In terms of dimensions, it’s recommended to try to allow at least 70 cm between the walls and each side, to allow enough room for diners to retract their chairs and leave the table comfortably. However, more than 70 cm gap is recommended if possible, as less than this will mean that it’s difficult for guests to squeeze past others that are already seated.
When shopping for dining tables, most product descriptions will guide you on how many people the table is suitable for. However, if this information isn’t available then it’s best to check the width of each chair and then add 15 to 20 cm gap each side, to ensure that every guest has a comfortable amount of space.
Extending dining tables undoubtedly offer versatility, especially when the number of people dining may vary. An extendable table can increase the capacity when you have larger gatherings but equally can be compacted when there are fewer people dining.
The benefits of being able to extend are appealing to many. The counter argument is that extendable tables are often more expensive and it does limit your choice, with only certain ranges available with extendable versions.
In terms of wooden tables, oak remains an extremely popular choice for many homeowners. It’s usually a good quality choice and is versatile, blending well with a casual or more formal décor.
If you prefer a dark wood, walnut is a popular choice for many or, alternatively, mahogany is a more formal and traditional option. Reclaimed and rustic styles have emerged in recent years and, whilst these are often more suited to the less formal setting of an open plan dining area, they can still work very well if you choose a more relaxed and informal décor for the room itself.
As well as what the table is made from, the shape should also be considered. Rectangular tables are often considered to be a little more formal whereas circular / round tables are perceived to be a little more convivial, with everyone around the table being able to converse more easily. There’s certainly no right and wrong choice, but the table will certainly contribute towards the ambience of the room.
Dining room sets make it easy to choose a table and matching chairs. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that interior design trends are much more flexible and accommodating these days, and your furniture doesn’t necessarily need to match, it simply needs to coordinate.
Therefore, you may want to choose your table and chairs from two separate ranges, or even two separate retailers. As well as giving you more freedom of choice you’ll also create a more unique room as a result of mixing and matching furniture.
Comfort is also a key consideration, especially when you plan to host meals that could last several hours. More information on choosing the right dining chairs can be found in our dining chair buying guide.
As a general rule, unless you have a particularly large room, try to keep other furniture to a minimum. Otherwise the room can feel quite confined and, on a practical level, you could find yourself brushing past or bumping in to furniture.
That said, if you’re confident that you have ample space then a small or large sideboard can not only add aesthetic appeal to the room but can also be practically very beneficial, providing discrete storage space for crockery and other items, in turn helping the room appear more streamlined and tidy.
As a smaller alternative to a sideboard, a console table can also work well, offering some decorative and storage benefits, without taking up as much space.
As with any room in the house, lighting can make all the difference. Depending on the style of dining room, a chandelier could create an impressive focal point. Alternatively, if you opt for recessed or other forms of lighting it’s worth ensuring you have the ability to dim the lights, thus helping to vary the ambience depending on the occasion.
It’s also important to consider natural light. Placing a reasonably large mirror in the right position can reflect and tremendously enhance natural light.
In almost all cases it’s best not to place a television in the room, as this will undermine many of the social merits that a dining room brings in the first place. However, music will certainly help to create a convivial atmosphere and so it’s best to plan for this.
Unni and Evans is an independent online furniture retailer, offering a number of modern furniture ranges, including a wide choice of high quality dining room furniture and chairs.