As lifestyles change so does the design of our homes. And, when historians make pronouncements about today, I feel certain they will highlight how we have embraced a less formal, more casual approach to the way we live. Nowhere is this more visible than with the room I grew up calling the dining room.
If you have perused a magazine of new house plans, watched any of the home renovation shows on HGTV, or toured a new sales model, no doubt you’ve noticed that the formal dining room seems to have gone out of fashion and instead replaced with the dining area.
Things change. We change. The kitchen is still the hub of the home, but not in the way it used to be. Instead of being a place to prepare meals, it’s evolved into a space where the family gathers to do homework and catch up on the day’s events. As we all seem to be busier, the demand for a formal dining space has nearly disappeared. And let’s be honest, chances are we’re more likely to eat our meals at the kitchen counter, perched on a stool, or even standing in front of the fridge or over the sink.
Can you just imagine Lord and Lady Grantham hosting family taco night downstairs in the kitchen? Lady Mary would most certainly make a face at the mere suggestion of it, although something tells me Lady Edith would be game. Thankfully that way of life has faded and the lines between the fancy dining room and the utilitarian kitchen have been all but erased.
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Even though this “open concept” style has becoming more popular, I still enjoy hosting a gathering in my dining room every now and then. Even if the dinner is a salad and delivery pizza, there is something special about entertaining in this space. Part of it is the fact that I don’t have to look at the mess made putting the meal together while I eat it. I appreciate some visual boundaries.
But, for the most part, my dining room is still only used on a few occasions each year – Thanksgiving, when I host it, and for a special birthday celebration. Aside from those times, that expensive square footage reverts back to storage space for seldom-used furniture, stacks of china, and my great grandma’s antique silver.
Fortunately architects and designers are tackling the dilemma of delineating space in open concept designs by creating adjacent working pantries. These “mini kitchens” often house appliances and sinks, and serve as staging areas for food preparation and cleaning up. This makes for a tidier kitchen when exposed to the rest of home.
Also contributing to the relaxed atmosphere of today’s dining spaces is a more comfortable mix of furnishings and accessories. Gone are the matched table and chair sets with sideboards or china cabinets. Bye-bye traditional, polished mahogany and hello funky, eclectic mixes. A casual vibe has replaced the stiff and stuffy suites of our parents’ era. Another bygone seems to be delicate china patterns. These have been replaced by chunky, earthy place settings in nontraditional colors and shapes. Although this isn’t grandma’s dining room, I must confess I enjoy using the family china every once in a while.
Sometimes I wonder how home dining habits will evolve over the next 50 years. Our continuing fascination with food preparation and the popularity of less formal entertaining has generated a new approach to looking at our dining spaces. Mostly, I think that the key will always be to discover the balance of casual and pomp that works for each of us.
Gregory Vaughan is an interior designer with Kelley Designs on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-785-6911 or firstname.lastname@example.org.