Some people call the dining room the forgotten room. But there is good news for dining room aficionados who savor the gracious hospitality of breaking bread amid a home setting of tranquillity and style. Reports indicate a growing interest in having a room set apart for formal dining.
A 1989 survey by the National Association of Home Builders reports that 83 percent of those polled said a separate dining room was important or very important. Plus, interior designers report renewed client interest in this traditional room. And, with the holidays coming, dining rooms take on added significance, even for people who don't use them on a regular basis.
So, what makes a dining room workable and visually interesting? We asked five prominent designers in the Baltimore area to share their thoughts on this while giving us a peek at their own personal dining rooms.
Diane Weiss, Louis Mazor Inc.: "The dining room is a priority for my husband and me," she says, "because we do a lot of entertaining. We moved to this house because I wanted a larger dining room." Ms. Weiss calls her home, a 105-year-old country Victorian on the suburban fringes of Baltimore city, "inviting but not formal." The dining room was converted from a screen porch.
Pretty yet sophisticated, the room is accented with a traditional chair rail, classic crown molding, and an antique kilim rug on a hardwood floor. But the interior design of the room is very eclectic and full of "a hodgepodge of stuff," she says.
"I brought almost all my furniture with me from my old house, except for the dining room table," she says. The new table is a Guy Chaddock piece in an English country design with an oak parquet top. When opened for large dinner parties, it seats 14.
The eight dining room chairs are antique reproduction Chippendales painted an antique white. "I think that dining room chairs can be totally different in design and color from the table," she says.
Each piece of furniture in her dining room has a function. The antique 16th century William and Mary sideboard is used for the coffee service. An American armoire of 19th century vintage stores tableware and serving pieces. While a French camping table from the Napoleonic era displays two Indonesian puppets, it also holds dessert dishes.
The dining room is wrapped in a color scheme of gray, beige, off-white and white, with a teasing of pink, plus a burgundy stripe in the crown molding. Ms. Weiss says her favorite dining-room colors are red or peach, but she chose gray for her personal dining room because it made for an easy transition from the red of the nearby butler's pantry and kitchen.
"I wanted the window treatment very soft and, because the view is so pretty, I wanted the draperies open," she says. The windows, including a floor-to-ceiling bay at one end of the room, are done with an upholstered drapery rod and pencil-pleated panels that puddle generously on the floor. The fabric, a &L Clarence House cotton in white and pink dots, matches the upholstered seats of the Chippendale chairs.
Ms. Weiss loves candles and she fills the dining room with candlelight when entertaining. Her first choice for dining light was an antique brass chandelier that used candles. Today, it has been replaced with very simple recessed lighting on a dimmer switch.
Generally, good dining room design includes "a table that can seat at least eight, eight chairs that match, a built-in shelf or a server, good things on the walls, wonderful lighting, and a chest for storage," says Ms. Weiss.
And, her major suggestion is for people to use dining rooms more rather than saving them for special occasions and holidays. "Dining rooms are better conversation areas than living rooms," she says, "and they are great places to teach children etiquette."
H. Girard Ebert, Innerspace: "The dining process is very ceremonial to me," he says. "Unfortunately, dining rooms are now often used only for holidays and they have been minimized to the size of a postage stamp. Luckily, my house has a dining room that affords gracious dining."
Gerry Ebert shares a large city brownstone with his partner and fellow designer Dan Proctor. The house, built in 1893, "has 15 different architectural styles in little bits and pieces," says Mr. Ebert. The dining room includes such diverse elements as a late-Victorian fireplace and a 14-foot art nouveau ceiling.
Three years ago, the dining room was basically unfinished space. Since then, "we have added the molding, glazed the walls, pickled the woodwork, added the marble to the fireplace and remounted the fireplace mantel," he says.
Today, furnished with antiques, the dining room is elegantly traditional but offers a few surprises like an art deco sculpture and a large charcoal drawing of Picasso-like circus figures by Baltimore artist Elizabeth Faas. The starting point for the design scheme was the carpet, an ivory English Wilton in a classic grid pattern with leaves in varying shades of green.