Multifunctional furnishings, storage solutions, and borrowed tableware are all good options, according to designers.

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dining nook
Credit: Ngoc Minh Ngo

Autumn is normally a time to shine for the hosts, entertainers, and socialites among us; a time for events and celebrations amid the holiday season. This year, however, those events will have to be on a smaller scale to maintain health safety, and in most cases, we'll be relegated to our own dining rooms. So, how do you make the most of a small dining space?

Here, we asked some of our trusted designers and here's what they recommend.

Furnish with multifunctional pieces.

"Small spaces always need multifunctional pieces," says Elisabeth Lyons Becker of Margaret Donaldson Interiors, an all-women design company based in Charleston, South Carolina. "We look for tables that have durable finishes that can withstand being used for both fine dining/entertaining, and as a homework or virtual work spot," she adds, recommending a dining table with self-storing leaves to allow for extension when needed, but don't require extra storage space elsewhere.

"Look for furniture with a narrow footprint," says Yaiza Armbruster, principle of New York-based architecture and interior design firm Atelier Armbruster. Benches and stools are also advisable because you can tuck them under the table and create more space, she adds.

Lay out rugs to frame the table.

"To make a small space seem larger, make sure you are starting with a rug that is large enough for the space. You want your rug under a dining table to extend 24 inches from each side of the table, minimum, so that diners are not half on and half off the rug while seated," says Becker. Armbruster notes that rugs can also help define a space if you are using one room for both living and dining purposes.

Maximize storage.

When working in a small dining space, storage is essential. "Think outside the box with what is stored in a dining room, [especially in] a small space," says Becker. Because many people are working from home, they are dually using their dining space for eating and office work. "Not everyone has china and fine silver that they want to store. Buffets and hutches can be repurposed to house office supplies, art supplies, linens, or anything that needs a home," says Becker.

Armbruster likes sparse rooms, but says that "small rooms can hold more furniture than you'd imagine; a chest or credenza can add to the space and create more storage for plates and seasonal decorations such as candles, flowers, and other accessories used to change the mood of the room from summer to fall to winter."

Use light to trick the eye.

In a small space, light is everything, so use it to your advantage. Large windows and strategically-placed mirrors can make a room feel larger. "It's about reflectiveness and letting the light bounce," says Armbruster. She's not a huge fan of mirrors, but with regards to lighting, Armbruster recommends straight or linear lights over chandeliers that might swallow a small room.  

Display artwork.

"Be brave," encourages Armbruster. "Diversify scale." She advises playing with sizes and colors; large abstract art usually works best in this type of design. As far as what kind of art you should buy, Armbruster says "it's a personal choice, so anything goes." She recommends Chairish, Tappan, Minted, and photographer Gray Malin (to name a few) as sources of unique art to add to your dining space. In addition, Armbruster recommends using color to add tone and mood to the space. "Have color on your walls," she says. "It makes it cozy." (For paint suppliers, check out Clare, Farrow & Ball, and Fine Paints of Europe).

Rent tableware.

Storage can be limited in small dining spaces, so why not just rent your tableware? There are services that will deliver entire tablescapes to your door. "Social Studies was created to help people entertain who are tight on storage and space," says Jessica Latham, co-founder and CEO of the partyware rental company. "Renting a specific look makes it easy to entertain without committing to buy." Latham suggests being creative with "where you set your table," and recommends turning your coffee table into a dinner table for a laid-back vibe, and using your stoop stairs, fire escape, or lawn if you want to get outside. It helps to set that perfect Instagrammable moment for your dining guests.

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