Tricks of the Trade: Rethinking the Dining Room

Who doesn’t love a gorgeous dining room with all the elegant appointments?

According to interior designers Susan Ferris, Frank Ponterio and Kenneth Walter, mansion or not, even if you can dedicate the space, there’s simply no reason to reserve your dining room for 3 or 4 occasions a year.

Ditch the dust covers and think about how to put your dining room to use.

A fresh take on furniture

Furnish a dining room for both entertaining and private dining. Ponterio advises that a round table sets the stage for gatherings with family and friends. In the same room, he’ll also create an intimate dining space for two using artwork and lighting, and add in a luxuriously skirted table with its own distinctly elegant seating.

Think beyond the matching chairs. Ferris notes that nothing encourages communion and conversation like a pair of wing chairs and settees, and adds color and texture to a room that’s usually dominated by wood.

Most tables can adjust size to accommodate your needs. Round or oval tables offer more flexibility than rectangular, and transition easier from dining to library to work table.


As a library. Nothing invites relaxation and conversation like a room full of books. Whether you wrap it in built-ins, stow some spines in your china cabinet, or stack a collection of art books on your buffet, your dining room can do double duty day and night.

As a home office. The days of the corded jungle are over. Thanks to wireless, you can set up an office and take it down in a matter of minutes. Any storage piece—including your dining buffet—can host and hide a printer. If piles are your problem, invest in some gorgeous boxes or baskets that add elegance and texture and mask your paper trail.

As project central. Invest in a good quality table pad and you’ve got the perfect spot for scrapbooking, organizing photos, school projects, Lego building and more.

Don’t be afraid to swap spaces. For example, turn your small family room into a breakfast room, transform your dining room to a great room or media room, and move your table into the living room for a multi-functional formal space (even better if it has a fireplace). Particularly in older homes, think beyond the traditional footprint.

Creative lighting

Don’t let the center fixture lock you into a static room arrangement. Walter urges clients to hang the chandelier high enough that it can be walked under or be able to raise it on call. That way, if you want to throw a party with two smaller rounds or push your table to the side, the fixture won’t interfere.

Swap the center fixture for electrified sconces on dimmers that provide soft lighting for dining and bright light for reading or work. No matter your taste or style—traditional to contemporary—there are thousands of sconces that deliver the same impact as a center fixture. And for tabletop sparkle, Ferris assures that nothing adds better ambiance than candlelight, so get creative and pair your favorite candelabra, candlesticks, and crystal or mercury votives.

Fun and games

Dining rooms are good for more than puzzles. No reason you can’t lay out a mean Monopoly marathon or amp up poker night and cover your table with a gorgeous felt cloth.

Think about a ping pong/pool table top and turn your dining room into table tennis central. Time for dinner? Fold it up or drape it with a tablecloth and you’ll have plenty of room for the whole extended family. If you’re serious about pool, there are companies like Pool Table Portfolio that make elegant, clean-lined dining tables that convert in minutes to a regulation pool table.

For more cool dining room ideas, check out Kristina’s Pinterest page: