The dining room is becoming an increasingly extinct animal, the formal dining room, that is. In recent years very few projects in our practice, new homes or renovations, included this once mandatory space. While the dining table is certainly a key feature of any home, the formal space to host it, is not.
The first question to answer when thinking about the dining room, is to identify the need and want of the user. Large families, extended families and those seeking to maintain traditional schedules may want to consider keeping this designated space. Most however, see the formal dining room as a space used 2-3 times a year, usually for Thanksgiving and during the holidays with the rest of the year serving as glorified storage.
For the latter, the dining room has evolved into an open concept space planning that is hosting the table, much more integrated into the other living areas. It is not an isolated space, but rather part of the overall daily use of space. Here the dining table serves many functions over the actual room. Homework, breakfast, dinner, family meetings… all gather around this space before moving over to the couch next to it.
As a further evolution, we have done projects that incorporated a table height seating area into a kitchen island. This is a great alternative for areas with limited space. See our post on kitchens, for more.
If you decide to keep the formal dining room space, there are a few considerations to address. First, what is the size of the table for maximum use. Typically a table is in daily use for a small number of people, but when gatherings occur, this number can easily double or triple: Plan for the maximum “extended” table to ensure that everyone can move around the chairs comfortably. A chair position should be around 18” to the back with at least another 24” when someone is sitting in it and another wants to pass behind. A 10 person dining table should be 3’- 4’ wide and about 10’ long. Plus seating at each end, makes the preferred minimum size for a dining room 18’ long. The more people are anticipated, this can easily grow to 24’. A ratio of 2 to 3, length to width provides a good balance.
Next consider the butler or other form of commode to be located at either the head end or the side, depending on layout. Will this be used for fine china storage? Serving for events? Other storage? Enough space must be allocated for furniture and access accordingly.
Finally, consider lighting. A great dining room wants a great chandelier. In addition to the center piece, I also like to include recessed lighting at the perimeter, roughly over the chairs. This should be on a separate, dimmable switch to provide additional or ambient lighting for the space.