A dining room is one of the main social areas in a home. It serves as a place to enjoy good food and good company but what’s equally important is that it should be a place that you enjoy spending time in. And, as all good host and hostesses know, fine dining style comes down to so much more than what’s on the menu or who’s over for dinner.
There are many practical considerations from space planning and fabric and material choices to functional elements and craftsmanship. Yes, choosing dining room furniture takes a lot of thought, but thanks to our handy buying guide, the process is made so much more simple.
Before making any big decisions, decide what you want from your dining room – that will determine a lot, from style to layout and from what what furniture you’ll include to how you’ll plan your lighting scheme. Writing down your answers to the following questions and then reviewing them will make any design decisions much simpler:
– Will it be primarily a formal or informal eating area?
– What kind of mood do you want to set?
– How often will the room be used?
– What is the average number of guests you will cater for?
– What is the age range of your guests?
– How important is a uncluttered space to you?
Once these questions have been answered, you will find that a lot of your design choices will be a little clearer. For example, someone who plans to use their dining room solely for three course meals on special occasions might look for a more formal style with the addition of a sideboard, china display cabinet and upholstered carver chairs. For a dining space which will be used daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and the odd after-dinner homework session), a more relaxed look works well with durable materials.
Image Credit: Laura Hammett
Dining room styles
Contemplate first if you want your dining room to be a formal or informal space:
Formal dining room
A formal dining room is one which is used for special dinners, celebratory meals and fine dining. It will undoubtedly feature a matching table and chair set (usually in luxury materials such as beautiful hardwoods and refined upholstery), crisp, pressed linens and a full dinner service complete with serving dishes and a silverware service. This type of dining room will feature pieces which assist in the dining and entertaining process like a buffet or sideboard, a china cabinet and a striking centrepiece.
Informal dining room
An informal dining room is a much more relaxed space. In fact, it may not even be a separate room, rather a designated area in an open plan kitchen or conservatory. Informal dining areas are particularly great for everyday use. Furniture needn’t adhere to convention – banquettes and benches work particularly well – and, considering the usual proximity to the kitchen, there is less of a need for storage space. A full dinner service is often replaced by tableware basics.
There are, however, tricks to creating a space which is flexible and suitable for both informal and formal occasions. Says interior designer April Russell, “To dress a dining room up or down comes down to dressing the table. You can go elaborate for formal occasions and simplify for everyday dining. I love to decorate a table with lovely tablecloths and linen napkins, flowers, candles, silver, pretty tableware, crystal and place cards for very formal occasions. For less formal occasions, choose a simpler dinner/lunch service and perhaps fun, coloured glasses. Replace silver with perhaps something seasonal [and] choose fun place mats.”
Once you’ve decided on a formal or informal space, it’s time to think about the look you want to achieve. There are many styles to choose from but a few popular ones are:
Characterised by grand wooden furniture and comprising of a full dining suite (think matching table and chairs, breakfront china cabinets and sideboards) in rich woods. Accent with a crystal or wrought iron chandelier or wall sconces.
A rustic but pretty style comprised of bleached, aged or painted white woods, predominantly neutral and pastel colour palettes and organic materials like wicker or rattan. Wooden ladder-back chairs and benches are common which are often enhanced by removable seat pads for comfort.
This style makes a statement with elaborately carved woodwork, sumptuous upholstery like brocades and damasks, statement chandeliers and gilded tableware. Styles like Rococo, Gothic and all the Louis eras are considered decorative.
This is the typical hotel look with crisp cotton table linens, flawless cutlery and timeless silhouettes. White is a colour of choice for linens and tableware for its ability to make everything look absolutely perfect. A haute cuisine menu is the only thing to offer with this style.
Here is where forward-thinking design comes into its own. Whether it’s barely-there glass dining tables, boundary-breaking sculptural elements or gravity-defying chairs, the look is cool but brilliantly considered. Iconic designs are also a mainstay and, in regards to colour, both purist tones and vibrant brights are used with equal effectiveness.
See our edit of 10 Luxury Dining Room Styles for more inspiration on finding your dining room style.
Image Credit: Black & Key
Choosing a dining table
Like all furniture, dining tables come available in a variety of materials which is often determined by silhouette and style. Some of the most popular materials for luxury dining furniture are:
Still the most popular material option, wood is hard wearing, versatile and rich in both aesthetic and colour. It can be as simple or as decorative as you’d like depending on the grain and finishes (from distressed to high gloss) used. Options of carving, inlay and marquetry add interest too.
