Pairing various furnishings and styles can create a warm, eclectic setting to enhance the at-home meal. Photo: Stanley Furniture
4 Ways to Enliven Your Dining Experience
- Create an environment that appeals to all your senses.
- Mix and match your dining room table and chairs.
- Consider non-traditional benches and ottomans for seating.
- Use fresh flowers to add ambiance.
Make Eating-In Fun Again
Explore these new ways to enliven your existing dining space.
- by Monica Young
Eating-in is back “in.” With renewed focus on family time and saving money, Americans are spending more time around the family table. To make the most of more time at home, liven up your dining area with small touches and innovative decorating.
Designing for the Senses
For El Paso-based writer and designer Van English of Van English Creative Living, eating-in does not mean giving up luxury. Instead, meals eaten at his self-described mid-century modern home are designed to entice each one of the senses.
“Eating involves much more than taste and tongue. Textures, colors, smells, the sight of the table setting … everything matters,” he says.
To incorporate this philosophy in your dining room, think about updating the colors of your walls or linens, and focus on creative accessories and centerpieces.
Re-Thinking Your Furniture Layout
Basic dining room psychology marries us to the mandate of a table, six to eight chairs, buffet or sideboard and china cabinet. But if ever there were a time to buck staid tradition, this is the time! Eclectic collections create interest, and interest heightens pleasure—a must for enjoying eating in.
Jennifer Litwin, author of Furniture Hot Spots: The Best Furniture Stores and Websites Coast to Coast and Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever!, urges homeowners to update their dining spaces—both formal and casual—by using non-traditional pairings.
- Smaller Multiple Tables vs. Larger Traditional Tables: “It’s a myth that you need one long table. People recognize that they can break up the space with smaller-sized tables that can be bunched together or pulled apart for entertaining,” says Litwin, a Chicago-based shopping expert.
- Shelves vs. China Cabinets: Try foregoing a china cabinet and using shelves to display dishes.
- Benches and Ottomans vs. Chairs: For a unique seating arrangement, replace chairs with ottomans and benches. Recently at a gathering she hosted, Litwin added seating and interest by amassing her collection of outside stools and bringing them inside. “People are getting away from the idea that their chairs have to have backs,” she says.
Creating a One-of-a-Kind Dining Room
Have you ever walked into someone else’s home and noticed that they have pieces of furniture exactly like yours? To avoid having the same dining room as every other family on the block, try mixing and matching styles, or combining old furniture with new.
English likes to see the unique, such as an antique church pew softened with cushions and pillows paired with an octagonal-shaped table, window seats in bay windows and the incorporation of banquettes (long, upholstered benches).
“A mix of chairs, such as two to six wicker lounge chairs, around a lower-than-usual game table in a sunroom is an inviting place to dine,” points out English.
Pairing various furnishings and styles can create a warm, eclectic setting to enhance the at-home meal. A professional consultation, often offered free by many furniture retail stores, can help you pare down what to keep, what to add and what existing pieces can be used in new locations for dining.
Little Touches Add Big Impact
English believes that any dinner at home should resonate with ambience. He suggests small but special steps to create sensory meal experiences.
- Flower Centerpieces: Whether eating formally or casually, fresh flowers usually adorn English’s table. The flowers may be roses from the yard or a bouquet of blue irises or white daisies from Costco or Sam’s Club. English ensures the longest-lasting blooms by requesting flowers that have just arrived and may have not been placed on the floor yet.
- Votives: “With votives surrounding a large rose floating in a bowl, even Hamburger Helper can look good,” says English emphatically. “Touches like this defy the economy. Atmosphere feels like luxury.”
- Place Settings: English utilizes cloth napkins and fine china, preferring to use special belongings for weeknight dinners to add zing to the eating-in experience. Napkins may find themselves bunched up and run through a napkin ring or popped in the top of a wine glass.
- Location: For nights when a television program piques his interest, English clears the coffee table and creates a café ambiance in his living space.
- Linens: Elegance can be created by removing a tablecloth or adding one, whichever will spice up the everyday look of a dining room. Switching placemats creates new visual interest. Finding a tablecloth that drapes to the floor adds instant glamour to an at-home meal.
Even small touches like serving pasta primavera on a dark plate where the colorful vegetables pop against the pale pasta can add unexpected elegance, notes English.
Appealing to every sense can make eating-in far from ordinary. Use small, simple touches to create an intimate experience and enjoy the rewards.