Recently a client asked me, “Is the formal dining room dead?”
Just as foods go in and out of fashion (I’m looking at you, kale chips), where and how we dine has also been subject to change. After working on many projects that have transformed closed-off dining rooms into open-concept main floors, I felt my client had asked a fair question.
Dining was hierarchical
After all, where did the formal dining room come from? In Medieval times, servants would wait on their masters and mistresses as they dined in a great hall. The host family sat at a raised table, while everyone else was positioned in rows below. Where you were seated signified your value to the family. The further away, the more dispensable you were. Dining was strict affair—you had no choice but to behave and follow protocol or you were removed, permanently.
20th century times
Things became a little more egalitarian in the 20th century. No more raised head tables. The nuclear family now sat at a scaled-down square, round or rectangular table. In the suburbs and city alike, family and friends ate together in coordinated dining suites. Manufactured to match, a glassed-in china cabinet, sideboard, table and chairs constituted the average formal dining room for a good part of the century.
So, what happened? Distractions such as radios, televisions, commuting and busy lives eventually took attention away from eating together and conversing…and making eye contact.
Fast food, microwaves and technology in general have all made it easier to cook almost anything at any time, in a way that accommodates our various schedules and desires. The neglected dining-room table has become a desk or a sorting table for laundry—almost anything but a place to dine—apart from at holidays and special occasions, when the debris is cleared off and the fine china polished.
The comeback kid
Today, while many of us embrace the airiness of open-concept living, a surprising number of renovations still include plans for a dining room. Thankfully, our furnishings and décor aren’t as rigid an in earlier times, and formality has been thrown out of the window in many homes.
Also gone are those once-treasured dining-room furniture suites. We don’t want our ancestors’ fixtures and fittings, but we still love to sit and eat together, throw dinner parties and enjoy food. We’ve loosened up.
As trends cycle through our lives people start to feel nostalgic, and the concept of eating at the table is gradually making a comeback. Families are making an effort to take a break from the 24-hour news cycle and the distractions of ever-imposing technology, and are embracing cooking and dining together once more.
The dining table is rising again, and is becoming known as the place to share a meal and converse, and even make eye contact. Whether it is in a separate room of the house or part of an open-plan design, the dining room is alive and well. Why not throw a dinner party, just to let friend and family enjoy the moment again?