Ask Maxwell: How Can We Make Our Dining Room Feel Like a Family Destination?

published Oct 29, 2020
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Credit: Melissa Polhamus

With all our meals happening at home, what can we do to make our dining space more inviting? We recently converted a small bedroom to our dining room, we eat all our meals there, with our 10-year-old and 7-year-old, and the space is so drab. With cold weather approaching here in Maine, we’d love for our dining room to feel like more of a destination in our house and not just a pass-through space.

– Kate

Dear Kate,

First of all, bravo for thinking outside the box during this time and turning that extra room into a dining room. It will be special just for that adventurous act alone. That said, a blank room that had one use and then gets turned into another can easily feel a bit soulless at first. Some simple tuning will help.

There are three design moves that always work when wanting to warm up a room: Add textiles for softness and aural warmth, add color for emotional warmth, and add light for visual warmth. Let’s unpack each one.

What do I mean by aural warmth in the first one? A flat-weave rug under your table and a tablecloth on top will dramatically change the acoustics in your room and also make for a soft experience underfoot and hand when at the table. It will make it quieter, which greatly contributes to a feeling of calm and warmth. While rugs seem like a bad fit for a dining room with children, I’m a big fan of flat-weave rugs—especially the incredible indoor/outdoor rugs that you can now easily find. A top source of mine is Dash and Albert by Annie Selke. Their outdoor rugs are soft, washable, and come in lovely colors and patterns. They are also very well-priced.

Color is your second friend, and a little bit goes a long way. My rule of thumb is to go for a warm color because it’s a social room (as opposed to a private room, such as bedroom or office), and 20% color is all you need. So, you don’t have to paint your walls! Consider adding color in your rug or tablecloth (which you can swap out and have a few of) and you’re good to go. While tablecloths may seem old-fashioned, they are great for adding warmth (and children really love them, as they make the table feel more special). I found these simple cotton/linen tablecloths on Amazon for my house. This is an easy place to start.

Finally, I’m a big fan of candles at dinner—especially when you have children. While candlelight itself is magical, lighting and snuffing are a nice ritual to begin and end a meal with children. I love beeswax candles, since they smell good, burn nicely and—apparently—have the unique quality of cleaning the air. Bluecorn makes really nice ones and—bonus—they come in different colors. And in addition to candles, which will only be lit at meals, make sure you have enough other lighting in the room so it’s not covered in shadows. Three points of light in every room is a good rule, so if you have an overhead source, consider two more lights—either standing, uplight, or table—in the room to finish warming it up.

Best, Maxwell