Let’s talk formal dining rooms. Growing up, my family had a large formal dining room. We did the norm and used it for Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as, certain birthdays. During the rest of the year, the dining room collected plates and occasionally flowers. Today, I want to focus on the pros and cons of having a formal dining room. A formal dining room can give any home that feeling of elegance. A formal dining room can also take up a huge amount of square footage that could be better used for other purposes. It’s crazy that today there are actually formal dining rooms for the outside.
Funny fact: I actually got interested in home decor and interior design by drooling over some of the best formal dining rooms ever. I mean what’s not to love – the candles, the flowers and the plates. It doesn’t get more elegant than a formal dining room. I’ve worked with some of the top designers in the world and a few have created amazing dining room vignettes. In fact, my good friend David Meredith takes some of the most amazing photographs for companies like Restoration Hardware and McGuire furniture. So you see truth be told, if I had a mansion, one million close friends and money to burn…I might have a few formal dining rooms. Shameless plug here – McGuire furniture has some of the best formal dining room furniture pieces I have ever seen.
For me, one designer that can create amazing formal dining rooms is none other than Barbara Barry. She adds just the right amount of florals, the right amount of color and the lighting is always perfect. Her book Around Beauty is always my go to when I’m trying to set up a room. Now the truth is I never get close to one of Barbara’s images, but I give it my best shot. Barbara’s formal dining rooms (in my opinion) tend to differ from the norm because she adds a bright and livable feel to them without missing a beat on the elegance. In my opinion, if you go the route of the formal dining room you need to make it livable if it’s something that you’re going to use more than a few times a year. Another option is to set up the dining area almost like a presentation area or create a display for people to see that adds to the room. Let people know that if they behave, they might be invited to one of your fancy dinner parties.
I love to put a lamp on a long dining table. Clear one end, and put the light and all the food and flowers there. It makes a lovely still life and floods the scene with warmth. —Barbara Barry
It is kind of funny that if you open up any design magazine that wants to suck you into formal dining room advocacy, they really know how to do it. The photographs always have the perfect mood lighting, glassware, chandelier hanging overhead and some of the best floral arrangements you’ve ever seen in your life. Now I have nothing against this, but let’s just face it; your average family is not going to be living that kind of lifestyle every night. I may be wrong, but when most of us get home from work, we just want to eat and hang out with the family.
On the plus side, a formal dining room gives that glow and that feeling of family, warmth and gathering. I mean even if the queen of England comes over, we have somewhere to entertain. A formal dining room can also bring back memories of your childhood, which I do like. I remember those Thanksgivings when the entire family was over and seeing the table set up with food and flowers was simply amazing. Those are some of my best memories and I’m sure my family feels the same way. Most top designers design with the formal dining room in mind. Also, if you plan on getting your house featured in Elle Decor or Architectural Digest, you better have a formal dining room.
OK on the minus side, it takes up a lot of square footage. For the most part during the year, it collects books, plates and grocery bags. Most of the formal dining rooms that I’ve seen tend to be a place where we allow clutter to build. Now if you’re anything like me when you walk in the door you want to put whatever you have in your hands down and normally that goes on your formal dining table. Also, unless you’re using the formal dining area maybe more than four times a year, it always makes you wonder if that’s the best use of space.
For some homeowners, the formal dining room is not conducive to their lifestyle. In those cases, that extra space might be better suited as an extra office, a homework area for the kids, a music room, a sitting room or a den. If you add some French doors to that space, you can really make it whatever best works for your family. – Karina Jones
At the end of the day, you have to go with your gut. You have to ask yourself some questions based on your lifestyle, income and taste. It might make sense at the moment, but will it make sense in the long run? How often do you plan on entertaining? How big is your family? Do you really have that many friends? When will the queen of England be coming to visit and how many people will she be bringing?
These stunning visuals do not imply that I am sold on the idea of a formal dining room, but they are pretty to look at. Remember, inside everyone there’s an interior designer waiting to break free. Trust your instinct and go with your gut… Or in my case ask my wife!