10 Alternatives to a Formal Dining Room

As impromptu, low-fuss gatherings become the norm, creative hosts are entertaining friends in spaces carved out from kitchens, hallways, and living rooms.

  1. Split Personality

    Farm Table

    A farm table expands the utility of once vacant living room real estate, not only increasing overall function, but also making the adjacent conversation area cozier. When not in service, the table provides a surface for display. 

    Borrow this idea: No need for formal, framed artwork when a cool collection of images, tacked simply to the wall, does the trick.

    Acre Goods + Services

  2. Table for Two, Four, or More

    Gate-Leg Table

    Furnishings that collapse, move, and extend make sense in a small space. A gateleg table can, in seconds, expand from a table for two to seating for a crowd; folding chairs and nearby stools come in handy too.

    Borrow this idea: Create a focal wall with wallpaper, paint, or a collection of hanging objects, such as breadboards or plates.

    Mr Perswall

  3. Colorful Character

    Dining Room Colors

    With an arched entry, delicate iris-shaded walls, and a playful mix of opulence-meets-flea, a humble-size dining room becomes inviting and interesting. Clearly purple, often dismissed by grown-ups because of its popularity with the under-12 crowd, deserves more respect. 

    Borrow this idea: Dress up a not-so-nice table with fabric, such as a ready-made tablecloth, or even an adapted drop cloth, blanket, or throw.

    Apartment Therapy

  4. Disco Dining

    Dining Room Lighting

    As if this kitchen’s streamlined design and mint-colored cabinets weren’t chic enough, the chrome light fixture raises the bar with a dose of glamour, elevating this eat-in space to fine-dining status. Note how a bold and unexpected piece of decor in a utilitarian room endows it with big personality, worthy of convivial get-togethers.

    Borrow this idea: Enhance the mood even more by dimming the lights and lining counters with candles.


  5. Kitchen Hang-Out

    Kitchen Dining

    Gatherings look different these days as families opt for more relaxed settings in lieu of formal dining rooms. In this classic contemporary great room, space-saving design decisions, such as abutting the bench to the island, afford more seating around the table. 

    Borrow this idea: The back of a dining chair or stool offers a prime opportunity for introducing a contrasting pop of color or pattern.

    Tobi Fairley

  6. Function Follows Furnishings

    Dining Room Space

    In an open loft space, careful placement of furniture can help distinguish the dining area from other living spaces. Once the large pieces are put into place, accessories solidify the plan and lend each area warmth and individuality. 

    Borrow this idea: In a largely neutral space, strategic color is welcome and guides the eye through a space.

    Envi Interior Design Studio

  7. The Magic of Mirrors

    Mirror Wall

    Staging pro Cheryl Eisen transformed a condo’s underutilized gallery into a more functional area for working and eating. Four design-smart sleights of hand make the tight space seem roomier: a narrow, custom-size table; white paint; mirrors that seem to widen the space; and art that pulls the eye in. 

    Borrow this idea: Buy a canvas and create a similarly simple but arresting piece of geometric art, or tweak it to incorporate your favorite colors.

    Richard Caplan

  8. A Cabin for Company

    Cozy Cabin

    When guests come to this Vashon Island, Washington, cabin, meals are served out on the deck or around a wood stove, where a pair of wing chairs, a sofa, and an ottoman form a cozy circle. The conversational arrangement of furniture, together with French doors that open onto the deck, bring a casual clubhouse feeling to the space. 

    Borrow this idea: Glam up a kitchen island by putting a few decanters on it and transforming it into a truly open bar.

    colorchats.benj aminmoore.com

  9. Storage and Seating

    Banquette Storage

    A sleek dining nook offers both an expansive banquette and practical storage. The modern, neutral palette is the perfect foil for quick-change pops of bright color and pattern via housewares, wall decor, and textiles. 

    Borrow this idea: Create a gallery wall with framed art, photos, postcards, and even charming handwritten notes.

    The Decorologist

  10. Club Scene

    Leather Chair Dining

    A circle of comfy leather club chairs is the ultimate setting for late-night snacking and yakking. From hors d’oeuvres to the main course to after-dinner drinks and games, guests can curl up and enjoy the fire (or the breeze), happily assuming dinner table postures not previously condoned in etiquette books. 

    Borrow this idea: Create a gathering spot using several of the same chairs around a table.


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