Let’s be honest—most of the time, your dining room isn’t used nearly as much as it should be, and, if it is, it’s not always for dining. Throughout the pandemic (and maybe even before then), chances are, you probably used your dining room as a work space—and you did it too many times to count. Well, who’s to say you can’t transform your rarely used (or, at least rarely used for its intended purpose) dining room into an entirely different space? Whether you’d rather have a multi-purpose great room, a work-from-home office space, or a relaxation room in its place, read on for design ideas that will leave you rethinking the potential of your dining room. (And if you’re passionate about your formal dining room, that’s great too—we love a well-used eating area!).
A Multi-Purpose Great Room
Instead of allowing a dining room to stay as a single-purpose space as it typically tends to be, Lina Galvao of Curated Nest Interiors transformed her clients’ rarely used dining room into a multi-purpose great room, for the entire family to enjoy.
“Being a family of three, and with a second child on the way, this couple needed to pack tons more function into their space,” explains the designer. “Our challenge was to maximize storage and accommodate play space for the kids.” Ultimately, Galvao found that functionality was critical, “and it won out over formality.”
The end result is a casual eating area and play space with ample storage—and clear zoning to make it easier to carry out these activities, which was a necessity, as this dwelling boasts an open concept floor plan. “We used storage pieces to designate different areas, and it became clear how each area was to be used,” Galvao adds. “Each area had its own function, and toys and personal belongings all had their own place.”
Today, this great room is the primary spot for this growing family to spend time together, whether that means cooking, eating, playing, watching television, or entertaining. Plus, even the kids are enjoying this space more, as there are now bookcases specifically dedicated to storing both books and toys, as well as a kids play table for crafts and Legos.
And yet, the home’s dining area still feels cohesive, even though it’s next to a kids space, says Galvao. “By making the dining more casual, and using elegant finishes in the kids space, the two work well together,” she explains.
A Work-From-Home Office Space
Ask anyone what the past two years have been like, and they’ll likely mention working from home—and how they transformed their home in order to do so. Abbey Stark, an Interior Design Leader at IKEA, has seen this transformation happen firsthand, on numerous occasions, as many of us “have had to carve out space in our homes for homeschooling, working from home, hobbies, and more meals cooked at home” so much so that she has deemed this kind of space “the ‘new’ dining room.”
One such example of this transformation is an IKEA-furnished space that now functions as both an at-home office and a place for home schooling. “When there is not space for a separate location for a home office, converting the dining room into a flexible workspace is a good option,” Stark advises. “This space should provide different work zones and storage to create a sense of wellbeing.”
Another design tip? Place ergonomic chairs around the dining table, for maximum comfort—and maybe even “create a cozy nook for answering emails or taking a phone call to break up the day,” adds Stark.
And to make your space even more design-savvy, try hiding your work equipment—such as cables, monitors, and the like—in a closed storage cabinet when your workday has concluded, in order to “help separate professional with personal,” so that you can fully enjoy your evening with your loved ones.
In Stark’s own home, she swapped a dining table for a round coffee table and lounge seating, as she sought to create an “inviting environment where my family and friends could chill, have a cup of coffee, and enjoy a conversation.” After all, a dining room shouldn’t solely be “something pretty [that’s only] used a couple of times a year.”
Related: How Designers Keep Spaces Organized
A Den/Relaxation Room
When interior designer Rachel Cannon was tasked with creating a so-called “femme den” for her client and close friend, Mary Catherine, she was told “I want color, color, color!”—and that’s exactly what she accomplished.
Ultimately, what Mary Catherine really wanted was “a room that she could retreat to for the simple joys of relaxing, reading, and restoring her energy and sanity,” says Cannon, who has made a mission of designing purpose-driven spaces that might not necessarily fall within stereotypical definitions of the home (like, say, a dedicated music listening room). Unlike many dens or living rooms, Mary Catherine liked the idea of having a room that wasn’t centered around a television, but rather, “a place that would just lend itself to more peaceful activities.”
When designing this space, Cannon made sure to incorporate some heirloom pieces from her client’s personal collection, which “made it easy to create a space that felt collected and interesting, instead of all-new and flat.” This included a rug, crystal sconces, and an armoire, all of which which the designer found to be “a joy to incorporate, because they held such history and character.”
Best of all, Cannon herself has been able to enjoy the room she designed since its completion. “I’ve had the privilege of cozying up on this sofa many nights to chat, catch up, and just hang out with my friend.” In addition to Cannon and her client’s get-togethers, Mary Catherine proudly uses this room “many times during the week,” including after work—and what better time to relax than that? “It’s her happy place,” says Cannon. We can’t think of a better use of a room than that!
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