Dining Room Decorating Guide

Just in time for Thanksgiving…let’s talk dining rooms! I’m actually in the middle of updating my dining room right now, so this topic is timely for me, too. Here are some rules of thumb to follow, and some tips and ideas for getting your dining room ready for entertaining. I’ve separated them by the main elements in most dining rooms. I hope this is helpful as you decorate for the holiday season!

The table 

  • Look for a table that’s at least 36″ wide to allow room for place settings and food in the middle.
  • Allow at least 36″ of clearance between the table edge and the wall so guests can comfortably scoot back and get up. If there is other furniture in the dining space, the measurement should start from the furniture instead of the wall.
  • Each guest should get a minimum of 24″ of table space.
  • A round pedestal table works best for small, square rooms. A rectangular table works best for a long, narrow room.
  • A table with a removable leaf (or two) allows for more flexibility. Add the leaf for big groups, remove it for everyday use.

Tip: To visualize how much space a table will take up in your room, place painter’s tape on the floor where the edges of the table will be.

Image via: Domino


The chairs

  • Allow at least 12″ between the top of the seat and the tabletop for comfortable lap room. Most tables are around 30″ high, which makes 18″ perfect for seat height.
  • For maximum comfort, look for seats that are at least 17″ wide and 20″ deep.
  • To determine how many chairs will fit around the table, measure your chairs at their widest point, then add 6″ of space on either side to allow for elbow room and scooting the chair back.
  • To save space, opt for armless chairs or use armchairs only at the ends of the table.
  • Save even more space with a bench instead of chairs on one side of the table. Look for one that can slide under the table for storage when not in use. This is especially perfect for kids, as you can fit lots of kids on one bench.
  • Chairs these days don’t have to match the table—or each other. Mismatched chairs make it easy to add more seating for a dinner party or switch out chairs.
  • Look for chairs that are relatively light and easy to move, especially if you have kids or elderly people dining with you.
  • If you are worried about spills, opt for chairs made of easy-care materials like leather upholstery, wood, plastic, or metal.

Tip: If you need extra seating for Thanksgiving, a chic way to do this is to bring in a pair of wing chairs from your living room and place them at the head and foot of the table.

Image via: Desire to Inspire


The lighting

  • Warm light is the most flattering in a dining room.
  • Center chandeliers over the table, not necessarily in the middle of the room.
  • In rooms with standard ceilings (about 8′ high), hang your chandelier so it’s 30″ to 36″ from the tabletop. In rooms with higher ceilings, you can mount it a bit higher.
  • Your chandelier should be about 12″ narrower than the width of the table so guests don’t bump their heads on it.
  • Put your chandelier on a dimmer switch so you can adjust it for different occasions.
  • For a rectangular table, consider hanging multiple matching chandeliers or using a linear fixture.
  • The chandelier is only one part of a good lighting plan. Recessed lights can add extra light for homework. You can also use wall sconces or place table lamps on console tables or sideboards. And of course, flickering candles are perfect for accenting the table and setting a romantic mood.

Tip: Your lighting fixture is a good opportunity to make a statement in the dining room, since it doesn’t need to be comfortable or spill-proof. Treat your chandelier like a piece of jewelry that makes the outfit.

Image source: Design Milk


The window treatments

  • Hang drapes higher and wider than the window to make the room feel bigger.
  • Mount hardware at least 6″ above the window sill and at least 4″ past the window on either side.
  • For drapes that are nice and full, even when closed, double the width of the rod.
  • Sheer fabrics allow more light into the space while heavier fabrics provide more privacy.
  • For a more traditional look, your drapes should slightly puddle on the floor.
  • For a modern, crisp look, the drapes should just kiss the floor.
  • Avoid “high water” drapes that hang a few inches above the floor. Err on the side of drapes that are too long—you can always get them hemmed if necessary.

Tip: Get samples for the fabrics you’re considering and hold them up against a window to see how they look with light coming through them.

Image source: Bali Blinds


The rug

  • Add a minimum of 18″ around your table (24-30″ is even better) so chairs have room to scoot in and out. If you have room for it, err on the side of a rug that is too big.
  • Leave some breathing room—at least 8″—between the rug and the wall.
  • Choose a rug shape that mimics the shape of the table. Round tables look better with a round or square rug, while rectangular tables look best with rectangular rugs.
  • Go for a low-pile or flat weave rug. It will allow chairs to slide in and out much more smoothly than a thick, fluffy rug. Cleaning up spilled food will be a lot easier, too.
  • If you have an open layout, choose a rug that works with the colors and patterns already in the space.
  • A darker, richer hue (and patterns) hide food stains much better than white or pale colors.
  • Always use a rug pad.

Tip: Consider an indoor-outdoor rug. They are more stain-resistant and made to withstand spills—perfect for a dining room!

Image source: Front + Main


The place settings

  • There aren’t many “rules of thumb” for measurements here, but do make sure that whatever you buy will fit in your cupboards, dishwasher, microwave, etc.
  • In order of durability, porcelain and bone china are the best, followed by stoneware, earthenware, and glass.
  • White dinnerware is classic and looks good in every season.
  • Mismatched plates and glasses can give your table a fun, eclectic look, and they make it easy to add on extra place settings for large parties without looking out of place. Just make sure they all look somewhat cohesive together.
  • To make your basic, everyday dishes feel fancy, add cloth napkins and set the table with candles and flowers. Put the food on a buffet or sideboard instead of in the middle of table. Background music sets a festive mood as well!

Tip: You don’t have to buy five-piece sets. If you only use dinner plates and soup bowls, look for open stock dinnerware that will allow you get exactly what you need. Bonus: if you break a plate, you can easily replace it.

Image source: Stylizmo


What are your favorite tips for decorating a dining room and getting it ready for entertaining? I’d love to hear!

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