A Complete Guide to Designing the Perfect Dining Room
Recently Ekornes Stressless has launched a brand new Stressless Dining Tables and Chairs furniture line — with this awesome endeavor in mind, we at European Leather Gallery have decided to tackle a common design problem: How to Design and Layout the Perfect Dining Room.
Learn how to plan a gorgeous dining room, whether you’re after a quick refresh or a complete transformation.
A generation ago, the dining room was reserved for special occasions like holiday meals and entertaining guests. Today, if you’re lucky enough to have a dining room, it’s likely that it serves several functions in your life. From home office to platform for school projects to the setting for your most treasured social gatherings, your dining room does it all.
Even if you’re not a serial dinner party host, your dining room should reflect your personality. The choices you make now will go towards creating a uniquely you space — one you’ll be drawn to every day and which also makes your guests feel right at home.
In short, a well-designed new dining room should help you get the most out of the most formal room in your home.
A Guide to Help You Move From Inspiration to Action
There’s plenty of inspiration out there to get you started on formulating some ideas — Pinterest is well-stocked with an incredible array of beautiful photos showing dining rooms of every style. But how do you narrow your dream list of ideas and actually come up with a plan of action?
This guide should help. From style choices to practical considerations, this is the complete guide to designing the perfect dining room. We suggest browsing the guide before you start visiting furniture showrooms. That ensures you’ll have a better idea of where to focus when you talk to a consultant. If you’re mid-project and you’ve already made a lot of these decisions, feel free to scroll down to the section that’s the most relevant to where you are in your current project.
Start With Scale
If you live in a newer home or if you’re looking at new construction, you may find that today’s builders don’t reserve much square footage for dining rooms. And that’s if they include one at all! This doesn’t mean you can dream big, though. If a grand-looking dining room is what you’re envisioning, there are ways to make it work.
One of these is to think very carefully in the design phase about scale. It’s simple, really. You’ll want to keep these two guiding principles in mind when selecting your decor items:
- Choose furniture that scales, in both size and style, to fit your space
- Eliminate all but essential items
Fundamentally, it’s all about the dining room table. Everything else is extraneous when you have a tight space. Start with the table and chairs. Then add a sideboard to make serving easier and to give off the vibe of a proper dining room. That’s really all you need, furniture-wise. That huge china cabinet you inherited? Save it for another room, repurposed for a modern-day twist on functionality.
When shopping for dining tables, be sure to consider scale and scalability. Two different things:
- Scale. The size of the legs: are they chunky and massive or light and unobtrusive? Tapered legs work wonders for achieving an uncluttered, spacious look. The thickness of the tabletop: same applies here. You don’t want to weigh down the look of your room with a behemoth tabletop. Opt for thinner silhouettes.
- Scalability. Make sure the table you choose is easily expandable for those occasions when you need to fit more people in. The smallest possible size is important, too, for when you want to feel maximum, uncluttered space in your room.
For those who have a home with a sizeable dining room already in place, matters are different. You have the option of going large but keep in mind chunky furniture can make even a large dining room feel cluttered and oppressive. What works in a smaller space can also look incredible in a larger room: clean lines, neutral colors, and simple designs.
Takeaway: Assessing the scale of your dining room from the outset will give you a designer’s perspective. This will help you make better decisions based on the size of the dining room you have, not the one you don’t have.
Walls are Key
If you’re opting for paint, it’s a good idea to think about how you’ll most often be using your dining room. The color of the walls will set the tone of your time spent in the dining room, so you’ll want to choose colors that reflect the mood you’re after.
For example, deep shades can create a sense of drama that’s perfect for inspiring conversation and keeping things lively. If you entertain often, intense shades can help keep the party going around the table even long after dessert has been served.
On the flip side, families who want to make eating together in the dining room a regular thing may want to choose pastels and neutral tones, which are perfect for creating a sense of comfort and calm at the table.
Painted walls will need some accessorizing… mainly in the form of art. You don’t have to worry about matching the picture frames these days, however. If bare walls speak to your vision, then a charming chandelier can balance things out. Or consider a fancy ceiling treatment.
If you’re opting for wallpaper, however, you’ll have opposite goals. You’ll need to avoid a closed-in feeling by keeping the room feeling open and airy. Do this by hanging a mirror on the wall. It will help to break up the wallpaper pattern, adding variety and giving the eye a rest while also adding some glimmer.
Takeaway: wall treatments, more than anything, set the mood of your room so think deeply about how you’ll want to use your new dining room. This, more than anything else in this guide, is a lifestyle choice!
The Perfect Dining Room Light
The lighting over your table needs to be just right. Whether you’ve cooked an amazing feast for 14 or you’re just sitting down with your spouse for a Wednesday night chicken dinner, you want your lighting to cast a relaxing glow.
It also needs to look great, which sometimes means thinking outside the box to get the look you’re going for. Consider these options:
- A lantern chandelier. Made of metal and incorporating flourishes and refracted light through their panes, lanterns bring a sense of historical charm to your room, which works no matter what style you have.
