Is the Dining Room Dead?

Buying a home is an exercise in making important decisions between elements that most people don’t really want to choose between. Do you go with the house with the two-car garage or the one with two bathrooms? Should you forgo the fireplace for upgraded flooring in the kitchen? One choice that’s becoming easier for homebuyers and homeowners is the formal dining room. Although homes certainly still have them, the way we see eating and entertaining in America is changing rapidly, and it’s leading to some major changes in how many people feel about formal dining rooms.

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Who Still Cares About Formal Dining Rooms?

Obviously, there are plenty of houses built in a different time with formal dining rooms that won’t really be going anywhere. Often the home’s layout makes it difficult to simply open the dining room to the rest of the living space, although newer homes may lack that barrier. Even so, some people do still care about formal dining spaces.

“As an interior designer, I have found that the demand for dining rooms varies among my clients,” says Artem Kropovinsky, founder of Arsight, an interior design studio based in New York. “Some clients, especially those who enjoy hosting dinner parties or have large families, still prioritize having a dedicated space for dining. On the other hand, I have also worked with clients who rarely use their dining room and would prefer to have a more functional space, such as a home office or playroom, in its place. Overall, the popularity of dining rooms seems to be declining as more people opt for more open floor plans and multifunctional spaces.”

Other home experts also report declining interest in formal dining rooms, though some interest remains even in new construction homes in certain areas of the United States.

“We see a marked demand for formal dining spaces in our upper end (price point) homes and those designed for communities catering to a more mature clientele,” says Paige dk Foss, Architecture Designer with Drees Homes in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. “We also see more of these customers along the East Coast and Midwest regions. Our southeastern and Texas markets have a marked preference for single, informal dining spaces in our floor plans.”

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What to Do With Unused Dining Room Spaces

Too often, empty formal dining rooms are crying out for a purpose that could save the family time, money or hassle. Realtors see this every day, working with homeowners who may be afraid to make any permanent changes to their home, but would benefit if they considered repurposing the dining room for something more fitting to their lifestyle.

“If that could be a home gym or office for someone it could save a lot of money on gas, time, travel and memberships alone,” says Tiffany Stevens, founder and Realtor at Forward Real Estate in San Antonio, Texas. “I have seen people ‘working’ at the kitchen table uncomfortably when the dining room is sitting there empty. You are essentially paying for dust to accumulate and I am sure much less productive.”

Homes aren’t getting any cheaper, and those unused square feet are valuable real estate in the current market. For some, it’s more than just a matter of putting unused spaces to work; many buyers and owners today prefer a more open feel in their homes, which often requires removing the walls that separate a formal dining room.

“The majority of our work is reconfiguring the floor plans of older homes, and many of these have dining rooms,” says Michael Song, principal architect at EZ Plans, a residential architecture firm based in Los Angeles. “The majority of families request that walls be removed between the dining room, kitchen and living room areas to create a great room area. Families do not wish to have physical barriers between the living areas and dining areas. This allows for more space and flexibility. For example, a large family gathering that would demand a long table can be more easily accommodated in the great room area than in a small formal dining room.”

The Future of the American Home Dining Space

It’s never easy to predict long-term housing trends, but the professionals have certainly noticed trends are moving away from formal dining rooms in new construction homes.

“Currently, we offer a formal dining room integrated into the standard design of 20 percent of our floor plans,” says Foss. “We are defining that as a distinct space that is visually separated from the main entertainment area of the home. This doesn’t mean it is a secondary dining space in the home. A truly formal dining room is an option that we are not seeing in demand. While there are pockets of our customer base who still desire this formality, most of our customers are embracing a less formal dining experience.”

Instead of that formal dining area, people are looking for more open spaces, as well as dining areas that incorporate outdoor dining in locations with milder climates. As building materials have evolved, so have new opportunities for creativity in dining.

“In California, due to our mild weather, we have the benefit of outdoor dining for many months of the year,” says Song. “There is a popular trend towards indoor/outdoor living and dining which is facilitated by the emergence of more options with regard to huge sliding or bi-folding glass doors. These openings make for a seamless transition between indoors and outdoors. This may perhaps also account for the demise in popularity of the formal dining room in our region.”

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Should You Choose a Formal Dining Room in Your Home?

If dining rooms seem to be falling out of favor with the majority of home buyers, it may seem like there’s no point in building a new home with a formal dining room, or choosing a home that has one. But the truth is that your home has to be your home. Sometimes that means bucking the trends to have a place that suits you.

“If a customer truly finds joy in the formal dining space, I wouldn’t encourage them to abandon that thought,” says Foss. “A home is nothing more than walls if it doesn’t help to serve the people who live and love in it.”

Instead of giving up your dream of weekly dinner parties and formal family meals, just make sure that you choose a dining room that works with your home’s general flow and aesthetic. You might be able to cut down the size of your formal dining room to minimize the trade-off for a space that’s only used for a small portion of your week.

“One thing to consider when designing a dining room is the size and layout of the space,” says Kropovinsky. “A large, formal dining room may not be practical or desirable for everyone, but a smaller, more intimate dining area can still be a functional and attractive feature in a home. It is also important to think about the overall style and aesthetic of the home when designing the dining room, as it should complement the rest of the space and create a cohesive look.”

Ultimately, you have to live in your house. Just like with modern fashion sensibility and other kinds of trends, today there’s far less pressure to conform, and more freedom to embrace those things that enhance your life and happiness. If you choose to sell your home, a buyer will come along, dining room or not.

“If a formal dining room is done right it can easily be sold to someone with a different preference for use of the space,” says Stevens. “It’s like we now have permission to have what we want.”

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