Next to the living room, the Dining room is the least understood and appreciated room in the house. The pace and clutter of our long, tightly scheduled days draw us away from the full satisfaction we should derive from the important daily ritual of dining with loved ones. There is nothing more beautiful than people sitting around the table in an alchemy of spirit and companionship. Having just returned from a wonderful trip to Europe, where dinner time is treated as sacred, it made me think about our dining spaces and how they help create ambiance and act as a unifier, a place of community. Sharing a meal is an excuse to catch up and talk, one of the few times where people are happy to put aside their work and take time out of their day. When we are authentic, when we keep our spaces simple, simply beautiful living takes place.
When you contemplate your dining area, think about the importance of the mealtime rituals in your life. Do you prefer a formal or informal dining room setting? When you plan meals and special menus, do you think about how the food will look on the table? Do you like to entertain? Do you prefer large or intimate parties? What is the daily traffic flow through your dining room? The answers to these and other questions will help inform your furniture choices and placement, and overall decorating scheme.
The way you decide to use your dining space will guide your color scheme as well as your other decisions. For instance, if your living room flows into the dining area, or is separated from it by a central hall (as is the style of many Colonial homes), color and flooring choices need not precisely match, but should be complementary in order to tie the spaces together.
While your overall color scheme may be carried down to the dishware, mats, and other linens, don’t agonize about having all the colors match up completely, or worry that your china will clash or appear cluttered and confusing. Good service plates will tie the room’s look together before everyone sits down.
Try not to limit yourself to using the same tablecloth at every meal. You can set the mood and tone of an evening meal by your selection of plates, napkins, and glassware. The fun part is arranging accessories so that they have special meaning and all fit well together. Your objects will add interest to the room—while your wall covering and fabric choices will provide background for them.
Dining in a strongly colored room can be elegant. White trim in a dark room keeps it from being gloomy, is a welcome contrast, and sets off the walls beautifully. The strong wall color gives a background for your wood furniture, carpet or area rug, and creates a cozy feeling. When selecting your room color, make sure it comes alive in candlelight before you commit to it. No lighting choice—whether it be a chandelier, recessed lights with dimmer switches, sconces, or table or standing lamps—bathes a room in intimacy the way candlelight does.
- Use your dining room throughout the day as well as evenings. The table is one of the most useful surfaces in your home.
- Your room decoration needn’t be any more formal than the rest of your home. When a room becomes overdone, it becomes pretentious. A butcher block table can always be dressed up with a washed linen tablecloth.
- Recall your favorite restaurant. Besides the good food, what was it about the ambiance that spoke to you that you can recreate at home?
- Ideally, have a table that seats eight. This is the best number for people to be able to communicate and celebrate together. You can always add folding tables for larger groups.
- Every day can be a memorable celebration. Use your favorite dishes, napkins, and accessories to brighten up daily mealtimes.
- If there’s room for it, have another long table you can use as a serving area for festive meals.
- You can never have enough candles in the dining room.
- Always go for something fresh and natural as a centerpiece on the dining room table.
- Your table should be 11 to 13 inches higher than the chair seat height. If you or your partner are tall, be sure the apron (the wood panel under the tabletop) isn’t too deep because you want to be able to cross your legs.
- Run your fingers under the apron and with the fine side of an emery board, sand until smooth any rough spots. There’s nothing more irritating than snagging stockings or trousers when you cross your legs.
- Keep lighting about 30 to 36 inches above the table. Also, instead of the usual chandelier hanging over the center of the table, try two pendants.
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