- A paper lantern. These lend an airy, natural vibe to your room. Hang a group of them over your table if it’s long enough.
- Pendant lights. In similar fashion, these work great in groups, strung right down the length of your table for drama.
Another tip: if you choose a drum-style lighting fixture, go for a shade with a metallic lining. That will help reflect the light back down onto the table, casting that warm glow that makes everything look amazing.
Whatever lighting you choose to hang, it helps to know exactly the right height where it should rest above your table. Most people make the mistake of hanging theirs too high. The rule of thumb is to leave 30 inches above the table top for an eight-foot ceiling. Add three more inches for every foot beyond eight feet (a light hung from a nine-foot ceiling should end 33 inches above your table top).
Keep in mind the lessons you’ve learned here regarding scale. It applies to lighting, too. A gigantic chandelier will dwarf a small table but a large table requires an equally large overhead lighting solution. Otherwise, you could end up with an awkward imbalance right where everyone’s eyes naturally fall when they enter the room. Remember: your dining room table is the focal point of the entire room.
One last tip here: it’s never a good idea to put a fan ceiling light over a dining room table (unless you love cold food!).
Takeaway: Think about how the light will change the mood of your table in addition to how the fixture itself contributes to the style of your room.
The Perfect Dining Room Table
Whereas the lighting sets the mood, there’s no question that the dining room table, both literally and figuratively, commands attention as the grand centerpiece of it all. The table you choose not only determines the style of your dining room, it also establishes scale as well (which was covered in the first section, in case you skipped it). It’s often the first piece people will buy, just for those reasons. So when you’re ready to start shopping, consider both style and scale.
A massive table with heavy legs won’t look right if it’s surrounded by miniature-sized accent pieces. Likewise, a heavily-styled (i.e. lots of scrollwork, inlays, mixed materials, etc) table may be hard to integrate with your other design elements and may not stand the test of time as tastes change, so tread carefully.
Plus, keep in mind that the dining table is where any host gets to display their personal, creative style. More often than not, you’ll be dressing it up with all the fun elements of a great dinner party: table runners, dinnerware, grand centerpieces, and magnificent dishes of beautifully-cooked food. The table should be elegant and beautiful on its own but also not interfere with your design inspirations for future entertaining. Think of it as a palette — albeit a gorgeous one — upon which you will create many future entertaining events, each customized to suit the crowd and the occasion.
Takeaway: The dining room table is both the centerpiece of it all and the neutral palette upon which you’ll create different kinds of occasions in your dining room. Spend enough time on this decision to ensure you find a table that can do it all. Simple elegance and clean lines are a good bet.
Today’s New Rules for Choosing a Style
Your dining room is not going to be your mother’s dining room. One main difference is that you have much more freedom than she did when it comes to styling your room. Today’s homeowners have the ability to combine styles for an updated look, whereas a generation ago that didn’t really fly. Here’s what we mean:
- Crown Molding for All. It’s not just for formal dining rooms these days. If you pine for a casual, modern look for your dining room, there’s no reason why you have to forgo the upgraded look of crown molding. There’s been a virtual explosion of new styles the past few years so check them out.
- Formal-Casual Blending. Today’s top designers love to mix uptown elegance with downtown funkiness. Imagine a formal dining set with matching, upholstered chairs paired with a playful chandelier and an art carpet beneath it all.
- Old-New Blending. There’s nothing quite as sophisticated as when you mix an antique piece with modern design. If you have an heirloom piece, by all means work it into your design. That century-old sideboard your grandmother left you? Works beautifully with a new table and chairs, especially if you find a matching set that unifies the look (since you’re mixing the old with the new, it may work better to have some uniformity by sticking to matching chairs around the table).
- Multi-Use Dining Rooms. Another modern trend that your mother and grandmother didn’t get to enjoy is the idea of the multi-use dining room. Many of today’s most beautiful spaces also function as libraries, dens, schoolrooms, or offices. Planned carefully, a multi-use room like this don’t have to look like a hybrid mish-mash.
A table pushed up to a sofa that’s against a wall of books, for example. You’ve got a reading room and a dining room. Place a stuffed chair in an opposite corner and a chess set on the dining table and voila it’s a den. Just be sure to choose a table that works in all capacities: dining, working, and relaxing.
Takeaway: Sit down with your planner (or your Pinterest account!) and learn how today’s designers are combining functions in the dining room. Don’t be limited by what you think are the “rules” for creating the perfect dining room.
Your Dining Room Reflects Your Spirit and Shows Your Personality — Let’s Do it Right!
Let’s recap: scale is crucial with every decision you make, a neutral table with clean lines allows the most timeless flexibility, and there are no hard-fast rules for decor these days so feel free to mix and blend styles to please your unique sense of design!
And if you’re ready to start shopping for that key element of your new dining room: tables and chairs, remember to stop by our showroom. Visit our gallery of Stressless furniture, including tables and several styles of chairs to match any design palette. We can even consult with you on your furniture purchases, no matter where you are in your dining room renovation project. Stop by any time and we’ll help you put your dreams into action so you can move on to the best part: enjoying your beautiful new dining room with family and friends.
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