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