The stuffy, formal dining room saved for holidays, fancy dinner parties or other special occasions may soon be a relic. Just as jackets and ties have gone by the wayside at most restaurants, the home dining room is trending toward casual, versatile and fun.
“The era of the formal dining room is sort of fading away,” said Mercedes Courland, an interior designer and owner of Mercedes Courland Interiors in Roslyn Harbor. “In contemporary interiors, it’s a very whimsical concept to have multicolored chairs,” as long they fit the personality of the client. Each chair could be a different color, fabric or even style.
Just as banquettes often provide seating in fine restaurants, a mix and match of banquettes, benches, sofas and upholstered chairs are finding their way into breakfast nooks as well as dining rooms. Instead of placing chairs at the ends of a very large table, a comfortable two to three seat sofa can function as a banquette. Furniture makers are crafting banquettes that can be pulled up to a circular table. Some are C-, U- or L-shaped with a table in the middle. “It is cozy and inviting,” Courland said. The banquettes are often interestingly detailed with rolled arms, tassels and trims.
Homes with open floor plans “lend themselves to a floating banquette to delineate the space a little better.” Benches and ottomans are also being used on one side of a table, but, unfortunately, they are for younger people who don’t mind sitting for an hour on a bench.
Last fall, Jeani Ziering, a Manhattan-based interior designer chose to redo the dining room at Chestnut Manor, a stately Mount Vernon-style colonial that was the setting for a Mansions & Millionaires Designers’ Showcase in Upper Brookville. She fell in love with the Asian-themed space. In the 1980s, a decorative painter wrapped the walls in black, punctuated with bamboo, flowering trees and red graphics.
“When I walked in, it was so breathtaking, but the furnishings didn’t maximize the space,” Ziering said. Because the dining room was wide, she shied away from the customary long rectangular table. “A round table was more graceful,” she added. “The long narrow table made that room look like a bowling alley, with so much space on either side.”
To follow the ebony table’s contour, she placed white leather banquettes on either side and placed antique wooden Asian armchairs on opposite ends. “I wanted to complement the Asian theme, but bring it into the 21st century,” Ziering said. Both the banquettes and table were contemporary and the banquette seating allowed more guests to fit around the table. The new mix and match dining room style works particularly well in homes with open floor plans, where the dining room may only be distinguished by a chandelier or architectural detail.
The dining room as a separate space may be on the “chopping block,” said Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders. Ziering agreed that the dining room is an underutilized space, but said it easily lends itself to creative uses.
For one client, Ziering combined the dining room with a library, installing bookshelves all around, with an opening for a banquette and dining table. “It was elegant and it turned out to be a functional family space,” she said. “The kids ended up doing their homework there.”
The dining room can also be used as a conference center for those who work from home. “My kids say I started my business on the dining room table,” Ziering recalled. She kept her designs and supplies in a large armoire and clients came in and sat at the dining room table.
For a client with an antique pool table, Ziering added a custom top so it could also be used as a dining table. Because the billiards table was taller than a regular table, she mounted brass extension legs onto the chairs. The same problem could be addressed with a lift mechanism that allows the table to be raised for playing pool and lowered for dinner.
In many homes, however, dining tables are getting taller anyway, as pub tables continue to surge in popularity. The round, square or rectangular pub tables in wood, and marble, glass or granite stand about 36 inches, while standard dining tables are generally 30 inches.