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Form and function
You donít have to sacrifice design for functionality in your dining room



Is your dining room untouchable? Are all children and pets banned? Sadly, the dining room is often the least used room in the house unless youíre having a formal dinner party. On the other hand, some homes donít have an elegant place to dine even when the occasion calls for it.

Whatís the solution? A room thatís elegant yet functional. A room that can be used every day for eating, reading and family activity, but one that can also be as classy as you require. Impossible, you say? Very possible, say some design experts.

"First, consider your needs," says Koren Gierach, design consultant with Rubinís Furniture in Milwaukee. "Pick furniture that will be the most versatile for you. How large a table do you need? Perhaps choose a smaller table with expansion capabilities. We are seeing more dining tables with self-storing leaves, sometimes up to four leaves, so you can accommodate more people depending on the occasion," she says.

If you want to do something other than eat in your dining room, such as art projects or scrapbooking, you will want to find a table with a more durable surface, Gierach suggests. Instead of a table with a surface thatís easily scratched, consider one made from glass or even stone.

The spice of life

"We hear that people are spending more time at home so they want a place where they can do a variety of things," notes Lisa Minetti, an interior designer with Peabody Interiors in Whitefish Bay. "They want a multifunctional space, especially in a condominium or in a home with an open concept design."

A dining room certainly can serve more than one purpose. "If a room is larger, we have seen some people display artwork or collections of books or mementos," says Tara Wilke, owner of McNabb & Risley in Thiensville. "If the dining room is long enough for a seating area, a small settee or chairs at the end of the room provide a comfortable place for reading or conversation."

Another function when space is scarce is to incorporate a home office. "You can buy an armoire that opens into a computer desk, but completely hides it when it isnít in use. Office furniture is much more beautiful now," Wilke says.

Store and more

When it comes to storage, there are many more options than just the standard china cabinet, says Minetti. "China cabinets are beautiful, but some people are choosing a buffet piece that is maybe 36 to 40 inches tall so it can be used for serving as well as storage," she explains.

Another option for displaying some of your finer pieces is a curio cabinet. "We have used pairs of curios," Minetti says.

Also, forget the idea that furniture pieces have to match. Itís not unusual to see an eclectic mix of styles, materials and colors in dining room furniture pieces, says Minetti. "We are seeing etageres or buffets done in a green or poppy color. These are mixed with a more traditionally finished table," she says. "We are also mixing styles, such as contemporary with vintage pieces."

Upholstered chairs can be a great way to update a dining room. "If you love your table and donít want to replace, just switch the chairs or cover them," says Wilke. "You can use slipcovers in all kinds of ways. Just cover the seat cushion or cover the entire chair."

Donít forget lighting

Proper lighting is the key to a multifunctional dining room. "We are seeing the return of the chandelier," Minetti says. "But we are also mixing other lighting, such as recessed lighting or pairs of lamps on the buffet."

A dimmer switch is essential in the dining room, says Gierach, so you can create the most effective mood, depending on the situation. And, donít forget that a chandelier should be suspended about 34 to 36 inches above the table.