The End of the Formal Dining Room

Holiday gatherings are approaching quickly, and it’s time to say goodbye to the traditional dining room.  It’s time to close the doors on the gloomy, twice-a-year, precious surfaces, traditional dining room of yore.

dining room design

It’s time to actually use and enjoy that wasted space of a room that sits sad and empty until holidays or parties.  So where do you start?  Think beyond the matchy-matchy dining room sets in their dark wood tones.  I so remember my grandmother polishing her cherry dining room suite – you couldn’t set anything on the tabletop without first putting on the big felt pad and a tablecloth.  When I first got married, I was given an antique dining table which I used for several years in our dining room.   It was frustrating to me when I had guests, because even if I like the look of the table, I had to completely obscure it with a tablecloth in order to use it without damaging it!  So, my advice to you is to look for a table that is user-friendly.

family-friendly dining room


Fortunately, there are more and more companies that are producing family-friendly tables in large sizes (not just breakfast-room sized).  You should be able to find some good options if you look around a bit.

mismatched dining chairs


Don’t fall into the rut of buying a complete set of matching dining chairs, either!  They don’t need to “match” the table, but they do need to complement it.  Mix it up by using contrasting chairs on the ends of the table – parsons chairs or wingback chairs are great for this.

painted sideboard

You may not need or have room for several other dining room furniture pieces, so don’t pack a hutch, side board, and other storage pieces in your dining room.  Choose one and make it an interesting one.  Rather than purchasing a brand new sideboard, I suggested we take the homeowner’s Pottery Barn dresser from the seldom-used guest room.  After a custom paint job, it’s been transformed into a lovely sideboard/credenza with plenty of storage for the dining room.  See the before/after here.

decorologist design dining room

A large rug for beneath the table is a wonderful addition to a dining room.  It adds color, pattern, and serves as a sound absorber during a rowdy gathering.

mismatched dining room design

PLEASE – don’t use a dining room rug that is very expensive, a precious heirloom, or that is dark. If you actually use the room, food will inevitably end up on the rug.  And you don’t need to worry about it if it does.  Choose an inexpensive rug with an updated pattern to complement your room.  The look and feel of indoor/outdoor rugs has improved greatly over the last couple of years, and they are less expensive than their wool counterparts.

Would you like to see this dining room before the design began?  Here it was:



The most difficult thing about designing a mismatched dining room is the process.  One decision determines the next one, and so on.  There needs to be a vision for the room or you may give up mid-stream when it is in its beginning stages:


beginning stages of design – not so pretty

If you trust and wait for the full bloom of the mismatched, but well-coordinated dining room, you will be thrilled with the result:

mismatched designer dining room

design by The Decorologist

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving – check in with me Friday for a Decorologist Black Friday special!

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32 thoughts on “The End of the Formal Dining Room

  1. Donna Frasca says:

    No formal dining in my house either. I did keep a small space for my dining table that is used once a year but changed the room into a home bar and it’s used – a lot!

    Happy Thanksgiving Kristie!

  2. Linda says:

    I completely agree Kristie. My clients all are ditching their formal dining rooms and turning them into everything from a play room for the kids to an office/study. I am also finding the formal living room is also a thing of the past. I am turning my formal living room into my office and have absolutely no regrets. We should all use every square inch of our homes and let’s face it..not many of us still “formally” entertain. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. db says:

    We have a formal living room AND dining…plus an open kitchen into a family room…and happy to say we have used our formal dining room 3-4 times in the past week while my inlaws are in town! Even played craps there and had a ball! Now, I wish we would use the living room more…but our formal dining room is open to the formal living room…so at least we still feel like we use it! Although things are decorate a bit different now…this gives you the idea!

  4. Lisa Hassler says:

    Loved your post! We use our dining room every day for dinner. Our kitchen is really small so we decided to start using our dining room. At the beginning it felt very formal, so I switched out the crystal chandelier for a lantern style light and added a great steely blue upholstered settee from Home Goods. It may seem counter intuitive, but our large oval table felt cavernous for just the four of us, so I took out the leaves, making it a circular table and added some plump pillows on the settee. Now it feels cozy and comfortable and we find that we linger chatting at the table when the dinner is done.

  5. Paula Van Hoogen says:

    YES, preach it sister! This is so long in coming to our culture. Bet you see lots of these “before” dead spaces. Meanwhile closets are scrunched. : I’ve been noticing lately how lower backed chairs look so much better in today’s dining spaces–makes the room look larger when it’s empty too. Your penchant for painting the DR ceilings is so effective as well in creating an atmosphere..conducive to conversation. Beautiful job on this post. Thanks!

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Thanks, Paula! I really LOVE this room and was thrilled to work with a client who wanted something fun and different – did I mention she has 5 children under the age of 9??? I forgot to put that in the article!!!

  6. Mary CC from CA says:

    Kristie, have a wonderful Thanksgiving day with your family. I appreciate your blog and look forward each week to see what you have for us. Thanks for the wonderful hours of happy reading you have given the world. Hope you had a nice time in our sunshine state, CA. Loved your Instagram on CA Christmas. Hah ! If I had a choice I would rather have a tender Tennessee Christmas any day than CA ! Blessings for a joyous holiday season.

