The basics of the American dining room have remained fairly stable for well over a century. It matters not if the style is modern or traditional, formal or casual or as simple as Shaker furniture or as ornate as something from the palace of a Bourbon king. There’s usually a table with chairs, a china closet and perhaps a sideboard or buffet. Many dining rooms will have some form of lighting fixture shining over the center of the table. Your choices in dining furniture set the stage for what kinds of events you want to have there.
The Dining Table
The dining table is generally the focal point of the dining room. The table should be scaled to the size of the dining room and large enough to seat every diner. One idea is to buy a dining table that can shrink or expand according to how many people are seated. These tables have drop leaves or extensions that are often stored right beneath the table. Some drop leaves are large enough to require their own legs to support them. The legs fold against the leaves when not in use.
Dining tables are often square, oval, round or rectangular. Other dining tables are shaped like horseshoes, which are also called hunt tables. Some are even hexagon-shaped. The Design Network explains that “The shape of your table should be determined by the dimensions and shape of your dining room. Round tables help maximize space in a square or small dining area, while rectangular or oval tables are best for filling out longer, more narrow rooms. Square tables are also a good choice for tight quarters, as most are designed to seat four people.” A long, narrow rectangular table can be pushed against the wall in a dining room that doesn’t have much space, but a round table can sit more people and can be placed in a corner or in a window bay.
No matter how large or small they are, most tables have legs, a trestle or a pedestal. Like the table itself, these supports can be plain or very ornate, traditional or contemporary. Pedestal tables allow people to be seated more comfortably. Some period tables have braces or stretches that connect the legs. These types of tables are attractive, but they do interfere a bit with leg room.
In a pinch, temporary tables can be set up if there are overflow guests. They can be the traditional card table with legs that fold up, or they can be slabs of a sturdy material placed on top of two stands or even a couple of pushed-together mini file cabinets that can be hidden beneath a tablecloth. If you’re using these temporary dining tables, make sure to allow for enough space for chairs and legs.
The biggest consideration when it comes to buying chairs for the dining room is their comfort. Whatever style they are, they should offer good back support and seats that are comfortable to sit in for a long time. Vega Direct recommends that “whether you choose between a leather armchair, a wooden armchair, a velvet armchair, a tufted armchair, blue armchair, or a high back armchair you must remember to enhance the dining space. Your choices in dining furniture sets the stage for what kinds of events you want to have there.”
Most dining sets are made of four or more armless chairs, though the chairs at the head and foot of the table often have arms. If there’s room, a good idea is to buy only armchairs because they are wider and bring more comfort. Seats that are able to separate from the chair or have slipcovers allow you to change the fabric depending on the season or the occasion, and they are easy to clean.
As with dining tables, wood is the traditional, go-to material for chair construction. It is beautiful but strong and durable, and most wood is easy to carve. Certain species of wood are popular for specific styles. For example, mahogany was popular during the Victorian era, and walnut was used for Queen Anne furniture. Scandinavian tables make use of teak and pale woods such as cypress. Modern chairs can also be made of laminates and plywood, which resist heat, fire, etching, and liquids. They’re also made of rattan and bamboo, fiber, plastic, and metal. Don’t be afraid to use non-traditional seating, such as sofas, loveseats, benches, and settees, when you’re in a pinch. These can sit two or more people at a time and create an informal mood. Armless benches can be slid under the table when dinner is over. Stools are also an option, or you could even have a built-in banquette in the corner to seat extra guests.
As temporary tables can be used for the dining room, so can temporary chairs. They do not have to be those ugly metal chairs that are used in bingo halls. Temporary chairs now come in an array of attractive materials and colors and either fold up or are stackable for easy storage.
Though dinnerware can be stored in the kitchen and brought out to the dining room, the room traditionally has its own storage. Bar equipment is also frequently stored in a corner of the dining room. The china cabinet displays your best china and glassware, and another surface such as a buffet table, chest or sideboard holds trays, serving pieces and chafing dishes to keep the food warm before it’s served. Often, china cabinets and sideboards are part of the set that also includes the table and chairs.
When it comes to dining room storage, Decoholic explains that “Usually, dining rooms are void of any type of storage unit like a closet. Instead, sideboards and buffets are used which can be attractive and practical. Preferably, these pieces of furniture will provide shelves and drawers, making it easy for you to show off your fine china while offering enough storage space.” When you’re contemplating buying a cabinet, hutch or sideboard, make sure that they can accommodate your dinnerware. The shelves need to be high enough for stemware to fit easily, and the compartments for silverware should have felt or another protective lining. Doors and drawers should be easy to open and should close firmly. Knobs and pulls should be easy to use and proportionate to the piece. It is best to get storage with adjustable shelves, partitions, and dividers that allow for the most organization. Finally, the counter should be big enough for trays and dishes. Since counters are so much smaller than tabletops, they can be made of a sumptuous material, such as natural or engineered stone, without breaking the bank.
Since dinner is most often served in the evening, the dining room should have bright but comfortable artificial lighting. The atmosphere in your dining room depends largely on the way it is lit, and if possible, light fixtures should be placed around the room in ways that make it easy for you to change the mood. During your average family meal, lighting in the dining room should be soft enough to make everyone cozy, bright enough to stimulate the appetite and flattering to both the food and the diners.
One thing that needs to be avoided is colored lights in the dining room. Some interior designers recommend that pink bulbs can be used during a cocktail party because they allegedly flatter everyone’s complexion, but they shouldn’t be used during normal meal times. They can make perfectly good food look unpalatable.
Candles are still the last word in elegance when it comes to lighting the dining table. They can be tall, white tapers set in the center of the table in silver candleholders or groupings of votives and pillars arranged all around the room as well as on the dining table.
Putting It Together
All the furniture in your dining room should be arranged so that they are easy to access. Think of how people move from the kitchen and around the table and allow room for the serving of food and the movement of chairs. Place the table so that each seat is comfortable, and make sure to leave space for more chairs and for the table to expand. Serving pieces should be near the kitchen entrance, and cabinets holding your dinner service should be closer to the table. Make sure that the cabinets can open without interfering with the traffic.
Your dining room’s atmosphere can be convivial, luxurious, romantic, or elegant. Choosing just the right furniture for your dining room can help you make it maximally pleasurable and memorable no matter the mood.
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