Return of the Dining Room

Where do you stand in the open-plan, live and eat-in kitchen versus the separate dining room debate?

For years style pundits have told us that the dining room is a relic of the past: stuffy, conventional and old fashioned. In its place we’ve embraced the seamless, easy living of the open-plan kitchen and dining space where cooking, homework, play time, and eating merge easily. 

But I detect a sea change…

For sure, an open plan kitchen will never go out of style simply because it suits our more relaxed, communal way of living these days. But I also feel that more of us are craving the cosier, four-walled conviviality of a dining room. In my own 19th century home in the Boston area I’m lucky to have the best of both worlds. We have an open- plan family kitchen, but I also re-configured the ground floor to include a separate dining room where we can entertain, eat together as a family – and of course, play Monopoly on a Sunday!

The Dining Room as Sanctuary

In fact, I would argue that in our digital, always-on world, the dining room has taken on a new relevance.

Nowadays we need the four-walled privacy of the dining room to tune out from online distractions and reconnect with people over conversation and home cooking. We don’t always want the noise and expense of a restaurant but a special place where we can spend time with our family and friends – in short, the dining room.  Designed with thought and individuality it becomes our happy place where we can escape the everyday distractions of phones and computers. Being hugged by four walls makes us feel safe while being separated from the kitchen sink also discourages the host from disappearing to tidy or wash up between courses!

Conjuring the Right Atmosphere


Atmosphere is so important. I like my dining rooms to be warm and cosy. One of the easiest way to achieve this is by using what we designers call ambient - or layered -  lighting. I start by hanging a chandelier over the dining table. The trick is to hang your light at a level that illuminates the table while also creating an area of shadow around the table. So, aim to position it at height that is neither too high nor too low. By creating an area of darkness around the table you’ll also draw guests closer together adding to the appealing atmosphere   I also like to add lighting at eye level either with wall sconces or table lamps to conjur different moods.

Keep it Simple

When it comes to furniture less is more. A rectangular or oval table is best; round tables can dwarf a space.  In my dining room, we can sit 8 around the Saarinen table. For larger parties, I bolt on an antique burl folding table.  We’ve squeezed twelve people in to the small space. At first I thought, “Oh my this will be too cramped,” but it worked. There was lots of laughter and conversation in to the small hours, no one wanted to leave.


Be Bold with the Decoration

The dining room may be one of the most traditional rooms in the house – but that doesn’t mean you must be conservative with the decoration. Separated from the rest of the house, the enclosed space of a dining room is the ideal setting to be bold with colour and pattern. In our home, I used the Kelly Wearstler Channels wallpaper to echo the lashings of gold and brass in my kitchen. I chose the teal and beige colourway to offset the navy and grey of the Living Room.  For the ceiling and wood-work I opted for Savage Ground by Farrow & Ball. When the paint was first put up my heart sank and I thought “oh no...” the colour reminded me of a pair of grandma-style nude stockings: not chic. But everything changed when the paper went up. The teal of the wallpaper design just blazed against the pinky hue of the paint; proving how much different tones and colours affect each other when they are placed side by side. 

Finishing Touches


Choosing the dining chair was simple, though I tried quite a few.  I fell in love with the Beetle Chair, by Enrico Fratesi and Stine Gam at Gubi, it was so comfortable. Choosing the drapery was more challenging. The coordinating Kelly Wearstler fabric didn’t quite work with the paintwork. It wasn’t until I found the fabulous Flux Rug by Kinnasand that I realised I need to introduce a grey tone to cool the warmth of the paintwork and balance out the scheme. Once that was in place; the roman shade fabric slotted in perfectly adding a subtle gleam that binds together the feel of the space: glamorous and enticing but also cossetting;  a setting that’s suited to the candle-lit conviviality of a grown-up dinner party as well as Monopoly on a rainy Sunday.

And check out my dining room before it became fabulous.