Turn the tables on dining room problems

June 04, 2005|by ROSE BENNETT GILBERT /Copley News Service

Q: We don't have what my mother-in-law calls a "proper dining room" in our little house. That was OK by me - I grew up in a city apartment with limited space - but now that our two sons are getting bigger (4 and 3), we are giving more thought to family mealtimes. The problem is, outside the kitchen, there's really no room for even a small table and chairs. We do have a fairly wide front hall, but it has a bay window on one side. I think I won't mind taking food out on trays, but will it look funny, having a dining table in the entry hall?

A: Time was when eating in the entry hall was standard practice among the carriage trade. The concept of a separate dining room wasn't really refined until the Victorian era. Before that, in the American Colonies, at least, families took their meals wherever they liked. Often, two demi-lune (half-round) hall tables would be pushed together in the middle of the hallway at mealtimes, then separated for the rest of the day against their respective walls.


Your reasoning seems sound enough, especially the part about paying more attention to family dining. Sitting down for dinner together can be the most civilizing hour of the day. As mega-designer John Saladino has observed: "About the only ritual left to American families today is the dining table."

To maximize space for your "ritual," consider adapting the window-seat concept from the photo we show here. An easy build-in, the cushioned window seat takes advantage of the under-utilized area beneath the windowsill so you don't have to deal with the requisite push-back room for free-standing dining chairs or stools. Pull-up chairs on the outside can go out of the way against the walls between meals.

A tip, considering the tender ages of your dining companions: look into indoor-outdoor fabrics (Sunbrella is one source) that will shrug off spills and stains. They've come a long way today, in softness of hand and sophistication of design, so you can feel free to plan curtains and tablecloth, say, to match the cushions on your window seat and chairs.

Finally, don't think you have to martyr yourself for the sake of dining together: An old-fashioned rolling tea cart will take the work out of serving meals so far from the kitchen stove. I found an old one in wrought iron at an auction of outdoor furniture. If you prefer something more traditional - or contemporary - research resources like Williams Sonoma Home (their Kent Trolley is designed in tulip wood after an old library cart, and Restoration Hardware (their rolling kitchen island has a butcher-block top so it can do double-duty,


One of the most interesting small discoveries we made during the most recent Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C., is the tiny enterprise in Housatonic, Mass., that since l987 has been turning secondhand stuff - like cotton T-shirts and felted wool sweaters - into "funktional heirlooms" - like lofty woven "pot holder" rugs, blankets and quilts.

Powered by artists and eco-caregivers extraordinaire, Ireland-born founder Crispina ffrench and owner/president Nancy Fitzpatrick have reclaimed more than 150,000 pounds of discarded clothing. But forget any notion of tired hand-me-downs - their creations are fresh and colorful, soft, warm, and quirky enough to have been featured in top decorating magazines. "Whenever possible," say the designers, "We celebrate the quirks of the original garments - special pockets, buttons and labels - by their creative inclusion in our blankets and rugs."

Have a look at Your house - and the lightened landfills - will thank you.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas. Please send your questions to her at Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112-0190, or online at

Copley News Service

The Herald-Mail Articles