Designing Your Dining Room

Sally Painter
Formal dining room

The dining room is where your family and friends come together to share a meal and create memories. The basic rules of design can help you accomplish this along with examples of various design approaches to help you realize your dream dining room.

Basics of Dining Room Design

There certain standard dining room rules that can help you create the ideal design to ensure comfort and beauty.

  • Room size: Keep design components in scale with the size of your dining room.
  • Table shape and room shape: Repeating the room shape with the table shape is a pleasing and often formal design.
  • Round and oval tables: Add interest to square and rectangle rooms with visual effect of taking up less space.
  • Mix table and room shapes: Create interest and the unexpected by using contrasting shapes of table and room.
  • Table and chair clearance: Allow a minimum 36 inches of clearance between the walls and the chairs or other furniture, such as buffet, server, china cabinet, and dining table/chairs. Ideal distance is 48 inches.
  • Space per person: Allow 2 feet of tabletop space for each person sitting at the table.
  • Chandeliers: Bottom part should be no lower than 27 to 30 inches above the table.
  • Area rugs: A rug should extend a minimum of 24 inches on all sides of the table to allow diners to move chairs in and out of the table.
  • Room-sized rugs: Should fall between 12 and 18 inches from the wall.
  • Maximize seating: Seat more people at a large table by using smaller chairs or benches.

9 Approaches to Designing a Dining Room

Once you understand the basics of dining room design, you're ready to decide on how you wish to approach the design of your room. One way is to focus on a specific aspect of design. For example, you can build your design around architectural features, color, furniture period, and other specific design elements. A good design means enjoyable meals that will leave long-lasting memories of shared meals.

#1 Architectural Features

Dining room with architectural features

One way to approach designing a dining room is to start with architectural features and build on them. Period style furniture and other furnishings can then be layered into the room design.

You can mimic a specific style by adding any or all of the architectural features to your dining room. As an example, a Georgian (1700-1830) style home features:

  • Arched doorways with capstones
  • Broken or whole pediments over doors
  • Wide crown and dentil moldings
  • Columns
  • Doorways flanked by pilasters
  • Ogee caps (two S arcs curving in opposite directions)
  • Ornate ceiling medallions.
  • Double hung sash windows with small panes
  • Decorative pediments above windows.

Once the architectural features are in place, it's simply a matter of finding appropriate furnishings. This approach can be done with any architectural style. The key to a successful dining room based on architectural features is consistency.

#2 Color Themes

Blue dining room

Focusing on a color theme approach can take several directions. You will want to decide on which theme you like best, then begin selecting fabrics for draperies, upholstery, pillows, throws, and rugs. The colors will be repeated throughout the room design. Create the room as you would a collage by alternating patterns and solids colors. Don't forget the wall color(s). Consider creating an accent wall. If you're using wallpaper, then you might combine one or more colors in a pattern or stripe. There are two very effective color themes you can use: complementary colors or monochromatic colors.

Complementary

This color theme identifies opposite colors on the color wheel. The colors are then used together to create a vibrant and stunning design. Basic color combinations are red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple, and all the various hues in between. To add greater depth to your room design, be sure to use several hues of the two-color combo. For example, red and green main colors might be vibrant and accented with pink and lime green hues. The colors can be used in various prints, patterns, and stripes, as well as solid colors.

Monochromatic

A true monochromatic color scheme is a stunning and dramatic choice. For example, you might decide blue is the color for your dining room. Start with a medium blue and then select a hue that is twice as dark and one that is twice as light. These will be your three main hues, but you want to layer other hues of blue into your design.

Monochromatic blue design elements:

  • Area rug: Dark blue will anchor the dining table and chair. Go with a solid color or blue-on-blue patterned rug.
  • Dining table and chairs: Paint a table the desire blue. Add floral or striped upholstery in dark blue and two other blue hues.
  • Draperies: Use a light and dark blue damask drapery fabric. Add a light and dark blue striped upholstered cornice.
  • Walls: Break up space with wainscoting and chair rail. Paint wainscoting the darkest hue, the chair rail the next lighter hue and the wall above the chair rail should be the lightest blue.
  • Chandeliers and lamps: Vary the hues of lamps and chandeliers for contrast. You can paint an existing chandelier the blue hue desired.
  • Artwork: Blue monochromatic artwork with a customized blue frame will carry the theme deeper into the room.
  • Accessories: Items, such as candles and candleholders, art objects, glass floor vases, dark blue flowers, and light blue flower arrangements, help to accessorize the dining room.

#3 Specific Furniture Style

Stylish dining room

A room built around a specific furniture style will always reflect this inspiration. For example, if you go with period furniture, you'll want to accessorize and furnish the room according to that period style, such as Louis XV, Queen Anne or a generic Old World style.

