Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).
A Different Kind of Dining Room
Despite rumors of its demise, the dining room is not disappearing, but going through a transformation as homes get smaller and more energy-efficient and low-maintenance.
November 1, 2010
Often thought of as a place mostly for enjoying holiday dinners and birthday celebrations, the dining room is morphing into a friendlier, more intimate space as home owners try to maximize existing square footage rather than add on.
One popular trend today is to take down a wall between the dining room and kitchen to fashion one big, casual cooking and eating space, which can also be used for watching a movie or using a computer, says interior designer Janell Rasper of Callen Construction Inc. in Muskego, Wis.
Those who build from scratch today often go for a simpler approach: In addition to fewer bedrooms and smaller garages, people frequently opt for more casual living and eating spaces, an open great room with a corner for dining, or a smaller dining room, according to the most recent New Homes Started survey from the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C. “Home owners worried about costs are interested in making trade-offs today,” says Stephen Melman, NAHB’s director of Economic Services, Economics and Housing Policy.
Tom Hackett of Orren Pickell Designers & Builders in Lake Bluff, Ill., says his firm regularly scales back on the size of most dining rooms and lowers once-high ceilings for warmth and intimacy. More dining rooms also have become multipurpose with bookshelves, a bar, or paneling that opens to a desk for an at-home office. And some of these rooms are placed at the center of the house so they lie within the main traffic flow to attract attention and use, Hackett says.
You can help your buyers and sellers analyze a dining room’s importance by discussing the following possibilities, based on how they live. The ultimate goal: to feed the eyes and make the space functional.
Color It Bold
The dining room can be bolder and more colorful than other rooms since it’s often used less frequently, says color consultant Amy Wax of Your Color Source in Montclair, N.J. But Wax advises showcasing just one element with bold color such as walls, furniture, the ceiling, a ceiling fixture, or dishes on the table or wall. For a twist, she recommends painting wainscoting and molding one color and making walls bolder, sometimes by painting 4-inch-wide stripes alternately in flat and satin to create a shimmering look, since satin reflects light.
Adapt to Familial Needs
In her eight years as a real estate broker and salesperson, Melody Bohl, ABR, GRI, with Carpe Diem Realty in Newton, Mass., says she’s found that different-aged buyers use dining rooms differently:
- Younger (under 30) and first-time home owners usually don’t care about a formal dining room. “They see it as wasted space that they would rarely use and would repurpose it into a home office, den, or media room. As long as the home has an eat-in kitchen, they’re happy,” Bohl says.
- Families with children want a formal dining room adjacent to the kitchen for family gatherings and holiday meals. “You can practically picture them bringing the Thanksgiving turkey to the table, as well as helping kids with homework,” she says.
- Downsizing baby boomers are trying to make their lives less complicated. A breakfast nook or eat-in kitchen works fine for most.
While home owners should use rooms according to their needs, certain geographic areas and price ranges may inspire different uses. New York designer Mindy Miles Greenberg of Encore Décor says that most of her clients who are fortunate to have a separate dining room want to use them as such. “It’s a feather in their cap to have the luxury of so much space [in New York] and most want to show it off as such,” she says. That usually means decorating it traditionally with patterned wallpaper, chair railing, crystal chandelier, china cabinet, area rug, puddled curtains, silver- or gold-leafed ceiling paper, and a formal, sometimes inherited table and chair. “We try to use what we can,” Greenberg says.
Throughout the Northeast, dining rooms are important for families on weekends and holidays because outside dining is restricted usually to summer, says Anne Millians-Roche, e-Pro, president, cofounder, and qualifying broker of Owens Realty Network in Winter Park, Fla. But in the South, where the climate is warmer, buyers usually prefer large outdoor areas to entertain. “The interior formal room is considered wasted space,” she says.
In the more traditional Midwest, St. Louis-based designer Denise Fogarty tries to break out of expected staidness by painting walls a nonneutral color and upholstering host and hostess chairs, sometimes with different fabrics on front and back.
And in more casual California, Christopher J. Grubb, owner of Arch-Interiors Design Group Inc. in Beverly Hills, says many clients want a room that seats eight to 10 people but looks untraditional so they’re not afraid to use it. Instead of crystal chandeliers and Persian rugs, he might meld black and white family photos, contemporary light bulbs strung on a wire, plants, upholstered seating, and an audio system. If the room is meant to occasionally serve another function, such as an office, he suggests concealing a work surface.
Designer Kimba Hills, owner of Rhumba, a design store and firm in Santa Monica, Calif., follows a similar strategy. She might mix a 19th century dining table with 20th century upholstered chairs and add bookshelves and a modern chandelier hung low for intimacy. She recommends a round table where possible because it’s more conducive to conversations and eliminates favored seating. “You never have a bad seat at a round table,” she says.