  7. Susan Lewis says:

    I have always hated rooms that you don’t really live in. I love the idea of not being matchy matchy and the idea of an inexpensive, but stylish rug. You have planted a bee in my bonnet! Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. Jean says:

    Our family uses the dining room for dinner every day. I have lots of inexpensive tablecloths (I am a bit of a tablecloth “junkie”) and have a very busy synthetic rug under the table. I bet you could drop a pizza face down on that rug and it would be okay. Our kitchen table tends to accumulate lots of papers and projects during the day…so it is so much easier to eat in the dining room!

  9. Pamela says:

    I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I have a question about the rug. I am wondering about rug size. What is the ideal size? Shouldn’t all chairs be on the rug in the pulled out position? I have a round table 48″ without the two extensions that we’ve never used and I kind of want a round rug for my dining room but if its the right rug, a rectangle will work for me. My dining room is about 12′ square. I have a wine curio/buffet and a china cabinet. Thank you for your advice.

    Happy Thanksgiving. Pamela

  10. Cherie says:

    I know I’m in the minority here. I love, really love my Queen Anne chairs and oval table. We have formal meals occasionally, a beautiful Christmas dinner every year, Thanksgiving when it’s our turn, but we also get everyone around that table for pizza, BBQ, Chinese, birthday cake and ice cream, and many other meals and occasions. The furniture is beautiful and traditional, well-made to last till the next generation and beyond, I hope. But we get lots of use from it now. I just had to speak up for my beautiful, traditional dining room!

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Good for you, Cherie! As long as you are using and enjoying your dining room, you have it decorated just right for you 🙂 In my line of business, I see a lot of unused, lonely dining rooms!

    • Judy says:

      Kristie, the room you decorated is bright, welcoming, and just lovely! But I do feel the urge to say that formal dining rooms can be used daily, too. It’s all in the attitude, which you are encouraging, of USING the room. Machine washable tablecloths and a sponge-able rug are key to this. And sometimes getting a little brave about exposing the tabletop.

      Cherie, I feel the same way about our dining room. My grandmother’s dining room furniture and the oriental carpet we got when we lived in Turkey are probably dated, but they feel homey to us, and our house isn’t up for sale. Our large family has done a lot of school work, art, and science projects, eaten countless everyday meals, and fancied up the table with pretty linens and china for birthdays and holidays. Two weekends ago, I covered the table pads with newspaper and welcomed a group of ladies from my daughter’s Montessori atrium for a wine and painting night to help the teacher make new materials for the classroom. The sideboard sure came in handy for keeping the snacks out of the paint! Last week, we hosted Thanksgiving with pretty linens, leaf and wax-paper place mats made by my children, and the wedding crystal. We treat our dining room like a room to be lived in, and it is.

      I do want to do something about the chandelier, though. 😉

  11. Loroy says:

    I’m in complete agreement. It’s not about being casual or formal, it’s about being practical and using and enjoying the space. Don’t hold on to preconceived notions… do what works for you and your family. I’ve been working on my LR and DR with the hopes of having it ready for Christmas. So far, so good. Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. Rosalinda says:

    We had an unused formal dining room until we began a Sunday supper tradition. Now it has become a gathering place where memories are made. Since we have young children (ages 7, 5 and 2) it’s also a great time to model good table manners and the art of conversation (even if its about the latest toys). I love my dining room!

  13. Julie O'Reilly says:

    When he was six, I asked my son to put the scissors in the dining room. His response, “Where is it? Oh, I thought it was the Diamond Room!”

    A diamond in the rough, indeed. We have used our formal dining room for so many other events than dining. Distribution room for the Boy Scout popcorn. Campaign headquarters. Little League conference room. Sewing room, craft production room, artists’ studio, game room. Santa’s workroom and storage. Photography studio. Homework center. Temporary recovery room for my mother and her new knee.

    It absorbs the clutter from other rooms, and provides a generous surface for projects. Who wouldn’t want another room! (and we even have doors to close it off.)

    Andy had it right. It is a Diamond Room!

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      That is hilarious. That reminds me of when my little girl was three or four, we were going swimming at a clubhouse pool. I told her they had a “kiddie” pool. She kept talking about it, so excited to see it and swim in the “kiddie” pool. When we arrived, she hurried in and looked all over. She said, “Momma, where are the cats?” I said, “What are you talking about?” She: “You said there was a pool for kitties here!” She was so disappointed, but I was laughing my head off . . .

      • Cherie says:

        One more word mix up. I once had a sixth grade language arts student who chose to write a report about her ancestors. When she turned it in, the title was “My Aunt Sisters.” Isn’t that cute? It made just a little bit of sense. After all, our aunt’s sisters are our ancestors!

        • Kristie Barnett says:

          Love it, Cherie – now I have to spin off that. I had a favorite great aunt who was one of three girls. For some reason, everyone called her “Sister” rather than her name. So we always called her “Aunt Sister.” Whenever I spoke of her, my friends assumed my aunt was a nun.

  14. MK says:

    What a great post! I do not think I will ever be able to ditch or even paint our dining room furniture b/c it was the first set of nice furniture that we saved up for, but I would surely encourage my college daughters to go more rustic, casual, and user-friendly in the dining room when it comes time for them to furnish their first house. I did recently roll up the wool oriental rug under our dining room table, and I replaced it with a sisal-look indoor/outdoor rug from Target! It is cream with a wide light aqua band around the outer border, and even that little change lightened up and updated the room in an instant. I loved it so much that I rolled up the navy wool Karastan oriental in the family room and replaced it with a light sisal rug as well.

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