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Let’s Talk About the “Formal” Dining Room and The Idea of What It Could Be

If you’ve ever purchased a house, you know that older houses often have a designated room that’s commonly known as a formal dining room. Very often, people feel uncertain buying a house with a dining room, and those who have older homes don’t know what to do the space because “we’re not formal people.” That’s fair, but the phrase “formal dining room” is a bit of a misnomer. It makes people think of a place where only elegant dinners and special occasions happen.

This week, I’m going to blow that outdated image out of the water so you can reclaim that room of your house. Let’s explore how a dining room really can fit with casual living.

Casual Dining and Entertainment

First of all, who says dining rooms have to be reserved for formal meals only? Gone are the days when dining rooms were reserved solely for formal gatherings. A “formal” dining room these days simply means it’s a space that is designated for eating. The dining room in older homes is located right beside the kitchen, so it’s easy and convenient to bring food to the table. Even easier, put the food on your plate in the kitchen and then take the plate to the table to eat.

Modernizing a dining room can be as easy as choosing casual dining furniture. Separate dining rooms are usually large enough to hold a large table for family and friends. But no one said that table has to be formal or fancy. You could just as easily use a rustic harvest table for eating casual family dinners any night of the week. Using a mixture of chairs and benches will maximize seating options and create a more relaxed and inviting space. Finally, paint the room a color that reflects your style and makes the dining room feel like it belongs with the rest of your home.

The truth is the main difference between eating in the dining room and eating at a table in the kitchen is the wall between the dining room and the kitchen. The fact that it’s closed off is what makes people dislike dining rooms, but that wall has a purpose - to keep your guests from seeing all the dirty dishes in the kitchen.

Still, if the wall bothers you, there are some ways you can address it. You could hire someone to remove it, making the kitchen and dining room one large space. Or you could have someone simply widen the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room to make the two rooms feel more connected. This would be less expensive and keep enough separation to hide the mess in the kitchen while you’re eating your meal.

A casual dining room can also be a hub of creativity and play. Repurpose a beautiful used hutch or cabinet as storage for puzzles, cards, board games, craft supplies (including a scrubbable tablecloth!), and even gift-wrapping paper. Now your dining room can also be used for family game nights, craft projects, and as a gift-wrapping station in addition to family meals.

Non-Dining Options

If you are satisfied with having your family table in the kitchen and just don’t need or want another dining space, there are other great ways you can use that room. One way is to turn it into a home office. With remote work becoming more and more common, people need a designated place to work that is spacious and private. The dining room can become a large, stylish home office. There is plenty of room for a desk, chair, and storage options like shelves and cabinets. You may need to hire someone to install a door for privacy, but otherwise this space is ready to be the home office of your dreams.

If you have young children, the dining room could become a large playroom. Since it’s adjacent to both the living areas and the kitchen, you will be able to watch the kids whether you’re cooking, cleaning, or relaxing. Used furniture can be painted and repurposed as storage cabinets, and there is plenty of space in the room to add soft, child-sized chairs and a play table. For extra convenience, consider having a door installed so you can close off the mess after bedtime or when you’re entertaining.

The dining room doesn't have to be a relic of formality. Embrace the versatility of this space and you’ll open up a world of possibilities. As we redefine the purpose of the dining room, it becomes a reflection of our evolving lifestyles, where tradition meets modernity in a blend of functionality and style.


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