The most comfortable dual-purpose living and dining rooms are both welcoming and well planned, offering an agreeable atmosphere for relaxing, eating, and entertaining.
A separate room devoted solely to dining represents something of a luxury in many of today’s households. But it space is tight nowadays, times have also changed. Family get-togethers and dinner parties are more likely to be relaxed, informal gatherings than in the past. For many people, incorporating an eating area within the main living room is a sensible arrangement and provides congenial surroundings for mealtimes.
With any multi-purpose room, a good planning helps you make the best use of the space at your disposal. To avoid a clash of interests and to maximize comfort and convenience, it is important to pay particular attention to the layout. The shape of the room may suggest an obvious way of separating a living space from a dining area but you can also mark the distinction decoratively or in the way the furniture is arranged.
A dining area set up in a living room can also provide an additional place to study, use a sewing machine, or tackle paperwork between meals. Sympathetic lighting and flexible furnishings enable you to cater to different pursuits and create a harmonious integrated look.
Before you begin planning a multi-purpose arrangement, sketch a plan of the room and mark on all existing features, such as fireplaces, windows, doors, and power points. You can also cut out paper shapes of your major furniture items and move them about on your plan to experiment with different arrangements.
The basic room shape may suggest where to site a dining area. The alcove formed by a bay or bow window is a good location. L-shaped rooms divide naturally in two; any change in level in a room can be used to signal the boundary between different activities. If the room is a generous size, it may be worth adding some form of partition, such as a freestanding double-fronted cabinet or an open shelving system, to create a visual break between the two areas.
If the architectural features of the room don’t offer an immediate solution, you have to rely on the way you arrange the furniture to make the distinction clear. With strategic placement, a sofa, a line of low storage cupboards, a folding screen, or even a large potted plant can all partially enclose a dining area and give a hint of separation.
It is important to remember that there should be enough clear space around the dining table for chairs to be drawn back comfortably and food to be served. A clear route to the kitchen is vital or serving a meal becomes an obstacle course.
If the kitchen is immediately adjacent, consider making an internal window in the dividing wall for passing dished back and forth for a version of the traditional serving hatch.
A pleasant view adds to the enjoyment of food, so try to place the table near French doors or a window where it also benefits from natural light.
There are two basic approaches to decorating dual-purpose areas. The first is to keep everything simple and employ a single range of colors, fabrics, and finishes throughout the entire area, which helps increase the sense of space in a small room.
The second approach, which works better in larger spaces, is to emphasize the distinction between the living and dining areas through subtle contrasts of texture. Avoid decorating the two parts of the room in wildly different styles, or the result is visual confusion.
It makes good sense to opt for a more robust floor covering in the dining area as eating brings the inevitable risk of food spills. A washable cotton rug under a dining table offers some protection in a fully carpeted room, or if you extend wooden flooring throughout the room, a large soft rug in the living area provides extra warmth and comfort.
Alternatively, partner carpeting in the living space with easy-to-clean tiles or wood strip flooring in the dining area, keeping the colors as tonally close as possible for a chic look.
Flexibility is the key factor. For general background illumination, wall-mounted sconces or uplighters are both discreet and subtle. For directional lighting, choose spotlights fixed to the wall or ceiling, angles to highlight the table or displays. Tiny halogen spotlights enhance the colors and textures of food, while a single pendant light over the table defines the eating area.
Strategically placed around the room, table and standard lamps emit a warming glow that is flattering and easy to live with. Include additional local light for reading and any other pursuit that calls for good light. And, it is worth fitting all the lights with dimmer switches so you can vary the mood.
In a dual-purpose space, a large dining table is usually impractical and too imposing. The best solution is to choose a table that you can extend as required to accommodate more people, and chairs that you can gold, or stack to save space. Alternatively, canvas directors’ chairs, wicker chairs, bentwood, or ladderbacks work equally well as additional living room seating.
It is best to keep the accessories of dining, tableware, glassware, cutlery, and linen, near the table. Corner cupboards, sideboards, storage units, display shelves, or low chests can accommodate a range of items. Combine hidden storage with open display areas for china and glassware. Storage furniture can double up as a means of dividing space or a serving area.
Well-placed furniture is the key to making a dual living and dining space functional. Often an item of furniture can make an effective room divider. A dining area can become an intimate corner when it is defined by a bold-colored sofa.