Turning the Tables
It's time to step up to the plate as dining rooms become home hotspots, says Gabrielle Fagan. Eat your heart out with these winning looks...
Our dining dreams are getting grander, and a 'proper' dining room is increasingly featuring on home wish lists, as we rediscover an appetite for lingering over meals and savouring the opportunity to connect and socialise with loved ones.
Almost 60% of us prefer dining areas to be a separate room, according to a survey by Anglian Home Improvements, and hankering for more formality appears to be in tune with a general change in attitude to mealtimes. TV dinners on the couch are falling out of favour, recent research by a leading supermarket revealed (around a third of people are cutting back on that habit), while 50% of parents are making a 'conscious effort' to gather the family together for at least one meal a week.
"Separate dining rooms fell out of favour at the turn of the Nineties, with hugely popular TV renovation shows such as Changing Rooms focusing on open-plan multi-functional rooms, but as with all trends, it looks as though the modern British household could be set for a separate dining room revival," says Julie Yarwood, interior designer at Manchester-based furniture store, Housing Units.
"With increasingly busy lifestyles, the dining experience can be a welcome break from everyday stress and a chance to reconnect with family members and friends. Not only this, a separate room allows us to temporarily remove ourselves from the post-meal clean-up, which often looms over diners in open-plan kitchen and dining areas."
Post-recession Britain's also become more budget-conscious, she believes, and as a result, the 'big night in' trend is stronger than ever. "It's inspired a dinner party revival and those often work best in a separate dining room environment. We all wish to make more of dining, and a beautifully furnished space where we can fully enjoy the moment, is becoming an essential," she says.
If your dining area's looking a bit dull, or your dining room rarely used, it's time to revamp the space. No matter what's on the menu, this should be a space to suit every occasion.
Separate dining rooms are spaces where you can truly play with decor and conjure stately home grandeur (butler optional).
"We're noticing an enormous change in the approach to dining areas," says Mark Kelly, marketing manager at Furniture123, who recently found that 69% of people now regard the dining room as their favourite place in the home, while 89% spent more on furnishing it - around £3,000 - than on any other room.
"This is no longer a room used only for special occasions - it's the main gathering point for the family and where people lavish a lot of care and attention getting the decor and furnishing right. They want dressers, a console table, wine racks, decorative lighting and accessories such as mirrors. It's all about creating a stylish sanctuary which combines a cosseting, comfortable atmosphere - essential so you can enjoy a meal - with practicality and good storage."
Tips: Round tables generally suit smaller groups better, allowing for intimate gatherings. Avoid large vases and flower arrangements or tall ornaments in the middle of a table, as they can form a barrier and discourage interaction.
Good buy: Padstow Extending Round Dining Table (seats four to six), £599, Marks & Spencer.
Decor menu: French-style painted furniture is the right ingredient for an elegant sophisticated setting. Sweetpea & Willow's Manon Dining Table, £850, and Yasmina Dining Chairs, reduced to £112.50 each from £225, could be perfect. Alternatively, a French-style Anjou Extending Table (seats eight), £645, would be well complemented by a Pair of Orsay French Chairs, £360, Within Home.
The essential ingredients for this recipe are streamlined tables and chairs and a pared-back approach, so clutter is minimal or hidden in extensive storage.
"Dining spaces are one of the hardest working zones in the home and have huge potential when it comes to style. You can opt for sophisticated glamour, think generous tables and overhanging pendant lighting in a combined kitchen/dining area which will make the eating area a stunning focal point," says Kate Tansley, creative director at Multiyork.
"Bench seating has come a long way from the schoolroom and can take up less space than individual chairs and looks more modern. Just add cushions for essential comfort."
Tip: Lighting is key - ensure it's sufficiently bright for everyday meals (or tasks like homework) but have dimmers to create atmosphere when required. Over-the-table pendant lights are brilliant for creating an instant wow factor, but don't overlook floor lamps and table lamps around the room too, to create a more intimate feel.
Good buy: Alphabeta Pendant light, from £223.53, Hem.com
Decor menu: Out There Interiors has a highly desirable selection of tables, including a Metal And Recycled Elm Dining Table (seats eight), £725. If you're a Skandi fan then Hem (the word means 'home' in Swedish) is a new kid on the online furniture block offering high design at affordable prices. One of its beauties - a Bento 6-Seat Dinner Table, is reduced to £587 from £734.56, made by Form Us With Love, and a Touchwood Chair, £146.32.
Marble's having a moment, and Housing Unit's Catalina White Marble Dining Collection includes a fashion-conscious Table And 6 Chairs, reduced to £1,699 from £2,693. Marks & Spencer's glass-topped Colby Rectangular Dining Table, £499, wouldn't dominate a space, while Multiyork's Copenhagen Extending Dining Table And Ely Chairs, reduced to £1,709 from £2,323, makes a handsome set.
Natural materials - especially wood - are ultra fashionable and suit an informal setting.
"While we haven't seen a huge push for one specific style, one thing which has become clear is that large dining spaces are back and here to stay. Eight to 12-seater tables are proving extremely popular, as people focus on creating a central hub for family and friends to gather," says Jenny Hurren, founder of Out There Interiors.
"This needs to be a multi-functional space - for food, for games, for homework, for catching up over coffee and cake. There is no one formula for creating the perfect dining space; it has to work for you and your home, and you should feel free to experiment.
"Bold, rich colours can make a separate dining area or room feel snug and cosy, while open plan areas can look stunning decorated in light, neutral tones, which blur the boundary between the indoors and outdoors, if they look out onto a garden."
Tip: Establish which size table you need - it's the main focus of the room and must be large enough to seat the required number of people, but too large and it will swamp a room. If space is an issue, opt for an extendable option for versatility.
Good buy: Burchill Rectangular Extending Dining Table, £599, Marks & Spencer.
Decor menu: There's a rustic grandeur to a Wilmore Extending Dining Table, £699, and matching Wilmore Bench, £299, Marks & Spencer, which would make it ideal for a spacious dining area. Similarly, a Plank Dining Table, in sandstone waxed finish and made from reclaimed pine, £525, is one of the stars at The Orchard, and would be complemented by its Button Back Upholstered Chairs, £182 each.
For farmhouse style, you couldn't do better than a Parquet Extending Dining Table (below), reduced to £549 from £699, with matching Parquet Chairs, currently reduced to £119 from £149, and a Parquet Bench, down to £159 from £219, Furniture Village. Neptune's just the destination for this look too, and a honey coloured rustic oak Arundel Dining Table, from £1,350, and Oak Bench, from £550, is a stunner.