Designer 101: How to Lay Your Dining Room

Designer 101: How to Lay Your Dining Room

Designer Kenneth Wingard shares his advice on laying out your living room.

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By: Kenneth Wingard

Whether it’s an actual room or a space within a larger room, a dining room can be a pretty standard affair. A rectangular shaped space with access to the kitchen on one end, access to the living area on another, and a light fixture hanging in the exact center. When it comes to placing the furniture, tradition once again takes precedent. Place the table in the center under the light, place whatever accompanying pieces of furniture (buffet, server, china cabinet, etc.) against a nearby wall and place all of the chairs around the table. Done.

Well, in doing so, you often end up with an overfilled room, a table that’s too close to other furniture for guests’ easy access and a space that may or may not function for actual entertaining. So let’s take a step back and look at it from a slightly different approach.

Step 1: Place your largest piece of furniture that isn’t your table, first. Whether it’s a sideboard or a china cabinet, there are probably only one or two places in the room that it can go, so get it situated and arrange the rest of the room around it. If it’s going on a main empty wall, it should be centered. If it’s going on a wall that has a window or door, it should be centered on the smaller portion of the wall. If you have a dining area that opens into the family room, perhaps a credenza floats in between the two areas as a room divider. If you don’t have a large piece to place, you can happily move on to Step #2.

Step 2: Place your table. Make sure that you have 24 inches between the table and the large piece of furniture you just placed and no less than 36 inches from the edge of the table to any wall in a formal dining room (24 inches in a more casual dining area). This is the minimum you need for people to comfortably move around the table, to get in and out of chairs and for a table not to overwhelm a room. If you have a picture window, fireplace or built-in, you’ll want to center your table on this as well. Hopefully you will be able to accommodate both.

Note: You may need to fudge the table a few inches this way or that way to have enough room in between furniture and still look centered on the other main features of the room.

Tip: Get Kenneth Wingard’s advice for selecting the perfect dining room table here.

Step 3: Place your light fixture. Now that your table is in location you can place your center drop light. The fixture is not necessarily a must, but it is still the go-to fixture for dining rooms. It’s not only a symbolic gesture signaling “gather here”, but also a practical one in that it illuminates the entire table without using up surrounding surface space.

Even if you’re not the crystal chandelier type, in today’s market you will find a myriad of other options. Since most dining areas have a ceiling fixture that’s centered in the room, on a window, on a door or on all three, this may mean that your table is no longer directly underneath your light. If this is the case, you’ll need to move your light. This may seem extreme, but it’s much less expensive then buying a new dining room set and less irritating than having guests bump into your china cabinet every time they sit down. You can do this by actually having an electrician move the fixture or, more easily, use a decorative hook to swag the fixture over to its desired location. It should hang low enough to illuminate the table, but high enough to not block people’s faces or cause glare.

The industry standard is 30-34 inches from the bottom of the fixture to the top of table. Start there and then adjust as needed. Larger, heavier fixtures may need to be hung a little higher due to their visual weight. If you have ceilings that are higher than 8 feet, you may need to hang your fixture a few inches higher as well to create visual balance. The standard rule is an extra 3 inches per foot of ceiling height.

Step 4: Place your chairs. If you’ve got a pair of armchairs and ten side chairs, don’t feel a need to place them all around the table as if the queen of England may pop by for dinner at any time. If it’s a smaller room, place the armchairs on either side of the buffet or use them in another room. The same goes for extra side chairs.

Conversely, I have my two armchairs pulled up to my round pedestal tables and keep the remaining side chairs in the basement. You want to make the room look welcoming without being crowded. Extra chairs can always be brought in when needed.

Step 5: Place your remaining furniture. Place your servers, side tables, pieces of artwork, plants, etc. while keeping in mind the way you like to serve dinner or entertain. If the large piece of furniture that you placed was a buffet, but it had to be placed on the opposite wall from the kitchen, place a small server next to the kitchen entry.

If your dining area is part of the family room and serves double duty as a homework and game table, make sure you have a storage cabinet for school supplies and board games within arms’ reach.

Place this furniture with your everyday life in mind and then let yourself come up with alternative placement strategies for the big holidays. “When we put the leaves in the table, we’ll move the game cabinet into the family room.”

Mentally walk through a Tuesday night family dinner, a Saturday night dinner party and a Sunday breakfast. Where does the food go, are there enough seats, am I having to walk across the room to the kitchen too often? The most successful dining rooms are those that function seamlessly for everyday use, but can then transform for special occasions, so make sure you visualize both scenarios as you do your mental walk through.

A well planned and functioning dining area will make everything from meatloaf Mondays to family Thanksgivings much more pleasant.

Kenneth Wingard attended Princeton University’s School of Architecture and has studied art, sculpture and architecture in Europe, Asia and Africa. It was during these travels he developed an appreciation for the skill of the local craftsmen and began to think about how to combine those talents with his own design sense. He’s worked for Williams-Sonoma and was the Divisional Director of Pottery Barn. His products have been spotted at the New York and San Francisco MOMA, LACMA and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Get to know Kenneth here.

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Great Article :) Very informative!

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