Decorating: When the dining room is an extension of the kitchen


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Many homeowners are putting the design of a home’s dining room on the table.

A home’s dining area is simple by nature, but the space has evolved, as the kitchen-dining layout has become more open by design. While some homes still have a traditional dining room with four walls, in many new houses, the dining “room” is an extension of the kitchen itself.

“The dining table plays a big role in bringing everyone together,” says Marta Eriquez, senior director of interior design for Ethan Allen. “It’s the place where we gather to catch up, break bread, honor traditions and create new memories with those who are dearest to us.”

Unlike a family room, which often has multiple purposes, a home’s dining room is about eating and entertaining. The ingredients for an inviting dining room are simple: a large table with plenty of chairs and a buffet or bar cart on which to serve food and drinks.

But, because of its simplicity, a dining room can be difficult to decorate or renovate. “Generally speaking, today’s lifestyle is trending toward casual. However, many of our clients in the South still appreciate separate formal dining rooms,” Eriquez says. “But one thing remains constant: Wherever the home, people want dining spaces that are functional, beautiful, and comfortable.”

Treat the dining room as an extension of the kitchen area and make it a feast for the eye as well. Start with the flooring of the dining room and work your way up the walls. Wood, tile or stone floors found in the kitchen can be continued into the dining room, while a large rug makes the space more inviting and can also help define the area, especially if it is one without walls.

Look to the kitchen for continuity and cues in paint colors. If the kitchen and the dining area share a continuous ceiling, it’s wise to keep paint colors the same, too. However, a separate dining room has more room for creativity, where homeowners can serve up drama with dark, rich paint colors and opulent light fixtures.

Rich red or midnight blue walls can create an elegant look, while black or gray coloring can set the stage for a thoroughly modern meal. Mirrors can reflect light in the space, while stunning artwork on the walls becomes the topic of conversation at mealtime.

But, make sure all design elements work together to create an appetizing aesthetic that fits with the rest of the home.

Along with the food, the dining table is the focal point of the room and can be an investment that lasts for generations. Solid wood, metal or glass-topped tables are options, but should reflect a family’s supping style.

“It’s okay to mix formal with funky. People are using furniture in new ways these days,” Eriquez says. “When company arrives, it’s not unusual for us to drag a wing chair up to the dining table, or borrow a bench from the foyer. It’s smart to make the most of what you already own.”

Eriquez encourages playing with your food space by mixing family heirlooms with new pieces to create a culinary hot spot. And, while homeowners may be moving away from formal dining room sets — which can include matching table, chairs and buffet — make sure your choices have unifying themes, including color, style and scale.

A quality dining table can cost at least $1,000, and go up from there, so make sure you try out the table before “tucking in.” A rectangular table with four legs placed at each corner is a sturdy design, and, while a round pedestal table can create immediate intimacy, this style may also be more prone to wobble.

The size of the dining set is determined by the amount of space in which it is placed. As a general rule of thumb, the linear length or diameter of a table determines the number of people who can comfortably sit around the table. For example, a rectangular table that is six feet long can comfortably seat six, or a round table that is four feet in diameter easily seats four.

When it comes to purchasing chairs, on average, allow at least two feet at the table for plenty of elbow room and about three feet from the edge of the table to the wall, so people can push back comfortably. For dining options, purchase a table that can expand with the addition of table leaves. The best place to keep additional leaves is in the table itself, but if you desire a more intimate setting with a smaller table, make sure to store leaves flat, not standing on end, so the wood won’t warp.

A buffet is a great way to store and showcase special dishes, but can also be pressed into service during a dinner party as a place to put appetizers and drinks.

Illuminate the overall dining room design with a light fixture over the table that can foster warmth and a “wow” factor. Make sure a light fixture is centered over the table and doesn’t hang lower than 36 inches above the tabletop. The larger the light fixture, the higher it should hang, but it should never be larger than the width of the dining table.

When not entertaining, enliven the dining space with candles and a seasonal centerpiece on the table, no matter your aesthetic sensibilities, Eriquez says.

“Today, there are so many furniture options that it’s easy to create a look that’s uniquely your own,” she says. “It’s important to create a dining atmosphere that’s inviting and comfortable so guests will want to linger longer.”

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