Close your eyes and picture a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving: Grandpa carving the turkey at one end of the long wooden table, Grandma at the other end, seated on one of 10 matching chairs. For a long time, that set-up was synonymous with “dining room.” But the American family has changed since Rockwell last put down his paintbrush — and American dining rooms are changing, too. “People are entertaining in a much more informal and creative way today,” says San Francisco-based designer April Sheldon. “They’re mixing different patterns in their dishes and putting branches and shells on their dining tables. The traditional mahogany table just isn’t working with that lifestyle.”
So, what is working in today’s dining rooms? Mixable, matchable furniture in unusual materials and unexpected finishes, making a style statement by breaking all the rules.
Like many busy people today, designer Raji Radhakrishnan and her family usually eat dinner in the kitchen. “I almost never use my dining room for sit-down meals,” says Radhakrishnan, owner of Raji RM Design in Brambleton, Virginia. “We’re much more likely to use our dining room for high tea or cocktail parties, so I have set the space up for that. The table is fairly small, and has a sofa behind it, with two antique Bergeres with caned seats facing it. There are some small end tables and I bring in other small tables when I want to.”
While wooden tables are still the most readily available, tables in more unusual materials are increasingly popular — and can really set the tone for a dramatic dining space. For this dining room in Woodstock, New York, designer April Sheldon set a round Calacatta Oro marble tabletop on a base of bleached, rift-cut white oak. The table is surrounded by clear, modern chairs by Philippe Starck — for a look that’s fresh and sexy.
“The key to this kind of look,” says Sheldon, “is to start with a great table and then find the chairs that play off the material or attitude of the table.” And once you’ve spent the time to select a table in an unusual material, be sure to show it off: “There are so many beautiful place mats available today,” Sheldon says. “And you can also place the dishes right down on the table. There’s no reason to cover a beautiful table with a tablecloth.”