You didn't need an expansive room in order to create a hub where loved ones can gather over meals.

By Blythe Copeland
November 18, 2020
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Aspirational home images often seem to show generous dining rooms with seating for 12, oversized china cabinets, and imposing chairs, but that isn't the type of space most homeowners have at their disposal. Instead, many find themselves trying to maximize seating and storage space without sacrificing their aesthetic. "A bigger dining room isn't better than a smaller dining room," says Michele Chagnon-Holbrook of Casabella Interiors in East Sandwich, Massachusetts. "You can do a small dining room just as beautifully as a large dining room if you pay attention to the details."

Choose a practical table.

Formal dining rooms—often used only for family holidays and special events—aren't as common as they used to be, which means many homes could benefit from a multi-purpose table that allows for working from home, kids' messy art projects, and an afternoon cup of coffee. "Function and personality are where we start," says Chagnon-Holbrook. "More and more people are looking for things that are multi-functional." She recommends considering the rest of your aesthetic and how you plan to use the table before choosing a material—glass may not be ideal for homes with small kids; a marble table may not blend in with a farmhouse-style home. "In small spaces, we love doing circular tables," she says; a 48-inch round table usually seats four to six, while a 60-inch table seats six to eight. Christina Boschetti of Philadelphia-based interior design firm Widell and Boschetti also has her clients consider their entertaining style when choosing a table shape. "Round tables are great conversation settings, and long rectangle tables provide ample seating," she says. "If you are going round, opt for a pedestal to allow for more seating."

Make it comfortable.

Boschetti recommends seating for eight in a dining room, but adds that you shouldn't let the chairs overwhelm your space. "The chairs should be low-profile and airy for small spaces," she says. "If you have dining chairs with arms, the arms should fit easily under the dining table itself when the chairs are pushed in. This will ensure your guests can rest their arms comfortably and that your dining chairs can be properly stored under the table when not in use." A custom bench—either freestanding or installed with a tufted back against the wall—or a built-in banquette offers flexible seating that doesn't monopolize the room, but rather allows your guests to settle in for an extra helping of dessert and conversation. "[These] are all different ways to do seating, but make sure those chairs are comfortable," says Chagnon-Holbrook "So many people plan dining rooms and they look pretty but they're not comfortable."

Get creative with your storage options.

A built-in banquette also offers hidden storage, and serves as a great place to neatly stash extra linens, your great-aunt's silver, and paper party supplies. "Storage is a big contender and something to think about in creative ways when you're designing a dining room in a small space," says Chagnon-Holbrook. Choose open shelving for displaying your favorite serving platters or bar glassware; add a custom floating console; or install built-in wine racks to upper cabinets. "Use every inch of your walls and ceiling," says Changnon-Holbrook. "A banquette, a wet bar…you could even recess simple cubbies and do beautiful shutters on the front of it, so when it's closed it's a beautiful architectural detail. Building in really maximizes your space."

Choose a dramatic light fixture.

Dining rooms don't generally need bright task lighting; instead, you're looking for a more flattering glow that enhances long, chatty dinner parties. "It doesn't have to be practical—it can serve as a focal point," says Chagnon-Holbrook. "We have one rule: Go big and add some shine." She suggests installing a series of pendants along the length of a rectangular table, or a larger, more striking pendant over a round table. Boschetti agrees, noting that the typical rule of scale is that a chandelier shouldn't be more than half the width of the table. "When it comes to lighting the bolder the better!" she says. "Statement pieces bring an entire room together, whether it's an oversized [light] or a cluster. Remember, lighting is the jewelry of the home."

Add statement accents.

Decorating a small space doesn't mean avoiding large-scale prints, bold colors, or striking shapes. "Whether you chose wallpaper, lighting or custom furnishings, consider what's going to spark conversation—especially if the room is on the smaller side," says Boschetti. "High gloss paint can easily change a look of any aesthetic dramatically. This technique works from contemporary to super traditional; any small dining space can jolt with color." Chagnon-Holbrook likes anchoring a room with mural-inspired wallpaper, a fireplace, a light-filled window, or a wooden ceiling detail. Mirrors—whether a single, large framed version hung next to a window; a collection of smaller shapes over the sideboard; or as an accent on the front of a cabinet—will make your space feel larger as they reflect the light from other surfaces. "It's not anything in and of itself, but really how everything is layered together," says Chagnon-Holbook. "And don't forget the fresh flowers!"

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