Dining rooms are re-emerging in a clearly defined space and with eclectic flair

ROOMS TO FEAST YOUR EYES ON

April 20, 1997|By Beth Smith

While kitchens often get the nod as the room that conjures the most memories, I have to vote for the dining room. My grandmother's dining room, in particular, still lingers in my mind because it was always the place of celebrations and ceremony as I was growing up.

My family gathered there for holiday dinners, birthday parties, wedding showers and christening brunches.

The dining room was probably the most elaborately furnished space in my grandmother's small, simple home. She had saved pennies after the Depression to buy the mahogany-veneer set of furniture -- pedestal table, formal chairs, china closet. Everything matching, of course.

The wallpaper changed over the years -- from large cabbage roses to refined stripes to miniature prints. And the rug changed with the seasons -- fake Persian for the winter; sisal for the summer. But the furniture remained the same for nearly three decades.

The table was my grandmother's pride and joy. It had several leaves and when extended to maximum length, all the many family members could crowd around.

We children were relegated to the kitchen table after grace was said, but when we finished eating, we were allowed back into the dining room. And at an appropriate age, say 14 or 15, we found a permanent place in my grandmother's room.

As an adult in my own home, I found myself with a small dining area -- one of those L-shaped spaces that appeared on the architectural scene in force with the advent of the 1950s rancher. I wasted little time converting an old screened porch to a dining room and over the years have tried to celebrate important family events by filling it with the people I love. I think my grandmother would like that.

The '90s dining room

I am not alone in my fondness for dining rooms. Today, interior designers are reporting that dining rooms are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Of course, they never really disappeared, but they did get slightly lost in the great-room phenomenon.

"About 10 or 15 years ago, we were being bombarded with the great room," says interior designer Marie Schwartz. "We were told [by architects that] the formal dining room was passe. Walls were coming down and the kitchen and dining room were being merged with the family room to make one grand space."

The dining room became the dining table, a piece of furniture placed among assorted sofas and chairs, a counter top away from the kitchen.

While architects and interior designers promoted the great room, many families were having second thoughts. By the 1990s, they were opting once again for a more formal dining space -- a separate room if possible; if not, at least a more defined dining area than that found in the great room.

(Not all homeowners are eschewing the great room, however. For a different attitude about combining living spaces, see the story beginning on Page 4.)

"My clients, many of them young professionals in their 30s and 40s, are definitely requesting dining rooms," says Schwartz. "They want a formal space for entertaining at home and they want to be able to seat 10 or 12 people for dinner."

Interior designer Sandy Glover has always been a fan of formal dining rooms. She sees them being used more frequently not only for entertaining but for regular family dining. "I think one of the biggest complaints I hear from my clients when they look at a new house is that the dining room is too small," she says.

While size can't be changed easily, other factors that influence the character of a dining room can be manipulated to suit the taste and style of the homeowner. Designers agree that furniture, floor coverings, window treatments, lighting and color play important roles in creating memory-making dining rooms.

"Whether the room is traditional or contemporary, furniture pieces should be unique, not bought as a set," advises interior designer Curtis Cummings.

The trend is to throw glass, wood and metal together in a sophisticated mix. Antiques, reproductions, even contemporary pieces coexist. My grandmother's notion of every piece of dining room furniture matching every other piece in style and finish is definitely outdated. "Dining rooms are more eclectic, more layered," Cummings says.

The newest twist is to find chairs that complement but don't match the table. Painted or stained chairs, often highlighted with gold, are turning up with all types of tables. Upholstered seating, particularly for host chairs, is definitely an upscale look.

While you can't have a dining room without chairs, interior designers agree that the table is the most important piece of dining-room furniture, and they say the pedestal or double-pedestal base is hands-down the most practical.

"If you are concerned with getting the maximum amount of people around a table, forget tables with corner legs," says Schwartz. "It is much easier to place chairs around a table with a pedestal base."

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