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Formal Dining Room No Longer a Priority

Posted on January 29 2021

By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News

The formal dining room these days has taken a back seat in the floorplans of many new homes. We often see an informal eating area by the kitchen, opening to the family room. In today’s homes — especially smaller houses and city apartments — the formal dining room has often morphed into a library, with a sofa, a television and card-table-style dining.

And even in new homes that have formal dining rooms, I’ve sometimes encountered floorplans where the room isn’t even remotely near the kitchen. I’m not sure how practical that is.

Although homes may still be stocked with all the silver, crystal, table linen and china needed for formal entertaining, the question remains: Are these items seeing regular use? Often not, I suspect.

I can’t say I’m surprised at the trend, especially in these days of the coronavirus pandemic, when so many of us have curtailed hosting dinner parties.

In addition to meeting the demands to today’s lifestyles, eliminating a designated formal dining room offers a chance for homeowners to get bigger bangs for their decorating bucks. High-quality custom-made dining chairs — with well-made coil-spring seats and upholstered backs — aren’t inexpensive by any means, for instance. Is it any surprise homeowners don’t want to squander assets on rooms that will see little use?

The lesson is to follow your own particular needs when designing your next home or renovating your present one. If hosting formal dinner parties is your thing — once the pandemic is under control, of course — then make your dining room a showstopper.

But if it’s not, work with your designer or architect to come up with an alternative that really puts the spaces in your new residence to their best use.


  • Marsha Carol Watson Gandy: September 13, 2021

    Both sets of my grandparents ate every meal in their formal dining rooms. It was so Special to me. Everything was so pretty and I felt so good. Daddy, mama and I ate in our kitchen at home, except on Sundays! Of course, my mother worked—-something my grandmothers never did.

    Times Change—-But MEMORIES ARE FOREVER.

    i don’t entertain anymore, but my formal dining room has the furniture of my paternal grandparents in it. Every time I walk in there—-I have “flashbacks” of them and those early, formative years.

  • Sheree: March 08, 2021

    I enjoy entertaining in a formal dining room with all the bells and whistles, right down to the little salt cellars and name cards. But I most enjoy watching people come to life in such a setting. They are different somehow. Formal table settings make many of us feel special . All the work that goes into such a dinner is for the guests in hopes that they will fully enjoy the moment. Food brings people together anywhere but a fabulously laid table sets the stage for a magical time. A formal space for this is icing on the cake.

  • Kevin Gilley: February 03, 2021

    We have not had a formal dining room in the last three homes that we have owned. Although I do miss that space, I am not really sad by that loss.
    We still entertain grand in our open concept “great room” with all the china, crystal and sterling whenever possible. We eat dinner at the table every night as a family, real china, glassware and with placemats and napkins. Nothing disposable ever. I do hope that this has created a longing in my kids, who are now 8 & 11 for a day when they are grown that things might have swing around again and people will want a space that is more formal and intimate. Remember the song: “When everything old is new again?”

  • Roberta Lyon: February 01, 2021

    Recently moved from a small LA Calif. house to a large brick 2 story in NC. It has a large grand dining room adjacent to front door. It seats 8/10 comfortably and has fabulous gold/brown faux marble painted walls with soft gold ceiling. Hung my large hand carved gold baroque mirror along with 18th/19th British paintings on each side of mirror. Baroque wall sconces light the wall with a French chandelier in center. Had a formal dinner party for 8 before Covid and guests are still talking about it. Plan to to this once a month in the future. Every Sunday morning sit in this room to read newspapers, magazines etc with coffee & creamer in antique servers looking out the Palladian window draped in Silk.
    Elegance in home and dress should never end.
    “Dress well and people will remember YOU. Dress poorly and people will remember your clothes”. This applies to all things in life.

  • Deborah : February 01, 2021

    I miss my formal dining room most of all!!! Open concept is ok – but a dining room is a sanctuary for
    Good food – fine conversations and learning to be calm in the presence of food. It’s where we teach the children manners…. to sip the wine …. to savor the evening over coffee. Oh how I miss my dining room!!!! And I’m only 58! It’s on my wish list for my new house – Utah – very causal lifestyle – but a cozy formal dining room would be the dream come true!

  • Charlotte W Myers: February 01, 2021

    I still love my formal dining room, although it is not used as much as it once was. We used to have beautiful Saturday night dinners with our family and friends. Our home was designed with a very large dining room so that we might be able to accommodate many guests. You are correct in stating that the trend is going to an informal style of dining ,but I must say that I miss the table linens, the china, the crystal, the silver and the calming effect of a beautiful setting. I was fortunate to be able to acquire these absolute necessities for entertaining more than fifty years ago as my husband and I began our lives together. As I approach my twilight years, I find that my grandchildren have no interest in acquiring or using formal settings for anything and that also applies to the way they dress. I feel that the best customs of my generation are indeed lost . I had a little hope when “Downton Abbey” became a success, as I watched every episode and learned that it had a young viewing audience. But, alas, nothing happened. They say that if you live long enough everything is new again. I’m waiting.

  • Daphne Dunn: February 01, 2021

    I can not imagine anyone living an elegant life without a formal dining room.
    Thank god here in London dinner parties with my circle of friends is still very much alive, often four courses to get maximum use out of china and serving pieces.
    We eat pizza in ours sometimes for fun too, and fondue also with all the candles lit and using our wedding china.
    Sad sad sad when casual lifestyle overtakes the sense of occasion that one feels in a dedicated dining room!
    PS I do not live in a huge house.

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