Here, interior designer Candace Mary Griffin—founder of Detroit-based design and home improvement firm Candace Mary Interiors—shares some of her favorite secrets for optimizing a small dining space. Although these days she mainly creates rooms in stately homes and spacious lofts, she used to live and work in San Francisco. In other words, she has a lot of experience working with limited square footage. Take her advice, and you might just linger a little longer over lunch in your own dining room — and daydream 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 bigger and less cluttered.
1. Buy furniture brands designed for smaller spaces—or custom
Traditional dining room furniture is often too large for apartments or jewel box homes. The fix? When gathering small dining room ideas, look for retailers that carry pieces specifically with small-space dwellers in mind. “I love Room & Board because their pieces really model ‘form follows function’—beautiful, clean design, but also functional,” says Griffin. “CB2 is also ideal for smaller scale eatables.”
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,” says Griffin.
2. Opt for a round or extendable table
If you don’t have a lot of dining space to work with, think outside of the rectangular table cabinet. “When I’m working with a smaller space, I like round tables. They’re a great way to provide enough seating without crowding the space,” says Griffin. She is partial to tables with glass tops, as their transparency can make the room feel larger.
“When I’m working with a smaller space, I like round tables. They’re a great way to provide enough 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. “It gives you the flexibility to create more seating for larger gatherings, but the option to keep it tight and compact for everyday life,” she says.
3. Buy a bar cart
Love to entertain but don’t have room for bar storage? Get a bar cart to do the job. “Bar carts are perfect for hosting all those things that really take your dinner up a notch,” says Griffin. “They are also small enough not to intrude on your dining space.” The designer recommends stocking it with a cocktail shaker, glasses and a cocktail recipe book. Her favorite vendors of stylish bar cart supplies are Estelle Colored Glass and Goodee.
4. Get an area rug that is big 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 may sound counterintuitive, but the designer says a rug with too small an area can make a small room feel even smaller. “You’ll want to make sure your rug is big enough for the dining table and seating to be fully on the rug,” she says. “One thing I like to do is tape the size of the rug before I buy it. That way you can ensure the size of the rug is perfect.”
5. Use lighting to open up the space
On the opposite end of the spectrum, says Griffin, large lighting can make a small dining space feel smaller. But how big is also 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 it to inches for a proxy for length of your fixtures,” 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 style can also affect 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 good job of anchoring the space without feeling intrusive.”
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. “Larger patterned wallpaper 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 bigger is to create a floor-to-ceiling gallery wall with your favorite prints or photos,” says Griffin. “It will draw your eye up and make the ceilings feel higher.” 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 help 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’re the best way to reflect light, add depth, and generally add warmth to a small room,” she says. And they do it all 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 is possible to get a lot out of a compact space – both in a practical sense and an aesthetic one. The right furniture allows enough space for dining, entertaining and circulation, while rugs, lighting and art can make 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 feed ourselves and connect with those we love – so why not give it the shine it deserves?