As an example for designing a room based on a specific furniture style, Old World charm can cover any style that is fairly rustic and large. Mediterranean, Medieval, Spanish, and general rustic styles all bring elements of Old World ambiance to a design. This form of design is warm, bold and inviting. Several elements make this a special dining room design. These include:

  • Flooring: Use terra cotta, travertine tile, or wood. For wood flooring, go with rustic distressed wood plank flooring.
  • Area rug: Add greater texture and color with a thick pile rug in a classic traditional pattern.
  • Wall treatment: A textured wall resembling stucco adds a romantic touch.
  • Wall color: Go with a warm color, such as amber, gold, russet, burgundy, deep red, melon, marigold, or other warm color.
  • Ceiling: Rough-hewed real or faux wood ceiling beams stained medium to dark brown make a bold statement.
  • Window treatments: Choose heavy and rich fabrics, such as velvets, tapestries, and other luxury fabrics in solid colors or patterns.
  • Furniture: Choose large, and often rustic, pieces. Some pieces have ornate carvings.
  • Dining chairs: Look for upholstered chairs in leather, velvet, or tapestry fabrics with antique-brass brads.
  • Buffet or sideboard: A carved or rough-hewed sideboard with a pair of wrought iron lamps with gold shades is ideal.
  • Wrought iron elements: Wrought iron is important to this style. Go with a wrought iron chandelier or two suspended over the table.

Accessorize the larger main elements by adding in a few of the following items where appropriate. You can add as many or as few as desired, depending on the space and overall design scheme of your room.

  • Wall sconces: Place sconces above a buffet or sideboard, on either side of a wall mirror, and at door entrances.
  • Candleholders: Use pedestal candleholders and candelabras on the dining table, buffet, and fireplace mantel.
  • Floor candelabra: Floor candelabra create ambiance when placed near dining table and serving buffet.
  • Wall plaques: Select scrolling grill work designs.
  • Stained glass panels: Use with a back light on a wall or hang over windows.
  • Wall tapestry: Hang over a fireplace mantel or buffet.
  • Oversized floor mirror: Position a large mirror to reflect the dining table.

#4 Small Space Designs

Glass top table

Not everyone has a separate dining room or even adequate space for a significant dining space. Apartments especially have greater demands for space usage. There are several ways to accommodate dining areas in small space, such as using a glass top table to make the space appear larger.

  • Drop leaf table: This can be neatly tucked against the wall and used as a console table with lamps when not being used.
  • Wall table: The table is stored flat against the wall when not in use.
  • Bistro table with stools: The stools fit neatly underneath the bistro table for storage.
  • Lift top coffee table: The entire top lifts to allow dining by using a sofa for seating.
  • Corner booth: A corner booth can be tucked neatly in a kitchen corner with a tilt-top or folding table stored when not in use.
  • Large round or rectangle tufted ottoman: A popular furniture piece for dens, an oversized ottomans can double as a table.

When you desire to designate the small space just for dining, separate the area with a rug and/or a folding screen that can be moved when no longer needed. Consider color, design, and style of both design objects when making a selection.

#5 Timeless Elegance

Dining room with timeless elegance

Pull out all the stops and explore a timeless dining room design, complete with high ceilings, columns, and elegant hand-carved moldings. The luxurious intricate relief detail can be created on the ceiling, walls, and even doors.

  • Exotic wood floors: Exotic woods are the boast of many elegant homes.
  • Doupioni silk draperies: Silk gives a glimmering sheen to windows for a glamorous look.
  • Heirloom quality area rug: Quality area rugs can last generations. Antique rugs can be hung on the wall as tapestry displays.
  • Solid wood furniture: Dining furniture sets made from solid wood, hand-carved motifs, and hand-rubbed finishes are elegant must haves.
  • Crystal light fixtures: Crystal chandelier and wall sconces give an elegance sparkling reflective ambiance to a dining room.
  • Original artwork: Custom framed original art, such as oil paintings or even commissioned art pieces, are luxury pieces.
  • One-of-a-kind collector art objects: Sculpture, hand-blown glass, hand-carved chests, and other unique collectibles can be displayed in curios, buffets and hutches.
  • Antiques: Investing in antiques as artifacts is the epitome of extravagant decor. Select only pieces you truly love and can't live without.
  • Tablecloth linens: French lace, Irish linens, and macrame linens are a few of the popular choices.
  • Luxury silverware: Whether its silverware or serving pieces, sterling silver and gold are the heights of luxury dining.
  • Waterford crystal: This highly prized crystal drink ware is a must have for any luxury dining.
  • China: Twenty-four karat gold and platinum china, designer china, and luxury tableware are beautiful options for setting the table and displaying.

