Are we about to see a re­turn to the for­mal­ity of a sep­a­rate room for meal­time?

Solihull News - - PROPERTY & LIVING - CHRIS Read runs Read In­te­ri­ors ( read­in­te­ri­

F ash­ion is a funny thing – what goes around comes around and I’ve heard mur­mur­ings on the grapevine of the re­turn of the din­ing room as peo­ple find the dis­ad­van­tages of open plan start to out­weigh the ad­van­tages.

I used to be a con­firmed closed plan ad­dict. I didn’t want to eat amongst the prepa­ra­tion mess, and if we had vis­i­tors this be­came even more of an is­sue, and I wanted to be able to hide the fact that I may not have filled the dish­washer for a day or two.

Now, there’s an ad­mis­sion. And in print too! I also have very very thick walls and the idea of knock­ing them down raised my blood pres­sure some­what. But fi­nally the need to ex­pand my tiny kitchen drove me to find a so­lu­tion and I moved the kitchen into the din­ing room. This gave me a ‘ back kitchen’ – what would have been termed a scullery. This per­forms the ‘ hid­ing’ func­tion nicely and I can have re­laxed sup­pers in the kitchen.

Lots of light­ing op­tions on a num­ber of cir­cuits helps to zone and high­light dif­fer­ent ar­eas. The cherry on the cake was putting a gate leg ta­ble in another room, al­low­ing me to have a for­mal din­ing space as well on the odd oc­ca­sion.

The his­tory of the din­ing room is a good ex­em­plar for the way our lives have changed – in more for­mal Vic­to­rian times, sit­ting down in a sep­a­rate room al­lowed a sense of oc­ca­sion and un­der­lined that you were mid­dle or up­per class.

As our lives have be­come more ca­sual and re­laxed, this need dwin­dled. It was re­in­forced by the in­creas­ing im­por­tance of the kitchen: we mostly now do our own cook­ing and it be­came a badge of hon­our, some­thing al­most glam­orous, cer­tainly some­thing with brag­ging rights. So the din­ing room grad­u­ally be­came this cen­tury’s front par­lour – slightly out­moded, mark­ing you out as for­mal and rather stiff.

The down­sides of the mess and the noise of many func­tions car­ried on in one space were tol­er­ated as the price you needed to pay.

Open plan has been fash­ion­able now for a cou­ple of decades and it is pos­si­ble that we’re due for a switch back. What do you think? I’m torn, but I think it’s un­likely to go back to a fully sep­a­rate space, cer­tainly in new builds were the square footage seems to di­min­ish al­most as you look at it.

What­ever your space, eat­ing is such an im­por­tant part of life that mak­ing sure you have an area for it is high pri­or­ity in my view. I want to be able to sit down com­fort­ably and en­joy a meal, even if I’m on my own. And of course, the so­cial side of eat­ing and the no­tion of hos­pi­tal­ity is deeply in­grained in most cul­tures.

If you do have a small space there are a num­ber of strate­gies to help, though I do have a par­tic­u­lar dis­like of one of th­ese, the break­fast bar. I find the chairs un­com­fort­able and of­ten not easy to climb into in the first place, and you can’t of­ten or­gan­ise them so that you are fac­ing oth­ers. There is some­thing about eat­ing all fac­ing one way that re­minds me of wait­ing for a bus. Sim­i­larly, if your only ta­ble is a fold­ing one, it’s un­likely that you will use it on a daily ba­sis – life is too short to be con­stantly erect­ing and low­er­ing it. Much bet­ter is a mul­ti­func­tional ta­ble, one you can work and eat at.

Al­though glass topped ta­bles are vis­ually less in­tru­sive, I’d avoid them, as there is noth­ing more dis­con­cert­ing than watch­ing one’s knees while eat­ing soup. Bench seat­ing is a good way of sav­ing space, so that for smaller groups the ta­ble can sit against a wall with the bench tucked un­der­neath. There is al­ways the down­side for the per­son sit­ting in the mid­dle, but syn­chro­nised sit­ting down can at least break the ice.

A word of cau­tion on over- ta­ble pen­dant light­ing. Nearly every in­te­ri­ors shot you see of a din­ing ta­ble has an eye catch­ing pen­dant or se­ries of pen­dants over the ta­ble. It can be a lovely way of mak­ing the ta­ble the fo­cal point, es­pe­cially if the light is di­rected down­wards, but it is re­stric­tive.

If you move the ta­ble at all, it can look al­most un­nerv­ingly off kil­ter, so be cer­tain your ta­ble is in the right place and doesn’t need to be moved be­fore you take this route.

Fi­nally, a word on set­ting the ta­ble. I love mis­matched crock­ery, it adds to the re­laxed feel and means it doesn’t mat­ter if you break one. It helps if you can find a bit of a theme – all white, per­haps, or all hand­made, but isn’t re­ally nec­es­sary.

On the other hand, even the dis­count stores are now of­fer­ing some re­ally stylish sets at fab­u­lous prices, so I’m a tad tempted! What­ever the route, spend­ing a bit of time mak­ing the ta­ble look good is never wasted.

The but­ler’s tray has al­ways been a use­ful mul­ti­func­tional item. Hamp­ton tray with a sand­stone top from Gar­den Trad­ing

This ta­ble, chair and bench combo from Modish Liv­ing is a great space saver

Dunelm has some won­der­ful things at great prices. Add a bit of glam­our with this ta­ble set­ting

If you don’t have room for a side­board, this Chateau Grey con­sole from El­e­ment One House has a rus­tic feel to it. With two draw­ers and a low shelf, it’s ideal for hid­ing clut­ter while dis­play­ing fea­ture lamps, vases or pic­ture frames

Beau­ti­fully rus­tic linen nap­kin from Finch & Crane

Lean­ing to­wards whimsy? The pig nap­kin from Lush Lamp­shades is for you

With Chris Read

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