Buying a home is an exercise in making important choices between items that most people don’t really want to choose between. Do you go for the home with the two-car garage or the one with two bathrooms? Should you ditch the fireplace for an upgraded floor in the kitchen? One choice that is becoming increasingly easy for homebuyers and homeowners is the formal dining room. While households certainly still have them, the way we view food and hospitality in America is changing rapidly, and this is leading to some big shifts in many people’s attitudes towards formal dining rooms.
Who cares about formal dining rooms anymore?
Obviously there are plenty of homes built in another era with formal dining rooms that aren’t going anywhere. Often the home layout makes it difficult to simply open the dining room to the rest of the living space, although newer homes may lack this barrier. Despite this, some people are still interested in formal dining spaces.
“As an interior designer, I’ve found that my clients’ demands for dining rooms vary,” says Artem Kropovinsky, founder of Arsight, a New York-based interior design studio. “Some customers, particularly those who like to host dinner parties or have large families, still value having their own space to dine. On the other hand, I’ve also worked with clients who rarely use their dining room and would rather have a more functional space like a home office or playroom instead. Overall, the popularity of dining rooms seems to be declining as more and more people are opting for more open floor plans and multifunctional spaces.”
Other home experts are also reporting a waning interest in formal dining rooms, although some interest in new construction housing remains in certain areas of the United States.
“We’re seeing a distinct demand for formal dining spaces in our upscale homes and those designed for communities that serve a more mature clientele,” said Paige dk Foss, architectural designer at Drees Homes in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. “We’re also seeing more of these customers in the East Coast and Midwest. Our Southeast and Texas markets have a strong preference for single, informal dining spaces in our floor plans.”
What to do with unused spaces in the dining room?
Too often, empty formal dining rooms cry out for a purpose that could save the family time, money, or trouble. Realtors see this every day when working with homeowners who may be afraid to make permanent changes to their home but would benefit if they consider repurposing the dining room for something that better suits their lifestyle.
“If that could be a home gym or an office for someone, it could save a lot of money on gas, time, travel and memberships alone,” says Tiffany Stevens, founder and broker at Forward Real Estate in San Antonio, Texas. “I’ve seen people ‘work’ uncomfortably at the kitchen table when the dining room there is empty. You’re essentially paying for dust to collect, and I’m sure it’s a lot 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 utilizing unused space; Many buyers and owners today prefer a more open feel in their homes, which often requires removing the walls separating a formal dining room.
“The majority of our work is reconfiguring the floor plans of older homes, and many of them have dining rooms,” says Michael Song, principal architect at EZ Plans, a Los Angeles-based residential architecture firm. “Most families require that the walls between the dining room, kitchen and living areas be removed to create one great area of space. Families don’t want physical barriers between the living and dining areas. This allows for more space and flexibility. For example, a large family gathering that would require a long table can be more easily accommodated in the large 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 professionals have certainly noticed trends moving away from formal dining rooms in new builds.
“Currently, we offer formal dining integrated into the standard design on 20 percent of our floor plans,” says Foss. “We define this as a separate space that is visually separated from the main entertainment area of the home. This does not mean that it is a secondary dining area in the house. A truly formal dining room is an option that we don’t see in demand. While there are portions of our customer base that still desire this formality, most of our customers prefer a less formal dining experience.”
Instead of this formal dining area, people are looking for more open spaces as well as dining areas that include al fresco dining in places with milder climates. With the development of building materials, new possibilities for creativity when eating have also arisen.
“In California, our mild weather allows us to dine al fresco for many months of the year,” says Song. “There is a popular trend for indoor/outdoor living and dining that is being facilitated by the emergence of more options when it comes to giant sliding or folding glass doors. These openings ensure a seamless transition between indoors and outdoors. This may also account for the decline in popularity of the formal dining room in our region.”
Should you choose a formal dining room in your home?
With dining rooms falling out of favor with the majority of homebuyers, there seems no point in building a new home with a formal dining room or choosing a home with one. But the truth is, your home has to be your home. Sometimes that means bucking the trends to have a place that suits you.
“If a customer really finds joy in the formal dining room, I wouldn’t encourage them to give up that thought,” says Foss. “A home is nothing but walls if it doesn’t help serve the people who live and love in it.”
Instead of abandoning your dream of weekly dinner parties and formal family dinners, just make sure you choose a dining room that works with the overall flow and aesthetic of your home. You may be able to reduce the size of your formal dining room to minimize the compromise for a space that is 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 room,” 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’s 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.”
After all, you have to live in your house. Just like with modern fashion sensibilities and other types of trends, today there is much less pressure to conform and more freedom to embrace the things that will improve your life and happiness. If you decide to sell your home, a buyer will come along, dining room or not.
“When a formal dining room is set up correctly, it can easily be sold to someone who has a different preference for using the space,” says Stevens. “It’s like we now have permission to have what we want.”