#6 Wall Murals

Dining corner with painted wall

A mural in the dining room has long been a luxury big ticket item. With modern technology, the cost of such wall treatments have become economical. Murals can be whole wall floor to ceiling size, above the chair rail, a vignette in a niche or applied to the wall and framed with decorative molding.

If you're talented, you may decide to undertake painting your own wall mural. This type of customized mural has long been a cherished artform. Alternatively, commission a custom hand-painted mural. They often have personal meaning; consider requesting family members in the scene, a scene featuring a favorite vacation spot, or a long-gone family home. Other mural options include:

  • Tile mural: A tile mural can be framed on a wall as a centerpiece for the dining room.
  • Silk screen: A hand-painted silk screen may be mounted onto the wall to serve as a wall mural.
  • Wallpaper mural: Non-photo murals are printed in the style of wallpaper.
  • Stenciled mural: If you're creative, a DIY stencil mural will leave your stamp on your dining room design.
  • Photo mural: There are endless choices for this type of mural; go with one that best fits your personal style.

Choose a dining room set that allows the mural to take center stage and keep accents on the other walls to a minimum and in keeping with the mural's style.

#7 Ethnic Dining Style

Traditional Japanese dining table

Not all dining rooms are meant to be traditional western table and chairs. Eastern cultures often sit on floor cushions for a low table. Others use low height seating. The traditional Japanese dining table set is accommodated by a well cutout underneath the table. The legless chairs set on the edge of the well and diners are able to sit with their legs inside the well. Still other Japanese and Asian dining room utilize cushions and short-legged tables.

Some of the accessories to use with various non-western dining rooms include:

  • Shoji screens: These can be set against a wall or fit into a corner with a floor lamp behind the screen and large floor plant in front of the screen.
  • Tatami mats: The first tatami mats were high luxury items and perfect for this type of dining room.
  • Floor pillows: Some cultures prefer the comfort of floor pillows for dining around a low table.
  • Moroccan style lamps: Add the right ambiance with a grouping of lamps over the dining table.

#8 Textures for Aesthetics

Dining room with textures for aesthetics

Perhaps one of the easiest approaches for a dining room design is to start with textiles. Texture building is highly rewarding not just to the eye, but to the touch. You want as in all design projects to maintain balance. Too much texture is not going to have the results you desire, so continually balance one texture with a low texture item. Select three main large surface textures and balance by alternating one high texture and one low texture furnishings.

Some textures to consider:

  • Textiles: The most sought after texture is with fabrics. They can be velvets, silks, linens, chenilles, burlap, loom weaves, knitted, embroidered, lace, and so on.
  • Hard surface flooring: Marble and stone tiles come in smooth to rough stone cut surfaces. Wood flooring can be rough-hewed, distressed or high woodgrain finished. Other floor choices include stamped concrete, cork, terrazzo, and ceramic tile.
  • Soft surface flooring: Carpeting and rug texture options include plush, shag, sculpted and more.
  • Walls: You can create different wall textures using rag wall, sponge, or dry wall painting techniques; you can even create the illusion of stone.
  • Dining tables: Not all dining tables are equal. Texture is found in volcanic, marble, mosaic, glass, tile, and wood or bone inlay designs.
  • Chairs: The right choice of upholstery can add texture to your room design.
  • Lighting: There are innumerable choices for lighting that can add texture using chandeliers, table lamps, buffet lamps, and wall sconces.
  • Ceilings: Tin, coffered and paneled ceilings are just a few of the many textures you can use as well as wood beams and ceiling medallions.
  • Wall art: Oil paintings, wall sculptures in various materials, such as wood or metal, tapestries, and relief art all add textures.
  • Glass: Objects made of glass can be finished with smooth or textured finishes.
  • Sculptures and art objects: Textured beauty is found in carved statues or figurines and the materials used for finials, vases and other art objects.
  • Plants: Live or artificial plants add a layer of color, form and texture to a dining room.

#9 Eclectic Design

Eclectic dining room

A fun approach to designing a room is to be open to possibilities. An eclectic dining room can be functional while be outrageously fun! This type of design is ideal for re-purposed items transformed into practical dining room use.

There are no rules when going for an eclectic design. Decide on what will distinguish your design as eclectic. Ideas include:

  • Collectible objects are displayed prominently.
  • Each dining chair is a different style or color.
  • Table and chairs are a mismatch that works.
  • Re-purposed objects become decorations or useful pieces of furniture.
  • Every place setting is a different china pattern.

The final look is a mix of styles that are exotic and unique.

Make It Yours

The most important design element for a dining room is to go with what you like. Create a room that guests will immediately recognize as yours. That personal touch in designing your dining room will make it truly yours.

Designing Your Dining Room