The formal dining room: it’s (unfortunately) losing popularity in new homes, but there’s nothing like a separate, elegant room for special occasions and fancy dinners to give your home a new level of sophistication. It’s a place to connect intimately over food, fine wine, friends and family.
Because formal dining rooms are increasingly replaced by multi-purpose dining rooms (that double as offices, music rooms, living rooms…) or phased out entirely in favor of an open-plan dining area off the kitchen (formerly known as a “dinette” or eat-in kitchen), it can be hard to find inspiration for yours. Many decor sites and blogs have plenty of pieces on how to use your dining room creatively and rethinking or repurposing the dining room, but not much on how to decorate a dining room as… a dining room.
For the sake of traditional dining room lovers everywhere, we present the most important elements to consider in planning a tasteful formal dining room. The main categories to address are:
The formal dining room is often characterized by rich, sophisticated colors and patterns. Due to the fact that we realistically do not spend much time in it, the dining room is the perfect place for experimenting with bolder colors. Deep colors like navy, charcoal, and burgundy are classics; wallpaper in similar shades is popular once again, especially textured papers like grasscloth or those with a metallic sheen for visual interest.
In a formal dining room, wood is the obvious – but not always the best or most practical – choice. It’s classic, versatile, and beautiful; it can be refinished as necessary; it’s available in a massive array of sizes, shapes, installation patterns, and colors. Be aware, however, that wood does need extra care – special cleaning agents, regular maintenance – and the cost is obviously a factor as well.
Dark wood is a timeless yet stylish look. Deep brown finishes like walnut and ebony are elegant: rich but still light enough to display the wood grain. Lighter woods like limed oak and whitewashed finishes are more modern and often more casual, as are gray-toned floors; steer clear of orangey tones whenever possible.
The most important part of the dining room is the furniture. Lavish decorating is pointless if your family will be sitting on folding chairs at a card table. Focus on the table and chairs above all else; other furnishings are nice but not strictly necessary. The furniture doesn’t have to be matchy-matchy or overdone; you don’t need that china cabinet just because it’s a classic part of the dining room “suite.” On the contrary: too much furniture will overcrowd the room, as will a cluttered glass-front curio cabinet. Buy what works for your particular needs – buffet, sideboard, china cabinet, corner curio, built-ins – but concentrate primarily on the table and chairs.
Traditional dining room lighting consists of a chandelier and matching sconces. The modern take on traditional features a streamlined chandelier, a linear fixture, or two or more matching chandeliers or pendants. Sconces are no longer a must-have; on the contrary, only choose sconces once the rest of the room is laid out and decided or you may end up with a different layout, culminating in off-center sconces, off-kilter drapery, or unsightly covers where the sconce holes were drilled.
Drapes are considered the most traditional option in the dining room, but they work in rooms of all sizes. Drapery doesn’t have to be expensive or custom-made; look for window treatments at stores like Home Goods, IKEA, or even Target and Wal-Mart. Just make sure to wash the drapes before hanging the rods and fabric; some materials may shrink. All drapery should be removable and cleanable.
Besides for the pattern and color of the drapes themselves, consider the rod, rings, and tie-backs. If you’re renting or on a budget, tension rods may work if your windows are deep-set; all rods are available in an array of finishes, from acrylic to brass to oil-rubbed bronze to aged silver and everything in between. Rings and tie-backs should coordinate with the general décor scheme; braided, tassled ties will look out of place in a sleek, modern room.
Though staged home-décor photos often show that you can mix and match patterns, it’s unadvisable unless you’re working with a skilled designer. Preferably, choose one feature of the room to pattern boldly. If you opt for busy wallpaper or moldings, pick plain chairs (and vice versa). Keep the flooring neutral to allow other elements to stand out; be sure wood tones in flooring and furniture don’t clash. Coordinate window treatments with other furnishings and fabrics; if the chairs are subtly patterned, a more dramatic drape is acceptable, but tone down the shades if you want the wallpaper to shine.
Sometimes the smallest touches make the biggest difference. Outfit your dining room with the right details to complete it.
- Textiles: tablecloth or runner, napkins
- Accessories: vases, flowers (fresh or faux), interesting centerpieces for the table or buffet
- Wall décor: mirrors (choose large and round over a sideboard for visual interest), art
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