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Casual vs Formal Dining Rooms

Casual vs Formal Dining Rooms

Which style does your dining room fit into?

Linda Holmes
By Linda Holmes, Interiors Director

Does your home have a formal or a casual dining room? Are you unsure of whether yours fits into either category? Or do you have both?

Modern living trends mean that out of all of the rooms in the home, the formal dining room is the one that journalists report are becoming less coveted. The upsurge in open-plan living means dining spaces are being added into one, fluid area. Plus, busy lifestyles combined with the rise in bowl food has resulted in people eating more and more meals on the sofa.

So, in the formal vs informal dining room debate, you might think the traditional dining room would lose. But could it be that there’s a case for both?

Formal vs Casual Dining Rooms - What is the Difference - Finchatton - LuxDeco Style Guide
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What is a Casual Dining Room?

An informal dining room can be one of two things. The first jumps on the open-plan living trend, where the walls are taken down and several of your downstairs rooms merge into a central living hub.

Kitchen, living room and dining room all share the same space, and that’s what has the biggest effect on making a dining room feel more relaxed. Activity happens all around it from cooking in one direction to the television being on it another; the fact it’s a communal spot makes the vibe much more casual. Everyone will want to pull up a chair at the dining table, whether it’s to eat, to sit and chat or to work.

When it turns into much more than its main function – somewhere to eat – that’s what tells you best of all that it’s a more laidback, unrestrained and flexible part of your home.

Option number two for a more casual dining room style is about how the table is used. Even if your dining table is in its own room – a broken-plan layout – it can still be a casual part of the home. If it’s the table from which you eat every day of the week instead of having meals at the kitchen table, on the island or at the breakfast bar, or on your lap, by way of virtue it makes it a casual room. It’s part of your daily routine instead of being a separate dining area saved just for special occasions or dinner.

Formal vs Casual Dining Rooms - What is the Difference - Regal London - LuxDeco Style Guide
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Casual Dining Room Ideas

Whether you’ve chosen (as your first step towards a casual dining room) to make your dining space part on an open-plan room, or the table where every meal takes place in a separate part of the house, the ideas don’t end there. Setting the tone for your dining room also has a lot to do with the styling of your table.

Ideas for making a more casual dining room statement start with leaving the table undressed. It’s the first lesson in how to make a formal dining room feel less formal. When the table isn’t set, it makes the dining area feel like an open invitation to sit down and relax. Compare that to when it’s set for an occasion, and it feels as though you can’t sit down unless it’s when food is served – or about to be. Keep the placemats and the crockery at bay, concentrating instead on a floral centrepiece or a decorative bowl placed in the middle.

But if the dining room is in an open-plan, convivial environment and you prefer to keep the table laid, dress it back down by choosing chairs that mirror the relaxed furniture in the room. This will help the dining room to feel more casual, because if the dining chairs are upholstered in a similar material to that of your sofa or footstool, there’s an underlying message saying, come sit down and relax.

On the topic of dining chairs, they play a huge part in defining the character of your dining room. The more laidback the shape and style of your chair (or bench), the less formal your dining room will appear. Compare the contemporary scooped dining chairs in the bright white Greg Natale dining room pictured, or the Eames DSW-inspired chairs in his other dining corner scheme with the more formal silhouettes in the LuxDeco dining room further on in the article. The difference in their aesthetic completely changes the dynamic of the room.

Formal vs Casual Dining Rooms - What is the Difference - Greg Natale - LuxDeco Style Guide
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How you style the area around the dining table counts as an informal dining room idea too. Or even under it as Greg Natale shows by positioning a show-stopper geometric circular rug under his glossy pedestal table. The rounded shape of the rug echoes the informal nature of the circular table and its bold and brave weave feels anything but traditional.

What is a Formal Dining Room?

At the total opposite end is a formal dining room. Typically, this is when there’s a dedicated room saved for special occasion dining. It’s likely that the kitchen has a smaller table where most mealtimes take place, but there’s an additional dining room close by too. In here, you’d expect a larger, grander table where big feasts would be spread out for celebrations with lots of guests – Christmas Day lunch is a classic example.

But in some homes, the evening meal is treated with a degree of formality every day of the week. It’s where the family come together to sit down, away from the distractions of the kitchen and living room, to concentrate just on the food and one another. So not every formal dining room is a case of seldom use.

The bottom line is a formal dining room is where the table is treated as a place to bring people together to dine and carries a sense of occasion.

Formal Dining Room Ideas

Formal dining table ideas pivot around how the space is going to be used. If it’s purely for grander occasions, this will dictate what sort of table you need. Go with the sense of pomp and ceremony and choose a large, stately, rectangular table that can fit plenty of people around it.

By the same token, if you’re going to be using it more frequently, then it’s worth looking at extendable designs that have more intimacy for when there’s fewer people, but can grow to host a big gathering. Remember that a circular table feels less formal than a squared edge one, if you want to soften the tone of the room. These will extend into an oval which is a good balance between formal and relaxed.

Formal vs Casual Dining Rooms - What is the Difference - Elicyon - LuxDeco Style Guide
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The same advice applies for chair choices – they have the potential to make a formal room feel far more or far less grand. Generally, chairs with arms carry formality. Compare the armless and elegant dining chairs in the Elicyon scene pictured with the LuxDeco image below.

There’s a far greater feeling of openness in the former, because chairs without arms create a lighter aesthetic and encourage closeness. The only difference is if a chair has high, cushioned arms and a low back, as shown in carver chair at the head of the table in the Elicyon scheme.

The two aspects aren’t at odds with one another and this has the effect of making people feel safe, cocooned and relaxed – a chair style to avoid if you want something that’s traditionally very formal. The stature of the chair will play a role in setting your formal dining room’s tone too. For example, a taller chair feels much more formal than a low-back design.

Formal vs Casual Dining Rooms - What is the Difference - LuxDeco Style Guide
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And finally, to the tabletop. Because the formal dining room is a place of one sole activity, styling it in a functional way makes perfect sense. Embrace everything from placemats and decorative coasters to beautifully heavy linen napkins (complete with napkin rings hugging their middle) and candlelight down the length of the table.

Dress each setting with crockery for each course as you’d see at a restaurant with your finest glassware for both wine and water. And fill the centre of your table with flowers and charger plates ready to put down what you’re serving. Keep it styled this way as standard if you like, so that your dining room never has a hair out of place and is perpetually ready to put on a good show.

Formal vs Casual Dining Rooms - What is the Difference - Helen Green Design - LuxDeco Style Guide
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