I am a huge fan of the formal dining room. They’re beautiful, elegant and they create a separate space for intimate gatherings or fun, frivolous celebrations. They can provide a moment of Zen in a busy day and – like a formal living room – they’re often one of the only spaces in the house that remain free of clutter and full of high-quality furniture and furnishings.
On the flip side, a formal dining room can be a huge waste of space. Some families only use theirs a handful of times (if that) per year. Because the room sits largely unused, it winds up becoming a catch-all and hoarders delight, filled with all the projects, boxes, paperwork and crafting ideas you plan to get to some dreamy “Someday”
Ways to re-think the formal dining room
So which is it for you? Are you someone who adores the formal dining room space but wishes it were used more frequently? Or are you someone who adores their formal dining room but is ready to re-think it’s under-used square footage, in the hopes that it might be more useful in another configuration?
Here are some ideas for making the most of your formal dining room space – or eliminating it altogether – depending on what you decide.
How often do you use it?
If your answer is less than four times per year – or even six times a year – I highly recommend you brainstorm ways to make better use of valuable living space. If you just cringed reading those words because they resonated with you, then start using your dining room more.
You don’t have to have formal dinner parties to use a dining room. Maybe it’s time to have some Friday happy hour socials with neighbors and friends. What about making it a priority to have a phone-free, weekend brunch with the family every weekend – Saturday or Sunday – depending on the household’s weekend schedule? Even end-of-the-week pizza nights or taco bar dinners can take place on the ample dining table while giving the meal a more “connected” vibe. Who says it has to be formal? Altogether, used and enjoyed is just fine.
Expand into an open floor plan
If you’re planning an upcoming remodel, think about whether or not an open floor plan might be more your style. Older homes are often compartmentalized and they were built that way for coal/wood heat conserving reasons. Now that homes are air-tight and more efficient, it’s economical to have a more open floor plan – and homeowners appreciate the larger and more spacious feel. Also, those interested in creating more senior-friendly or accessible designs are beginning to appreciate the mobile-friendly aspects of open designs.
If you’re feeling cramped in your current, compartmentalized floor plan, it’s time to work with an interior designer and envision the more open possibilities. And, don’t give up on a formal living area, even if it isn’t a designated room. Pony walls can go a long way towards dividing spaces while maintaining the open feel. Similarly, dine-in spots on one side of the kitchen can be separate from a larger dining table in the open living space. The former might be the “everyday” eating spot, while the latter remains the choice spot for special gatherings. Even in an open floor plan, you can find plenty of ways to create a warm and inviting dining room space.
If you do go this route, with separate eat-in kitchen and formal dining area, be mindful of clutter, which accumulates quickly on a big, accessible table. Families might want to invest in high-quality custom cabinetry and/or shelving specifically designed to house and organize items that might wind up on the dining room table otherwise.
Create a new space altogether
So you don’t eat in the dining room more than once a year, but the whole family uses it as art central on a weekly basis. Or the kids practice their musical instruments in there because it’s quiet. Maybe you’ve shoved the dining room table against the wall in order to make way for all the toys and games so the kids have a play space separate from yours. Are you scrapbooking? Knitting? Embroidering? Doing yoga on a daily basis along with a little stationary biking or treadmilling?
In that case, your household might benefit from treating the former dining room as an empty spare room, for which the possibilities are endless.
Are you struggling to find the right balance between formal dining room and wasted living space? It’s not a comfortable place to be. Contact the nearest interior designer and brainstorm a solution that makes perfect sense most of the time, rather than three nights per year…