The great din­ing room re­vival

Af­ter years of ca­sual kitchen sup­pers, the ta­bles are turn­ing and the ded­i­cated din­ing room is mak­ing a come­back

The Irish Times - Thursday - Property - - Property The Market -

At the turn of the mil­len­nium, many home­own­ers be­gan re­al­is­ing that for­mal, ma­hogany-filled rooms were no longer con­ducive to modern fam­ily liv­ing and a waste of pre­cious square footage. Since then, the tra­di­tional Ir­ish din­ing room has been dy­ing a slow death. Cue the con­ver­sion of din­ing quar­ters into play­rooms, home of­fices and man caves, or knock­ing through to cre­ate larger, open-plan kitchen and liv­ing spa­ces.

But the ta­bles are turn­ing and the for­mal din­ing room is hav­ing a quiet re­nais­sance. Which is a good thing surely, as en­ter­tain­ing in the kitchen is get­ting old. In­evitably guests end up prop­ping up the is­land, amid dirty pots and kids’ home­work, while prof­fer­ing ad­vice on how best to stew rhubarb.

The struc­ture and for­mal­ity a din­ing room brings to din­ner time can also be viewed as a plus now that meal­times have be­come so hap­haz­ard and can­ni­balised by tech­nol­ogy. We’re all too busy What­sAp­ping to talk, let alone mind­fully sup our soup.

In­te­rior de­signer Sara Cos­grove, who has re­cently fin­ished re­fur­bish­ing her own Geo r g i a n h o me in Dún Laoghaire, uses her for­mal din­ing room sev­eral times a week.

“It’s the only place where we down phones and prop­erly talk. My hus­band and I try to eat in there most evenings, and when my mum comes to visit it is non-ne­go­tiable. With two kids un­der two, we en­ter­tain more dur­ing the day, so it’s the per­fect space for big brunches on Sun­days with friends or fam­ily, or af­ter­noon teas to cel­e­brate a birth­day.

“I love how it keeps the prep out of sight and when the plates dis­ap­pear to the kitchen, peo­ple tend to linger and re­lax and chat. Whereas when we eat in the kitchen the pots taunt me and I can’t sit down un­til ev­ery­thing is cleaned up. All that rat­tling and ac­tiv­ity ru­ins any sense of un­wind­ing af­ter a meal.”


Cos­grove has also seen a re-emer­gence of the din­ing room through her work in re­cent years. “If a room is too for­mal, dif­fi­cult to clean or fussy you will most likely avoid it, so to en­sure the din­ing room is used, stay away from fussy, pre­cious fur­ni­ture.

De­sign sen­si­bly, start­ing with a ro­bust ta­ble and com­fort­able chairs, and if you have rau­cous kids, add lock­able stor­age for any oc­ca­sional ware that needs pro­tect­ing.” Novem­ber is Food Month in The Ir­ish Times. You will find food-re­lated con­tent in all of our sec­tions, plus reader events, com­pe­ti­tions and lots of ex­clu­sive con­tent at irish­

Mean­while, Ian Galvin, a key player in Ir­ish fash­ion since the 1980s, says the din­ing room in his Vic­to­rian house in Tramore is the best restau­rant in town.

“My din­ing room is the fo­cal point of my home and where all the ac­tion hap­pens. When you walk in the hall door, your eye is drawn straight to the big Ital­ian onyx din­ing ta­ble, which over­looks the roar­ing sea and wild beach out­side,” says Galvin, who hosts a din­ner at least once a fort­night.

“When the fire is lit and the ta­ble dressed, it’s the most stun­ning set­ting for a din­ner party. It’s the best way to so­cialise in the coun­try­side, and frankly it’s much cheaper than din­ing out all the time.

“I al­ways re­mem­ber as a kid not be­ing al­lowed to touch any- thing in the din­ing room and ev­ery­thing was cov­ered up with pro­tec­tors or else locked be­hind brown doors. They were mis­er­able rooms so I’ve made sure my din­ing room, which He­len McAlin­den and Karen Millen helped me de­sign, is warm, stylish, comfy and invit­ing, with loads of mood light­ing and tex­tured sur­faces. And if I’m go­ing to spend ¤50 on a crys­tal glass, I’m cer­tainly not go­ing to lock it away.”

Hence Galvin’s din­ing room is al­most be­jew­elled in Tip­per­ary crys­tal, and col­lect­ing glass­ware has be­come one of his pet pas­sions.


When it comes to ta­blescap­ing, Galvin has it down to a fine art and aims to style the din­ing room to co­in­cide with the sea­sons.

“I pick all the flow­ers and fo­liage from my gar­den and make cen­tre­pieces and gar­lands rel­a­tive to the time of year or cel­e­bra­tion. Some­times it’s big dra­matic bou­quets or hy­drangeas and roses, but come Jan­uary, snow­drops and daf­fodils make a sim­ple but pure state­ment.

“I also try to set places with dif­fer­ent crock­ery (in­clud­ing Sy­bil Con­nolly ware), china and dec­o­ra­tive mats (from Satina, a bou­tique in Tramore), de­pend­ing on the mood of the evening.”

Galvin is an avid pas­try chef and guests are of­ten treated to home­made cakes pre­sented on

The for­mal din­ingroom is hav­ing a quiet re­nais­sance. Top right: Ian Galvin says the din­ingroom in his Vic­to­rian house in Tramore is the best restau­rant in town. Bot­tom right: Sara Cos­grove’s re­fur­bished din­ingroom at her Ge­or­gian home in Dún Laoghaire beau­ti­ful an­tique stands to add even more drama.

“I lived in open-plan apart­ments for years in Dublin and you just don’t get the same wow fac­tor as you do when en­ter­tain­ing in a ded­i­cated din­ing room.”

Mícheál de Siún of de Siún Ar­chi­tects says the prob­lem with the old din­ing room model was not just the for­mal­ity or aus­ter­ity of the room but rather its prox­im­ity to the kitchen.

“In the olden days, the kitchen was lo­cated in the base­ment and the ser­vants would cook and carry the food up to the for­mal rooms on the pi­ano no­bile or noble level. To­day, the host is also the cook, the waiter and the som­me­lier. Prox­im­ity to the kitchen, and in par­tic­u­lar the fridge, be­comes es­sen­tial if the room is go­ing to be user-friendly.”

If con­sid­er­ing re­in­stat­ing the din­ing room or plan­ning build­ing work, de Siún ad­vises po­si­tion­ing the kitchen ad­ja­cent to the din­ing room.

“In re­cent pe­riod-house projects, there’s a move away from the clas­sic base­ment kitchen con­ver­sion, in lieu of build­ing beau­ti­ful kitchens in one of the good rooms on the hall floor now, with an open­ing to the din­ing room next door. This al­lows a more grace­ful en­gage­ment with the noble level of the house.”

To put com­fort over wear just be sure to lock away all the crys­tal be­fore you re­vive the no­blest room of the house.

‘‘ I love how it keeps the prep out of sight and when the plates dis­ap­pear to the kitchen, peo­ple tend to linger and re­lax and chat

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