On the surface, decorating a dining room seems like it should be pretty straightforward: table, chairs, credenza, done. But the design process becomes more complex when you’re working with a small space. Standard dining furnishings may not fit comfortably into the room, leading it to feel overcrowded and cluttered—and research has found that clutter can magnify stress, which can lead to less-than-ideal digestion. That’s not exactly what anyone wants from a room designed for eating and entertaining, right? Luckily, interior designers have plenty of small dining room ideas that can help even the tiniest space feel more expansive and inviting.
Here, interior designer Candace Mary Griffin—founder of Detroit-based design and home-staging firm Candace Mary Interiors—shares a few of of her favorite secrets for optimizing a small dining space. Although she mainly crafts rooms in stately homes and spacious lofts these days, she previously lived and worked in San Francisco. In other words, she’s got plenty of experience working with limited square footage. Take her advice, and you may just find yourself lingering a little longer over your lunch in your own dining room—and daydreaming about all the post-quarantine dinner parties you’ll inevitably want to host.
Keep reading for 7 small dining room ideas that will make your space feel larger and less cluttered.
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1. Shop furniture brands designed for smaller spaces—or go custom
Traditional dining furniture is often too large for apartments or jewel-box houses. The fix? When you’re collecting small dining-room ideas, seek out retailers that carry pieces specifically with small-space dwellers in mind. “I love Room & Board because their pieces really model ‘form follows function’—nice, clean design, but also functional,” says Griffin. “CB2 is also great for smaller-scale dining pieces.”
Another option is to have furniture custom-made for the dimensions of your dining room. “If you’re going the custom route, check out Woodward Throwbacks. They create really cool custom furniture all from salvaged items,” Griffin says.
2. Opt for a round or expandable table
If you don’t have a lot of dining space to work with, think outside of the rectangular-table box. “When working with a smaller space, I love round tables. It’s a great way to provide ample seating without overcrowding the space,” says Griffin. She’s partial to tables with glass tops, as their transparency can make the room feel larger.
“When working with a smaller space, I love round tables. It’s a great way to provide ample seating without overcrowding the space.” —Candace Mary Griffin, design-firm owner
And if you like to host large parties, Griffin recommends finding a table that extends with a removable leaf or folding panels. “This gives you the flexibility to create more seating for bigger gatherings but the option to keep it tight and concise for everyday living,” she says.
3. Buy a bar cart
Love to entertain but have no space for bar storage? Enlist a bar cart to do the job. “Bar carts are perfect for housing all those things that really take your dinner party up a notch,” says Griffin. “They’re also small enough to not infringe on your dining space.” The designer recommends stocking it with a cocktail shaker, glasses, and a cocktail recipe book. Her favorite vendors of good-looking bar cart essentials are Estelle Colored Glass and Goodee.
4. Get an area rug that’s large enough for the room
“Rugs are another great way to make your dining room feel bigger,” says Griffin—but choosing the right one is an art. It might sound counterintuitive, but the designer says a too-small area rug can make a tiny room feel even smaller. “You’ll want to make sure your rug is large enough for the dining table and seating to fully be on the rug,” she says. “One thing I like to do is tape out the rug size with painter’s tape before purchasing. This way, you can ensure the rug size is perfect.”
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5. Use lighting to open up the space
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Griffin says oversize lighting fixtures can make a small dining space feel smaller. But how big is too big when it comes to lighting? “A general rule of thumb I like to follow is: Measure the length and width of your room, then add the L + W and convert to inches for a proxy on length of your fixture,” says Griffin. “For example, if your room is 16×10 feet, you want your overhead lighting to be somewhere around 26 inches (10+16 = 26) in length and width, depending on the type of fixture.”
Lighting-fixture style can also impact how spacious a dining room feels. “I love linear lighting in smaller spaces to draw your eye out and open up the room,” says Griffin. “Another go-to for small dining spaces is a rounded pendant. They do a really great job of anchoring the space without feeling obtrusive.”
6. Don’t be afraid of color or pattern
Small spaces are a great place to experiment with bold art and wall coverings, says Griffin. “Wallpaper with larger patterns can actually make the room feel bigger,” she says. If you live in an apartment, peel-and-stick wallpaper from brands like Chasing Paper and Tempaper are designed for clean, easy removal.
“Another fun way to make the space feel larger is to create a floor-to-ceiling gallery wall with your favorite prints or photographs,” says Griffin. “This will draw your eye up and make the ceilings feel taller.” Intimidated by the idea of hanging all that art in super-straight lines? Use this genius hack to map out your gallery wall without the aid of a toolbox.
7. Use mirrors to create the illusion of more space
Finally, Griffin often incorporates large wall mirrors into her small-space designs. “They are the best way to reflect light, add depth, and, in general, add warmth to a small room,” she says. And they do all of that without taking up any floor space—win, win.
Bottom line: With the right ideas, a small dining room can still be stylish and super-functional
These small dining room ideas show that it’s possible to get a lot out of a compact space—both in a practical sense and an aesthetic one. The right furniture allows ample space for eating, entertaining, and circulating, while rugs, lighting, and art can help the room look bigger and feel more special. A dining room may not be the most-used room in many homes, but it’s the space where we nourish ourselves and connect with the ones we love—so why not give it the glow-up it deserves?
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