No table and chairs? No problem! Interior designers weigh in with their clever ideas for dining in style when space is limited.
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woman at breakfast dining nook with bookshelves
Credit: Annie Schlechter

Whether you live in a small apartment or have an open floor plan in your spacious house, not all living layouts offer a designated dining room. But that doesn't mean you can't be creative. After all, a standard dining room isn't your only option for a cozy dinner-for-one, a family dinner, or even hosting an intimate holiday gathering. We tapped three design experts to provide you with some of the best solutions for transforming a space in your home into a place for dining in style, and doing so comfortably.

Turn a corner into a dining nook.

"If you have a great corner, use that as a dining nook with a built-in bench with storage and a small round table with a couple chairs," says Shelby Greene, interior designer at Living Spaces. "It is tucked out of the way and also cozy and private for dining." Follow our example pictured here: A high shelf holds cookbooks over a banquette with a simple seat cushion and throw pillows, which are an easy way to bring color into a neutral room.

Be seated at the kitchen island.

"As an alternative to a dining table, gathering around a kitchen island is a relaxed and casual dining experience," suggests designer Monique Lhuillier, who has her own dinnerware collection, available at Pottery Barn. "Instead of a tablecloth, place a runner down the center and use my Juliana Scalloped Three Tiered Stand ($69.50, to save space while creating fun dinner ideas that bring the family together."

If you're renovating or remodeling, interior stylist Maggie Clarke suggests placing a slight countertop overhang on a kitchen island or peninsula: "This will double as counter and dining space."

Use multi-purpose furnishings.

Consider tables and shelving that are built vertically to either save space or create a formal dining space when needed. "Drop leaf tables are great for saving space and could also double as a workstation," says Greene. "When entertaining, simply lift up the leaves and add a few chairs for an intimate gathering."

Clarke agrees. "Look for a vintage or antique drop-leaf table at your local thrift store or flea market," she suggests. "Combining it with contemporary chairs will make it seem fresh. While not in use, put the leaves down to save space." She also suggests mounting a long shelf to the wall. "By placing a few barstools in front of it, you have a multipurpose work space without taking up much space."

Lhuillier recommends a bistro table. "Bistro tables are chic dining options that often fold and tuck away when you're not using them. Keep a faux flower arrangement on hand and layer your table setting to create a 'pop-up' dinner table."

Host your meal in another room.

Any stylish, multi-purpose table will serve you well if you don't have a designated dining room. "By placing it in a living area, you could use it as a dining table, game table, or a working desk space," says Clarke.

Even a coffee table in the living room can be used as dining space; simply elevate your experience with fun floor pillows or ottomans. "A coffee table can make an intimate gathering spot for friends and family," says Lhuillier. "Pull up throw pillows for seating to enjoy a more casual dining experience. If you don't have a coffee table, a low ottoman is a perfect alternative!"

Take it outdoors.

If you live in a warm-weather climate, this is an option all year round. "Outdoor dining is a must!" says Lhuillier. "If you have an outside environment, I suggest using it as much as possible. Elevate your table setting by adding candles and flowers to make an everyday experience special for your family."

Greene recommends adding a rug, while Clarke suggests bistro lights. "Using outdoor string lights will really take it to the next level—dinner alfresco!"


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