Welcome to Second Nature, a Q+A series with Jute founder, Ali Davin, that explores all things healthy living, with a fond emphasis on that thing she does best—interior design.
While the kitchen is a constant reminder of real life— groceries to put away, dishes in the sink, piles of stuff accumulating on the island—the dining room is the domain of your fancy, pulled-together self. It’s where you entertain friends and family, share a delicious meal, and connect through sparkling conversation.
The dining room may not be the most used room in your home, but it can be the most welcoming. Here’s how to design a space where you and your guests will love to linger.
We always ask how often you plan to use your dining room, who’ll be sitting there, and how long you spend at the table. Those things affect how comfortable the chairs need to be and the size of the table. That then informs everything else: rug vs. no rug, buffet, bar, serving pieces, lighting, and so on. Basically, you start with the table and chairs and work off that.
Most people use their dining room for holidays and dinner parties, guests are a mix of ages, and across the board, people tend to sit for a long time. If you’re going to be at the table for several hours, you want a more comfortable chair—we call those 3-hour chairs. It’s good to choose those first, because we’ll configure the base of the dining table around the width of the chairs. You want to make sure no one is brushing the legs of the table when they sit down for a meal.
It’s important to consider it’s shape. If you want to be able to talk to someone across the table, you want a table that’s rectangular and narrow, more intimate and antique in scale. Round tables are not as good for conversation. And big box stores tend to have very deep tables, which can be just as awkward. In many cases, the ideal is an antique farm table, but they’re impossible to find, so we end up making a lot of custom tables for our clients.
There’s usually some sort of credenza or buffet for serving, plus an espresso setup or bar to refresh people’s drinks. The bar is usually more for serving versus drink storage. Wine fridges and cellars are usually elsewhere in the house. Credenzas are a good place to store everyday linens, serving pieces and glassware.
Most people do not want them because chairs can get stuck on them and more importantly, they’re hard to keep clean . But an exception would be if the dining area is part of your great room and a rug will help to define the space. In that case, I’d recommend a really low-pile 100% wool antique rug—easier to keep clean and maneuver seating.
Drapery is the best way to add softness, and artwork can really help too. People tend to splurge on great artwork for the dining room. Since you can be stationary for so long, it’s nice to have something interesting to look at. You’re not moving around the room or interacting in other ways like you would elsewhere in the house.
People’s lighting preferences are the biggest in the dining room because, again, you’re sitting in the same spot for a long period of time and everything is literally hanging over your head. We usually do a mixture of sconces and decorative ceiling fixtures with multiple bulbs. Thankfully you are not required to have recessed lighting like you would in a kitchen, so you can just choose the decorative fixtures that you really love.
The dining room can be the most expensive room in the house, which is unexpected because there are only a few pieces of furniture. But it’s the number-one place where the big-ticket items go: chandelier, artwork, credenza, dining table, plus you need 8 plus chairs, which can really add up. That’s why it’s so important to renovate only once, so it lasts a lifetime.
Design around your guests’ comfort, starting with the table and chairs.