Simple touches for thoughtful dining room design from a pro

Designer Annabel Berry from Design Federation shares key inspiration for dining room design

With open-plan living so much a part of our homes these days, traditional dining rooms have morphed into living spaces. Whether you have a designated room for dining, or just a table and chairs between the kitchen and living areas, make it a welcoming place to come together and share the events of the day or entertain friends over lunch and dinner.

Start by defining the space with a rug that’s large enough to house the table and chairs. When choosing a table, it should be large enough to give each setting a comfortable .6m of table space, but small enough to allow that same space between the chairs and any walls. Beautiful mood lighting is key, so look for a scene-stealing pendant for above the table. To create an intimate space hang it low, about a metre above the tabletop.

How you decorate your dining area will depend on whether you use it only for eating, or whether it has to multi-task as a work-from-home desk for you, a homework station for the kids and a workbench for everyone’s hobbies.

If your dining space is a workhorse and you conduct long Zoom meetings from the table, comfortable seating is essential so choose upholstered chairs rather than cool benches. While a vase of flowers or bowl of fruit is a nice touch on the table, take care not to style your centrepiece with too many objects you’ll only have to remove when you sit down to work each morning.

If there’s room, a buffet is a great addition as it will take overflow from the table and you can use it as storage for large platters, glasses and an impromptu bar.

Use colour

Dining rooms are social rooms and, like kitchens, are at the heart of your home. Given that the dining room is a place where you bring people together to socialise and share a delicious meal, you need to consider how you would like your guests to feel in the space. Colour is a great way to start building a mood. Colours like mustard or ochre are warm and energetic and encourage conversation, while cooler colours, such as green and blue, create a more relaxed atmosphere. Art, cushions, rugs, decor items on your buffet or a table centrepiece are simple ways to add colour, and they’re easier and cheaper to swap out than big-ticket items like tables or chairs if you decide to change your colour scheme.

Get the spacing right

It’s essential to make sure your guests have enough room to pull their chair out from the table to stand up, without hitting their neighbour, the wall or another piece of furniture. Make sure there is a good distance between your chairs: the rule of thumb is 30cm to allow people to get up easily. However, like all rules this one can be broken – at a dinner party it can be fun to get as many people around the table as possible. Table depth is important. Depending on the occasion, a rectangular table with a depth of at least 900mm allows for enough room for food, platters and a centrepiece. Another option is a round dining table, which is more social and creates a better environment for conversation. Rugs can work under dining tables, but they need to be large enough to allow space behind the chairs when people stand up – you don’t want the chair legs teetering on the rug’s edge.

Comfort is key

It’s important to invest in comfortable chairs to allow guests to relax, eat and socialise. Upholstered chairs with strong backs and arms are preferable for this reason. If your guests are comfortable they won’t dash away once they’ve finished eating – instead, they’ll settle in for a good night of conversation and fun. Just ensure that the arms of your chairs can go under your table if space is at a premium and you need to push them in after each meal.

Mix up your lighting

Mood lighting is critical at night so have different lighting options available to suit the occasion. Install dimmers on your main lights, use candles when hosting dinner parties and complement these with floor lamps to cast a lovely soft glow. Don’t underestimate how lighting enhances the atmosphere.

Make a statement

A bold colour on all the walls or a feature wallpaper around the whole room will make a style statement as well as making the space feel cosy. A large artwork can bring a dining room alive. Think of some of your favourite restaurants – would they be as memorable if they were just a plain white room with no personality? Have fun creating a space that people will remember.

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