A veneer is thin slice of wood which is fixed to a solid panel to be used in the construction of a piece of furniture. Not only are veneers flexible and durable, they’re also available in just about any wood finish including exotic and rare woods.
A thoroughly modern choice, glass is great for a sleek aesthetic and works well in rooms which are too small to house a wooden design which is visually more dense. Tempered glass should be used for furniture for added strength.
Metal is most often used for dining table bases, especially for sleek, stylish designs. The material can be glossy, brushed, hammered or powder-coated. can be teamed with wood, marble or glass tops to produce different looks.
Parchment is a super-fine animal skin covering (usually goatskin) which is applied to wooden panels using a specialist and very traditional craftsman technique. The parchment is usually polished to a high shine which gives the appearance of a glossy varnish.
This is another traditional material which can be incredibly modern in certain settings. Often it is just used for the tabletop and paired with wood or metal bases although some full marble tables are available. Due to the weight of this material, it is always wise to always check flooring requirements.
Not only should your materials be of the finest quality, but the workmanship should be too. Things to look out for here are marquetry or inlay techniques, precision wood matching and examples of fine joinery like corner blocks, dovetail and mortise and tenon joints. It almost goes without saying that finishes should be flawless (unless specified as a distressed or aged finish) and joins should be seamless.
Understanding the appropriate dining table measurements for your room can make a big difference to the dining experience of both you and your guests. If a table is too small, guests will be cramped and dining will be negatively affected; if it’s too big, conversation will be difficult and there won’t be a feeling of intimacy.
To get an idea of the footprint of your dining table, we’d suggest making a 2D mock up out of paper and lay it on the floor where the dining table will be situated. The general rule is to allow 60 centimetres per diner (70 centimetres for carver chairs) but for more specific suggested dimensions, follow this table as a guide:
Image Credit: Spinocchia Freund
The standard height for a dining table height is 75 centimetres although some dining tables offer a little more height (76–77 centimetres is rarer but permissible). A suggested lap space (the distance between the top of a diner’s legs and the lowest tabletop element) is 19 centimetres although this will depend on the person. Always compare the measurements of a dining table with any chairs you are considering buying, if buying separately.
Extendable dining tables are a sensible investment if your space allows for it and if you regularly have extra guests to dinner. Extra leaves can add a lot of extra surface space to a dining table and are designed to be brilliantly discreet when not in use.
One last thing to note is the placement of legs around a table. April explains, “I would ask myself how many people max will be seated at the table because you don’t want the dining table legs in the way of human legs.” If diners find themselves seated in front of a table leg with little room to stretch comfortably, it makes for an unenjoyable dining experience. This is especially true of extendable designs which have to fit more chairs around them at times. To eliminate this problem, opt for a pedestal base which is a good alternative to the more traditional four-legged structure.
Choosing dining chairs
There are generally two types of dining room chairs to choose from – a carver (with arms) and a standard (without arms) dining chair. Round, oval or square tables will usually use a set of either one of these designs whilst a rectangular table will often make use of a combination of the two with long sides being flanked with standard dining chairs with carvers at the heads of the table.
Since comfort is the main concern when choosing dining room chairs, it’s best to opt for upholstered designs which are well-padded and covered in a durable fabric. Although, if your style is more rustic or you want a more informal look, a wooden ladder-back or Shaker-style chair or bench is a fitting alternative – these can have comfort added to them with the help of removable seat pads.
Dining room chairs benefit from being durable due to their heavy use and their proximity to cooked foods. Whatever fabric you choose, it’s paramount to choose a specialist upholstery fabric which has a good Martindale rub test – this is a test designed to test the durability of the material and will ensure that your chairs will age well.
Padding, foam, webbing and strapping are all signs that a chair is of a luxury quality. These will offer the most comfortable seat as well as maintaining the shape of the chair well throughout the years.
Although dining chairs can be made from any solid wood, beech legs are almost the universal choice for wooden chairs because of their strength and durability.
Like dining tables, there are a few rules of thumb for dining chair measurements:
A minimum depth measurement for dining chairs is 45 centimetres and seat height is 46 centimetres. The width of a dining chair will differ between styles and especially between carvers or standard designs.
Allow at least 80 centimetres between the back of a pulled out chair and the wall or sideboard to allow for easy passage and safe serving.
Do’s and Don’ts of Dining Furniture
DON’T overcrowd your dining table – chair dimensions and appropriate spacing should be considered.
DO buy extra chairs if your table is extendable. If you don’t you’ll end up with mismatched chairs – not a good look for formal dining.
DO contact our Concierge for styling advice.