How to define a dining space in an open plan living room

With open plan living the norm in many homes, it’s hard to know how to define your dining space. From tables to seating and style, here’s your complete guide 


How to define a dining space in an open plan living room

The formal dining room is almost a thing of the past these days with open-plan kitchen and dining areas the new norm. Entertaining friends and family is more sociable in an open-plan space as everyone can be part of the action, including the cook. Kiwis have fallen in love with open-plan living as it suits our casual eating habits and love of indoor-outdoor flow, particularly during the warmer months. However, these types of spaces can be tricky to style as there are so few walls to work with.

When it comes to dining areas, it’s all about zoning the space while allowing access to adjoining areas such as the kitchen and living room. Here are a few tips on how to style an open-plan dining area, from choosing the right table and chairs to furniture placement and cool accessory suggestions.

Choosing your dining table

Before you buy your dining table, there are a few things you should consider. First, how many people does it need to accommodate on a regular basis? What type of activities will the table be used for – homework, arts and crafts, dinner parties, poker nights or just casual dining? By thinking through every possible scenario, you’ll be able to narrow down the best size and surface to suit your needs.

A solid wooden table can be quite expensive but will stand the test of time and can always be sanded down and refinished if needed. Alternatively, many on-trend tables are made from a hard-wearing veneer or laminate which can be more affordable than solid wood. Luxe-looking marble tables are making a comeback and seem to work with various interior styles, but marble can be high-maintenance due to its porous nature, so keep this in mind and ask the supplier if it’s right for your family.

Glass tables were popular in the 1980s and 1990s but are very polarising – people either love or hate them. If you have a small space, a glass table is great as it allows light to pass through and has a subtle reflective quality.

Don’t forget to consider the style of the other furniture in your home when choosing a table. Draw on these styles or colours (or both) when making your selection.


Choosing your seating

The great news is that there is an almost endless array of stylish dining chairs out there, and there really aren’t any right or wrong options – just be guided by your taste and your budget.

While matching dining suites used to be very popular, a more mix-and-match approach is gaining favour these days. If you entertain a lot and like to spend time at the table, a comfy chair with an upholstered seat and/or back is worth considering. Chairs with arms are great if you enjoy long, lazy dinner parties.

The most popular style of dining chair features either a solid wood or veneer seat which is low-maintenance and easy to wipe down. Rattan and woven leather chairs are great for adding texture to a dining space and can break up the solidity of your table.

In classic or traditional-style interiors you’ll sometimes see matching chairs with a different style at the head and foot of the table, which can look fabulous. Eclectic settings where all the chairs are different styles or colours can be fun, too. Try out some different arrangements and see what works for you.


How to add style and define your space

As your table is a large surface, it is a good idea to break it up with some decorative objects when not in use – a tray adorned with a few grouped items is a good choice. A candle arrangement, a cluster of mementos from your travels, or even a jug and glasses are all options that would look fab – on or off a tray – and help to soften the surface. A vase of flowers or foliage is a classic look, adding colour and interest and making a space feel inviting. Choosing a tall vase with some long-stemmed flowers or foliage included in the arrangement will add variety in height and scale.

If you have a corner in your dining space that lacks natural light, a floor lamp can be added for extra lighting and interest. Mirrors make a dining space feel warm and cosy but try to think about what they are reflecting – a beautiful light, an outdoor vista or some art is better than the back of a sofa or a blank wall.

Sideboards, buffets or even a console table can all be introduced to an open-plan space to help define a dining area. When styling them, use items of different heights and textures to create visual interest. For a finishing touch a dose of greenery will always look great whether it be faux or the real thing.

Open-plan dining spaces typically feature two types of layout:

  • In the corner Two sides of this retro luxe setting (left) open into other spaces – the kitchen and living room. To complement this layout, a large shelving unit has been placed behind the table to help define the dining space (and also create a handy display). The other wall has a mirror facing into the living area to bring in more light and colour.
  • Open on three sides If your dining space only has one wall (like our modern monochrome setting on the previous page), it can be a challenge to create a comfortable dining zone. The most effective way to anchor a space like this is by using a large rug to break up the space and create a zone within the floor plan. The trick is to get a rug big enough to accommodate both the dining table and chairs when they are pulled out. A 2m x 3m rug generally fits most dining suites, but if you have a larger table go with a 3m x 4m size. If in doubt, always go bigger.

You might also consider adding a sideboard or buffet to further delineate the dining space in this type of layout. These are also great for storing placemats, extra glasses, platters and other things you may need for dinner parties.

Words by: Vanessa Nouwens. Photography by: Wendy Fenwick.

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