AT HOME NOW | Breaking Bread and Breaking Convention


I recently had some family over for dinner, COVID and all.  I thought we’d eat in the living room, and had our socially distanced chairs all set up.  But my guests came in as a group and while I was busy with the bustle and the greetings and the coats, they had all plopped themselves around my dining room table.  It was so organic and so perfect that I just quietly swapped the buffet setup for place settings, and took a seat myself.  There was wisdom in that collective, unspoken urge to sit together - and I certainly wasn’t going to argue. 

But dining rooms (or dining areas) in general, seem to have polarizing forces.  They are either working overtime for meals, work, crafts, homework, card games, cookie decorating, science projects, and even diaper changes.  Or they are never used at all.  There they sit, in a room heavily draped and outfitted with Aunt Betty’s complete Queen Ann dining set.  It’s begging you to throw a formal dinner party, but yeesh, that kind of meal is so much work.  Just take a look inside Betty’s buffet cabinet - it’s loaded with items that need to be polished and ironed and hand washed.  

Now I’m not knocking the formal meal.  I’m just a fan of using spaces.  Do you throw formal dinner parties frequently?  Do you love the excuse to take out the wedding china and polish up the silver?  Are the formal soirees that you throw lively events where people linger at the table longer than you anticipated?  If you answer yes, well then don’t change a thing.  That’s everything dining rooms were made for - it doesn’t matter what your entertaining style is.  But if you answer no, then you may want a dining area that is more reflective of who you are and how you like to entertain. 

Let me do some of you a favor.  As your interior design fairy, I wave my magic wand and hereby release you from that old dining set.  Yes, yes, yes, I know it’s solid wood, and sturdy as heck, and, hey, look at that inlay, and they sure don’t make them like they used to, and we got it on our honeymoon and we’re saving it for the kids.  I’ve heard the excuses before.  They are common tales.  But none of those are reasons good enough to keep something that doesn’t represent you accurately.  Plus, that “heirloom”?  Most kids don’t want them.  And it’s understandable - it’s a pretty mean trick to burden the next generation with the same furniture that never really worked for you. 

A million years ago, when I was in design school, I presented three ideas for an assignment and was very proud of my work.  My professor noted that although they were pretty, they didn’t address an important problem that the assignment presented.  And he told me to (literally) go back to the drawing board.  I spoke with him after class and got all blustery and defensive about my approach.  He cut me off and looked me square in the eye and said, “Creating good design means you sometimes have to kill your own children.”  That stopped me in my tracks, and obviously I never forgot it.  


I share that story to prepare you for the answer to your next question.  You: “Well, what on earth would I do with it?”  Me (buckle up): “If you are lucky you may be able to sell it for a fraction of its value.”  There are high-end consignment stores, and of course Craig’s List, and also donation.  But there is little to no market for these pieces.  I can hear some of you gasping for air, so let me pause here to gently remind you that not knowing what to do with a table you don’t like (or anything for that matter,) is not a good enough reason to keep it.  Because if you do, then that furniture owns you - not vice versa.  

And holy Covid, global warming, and the politics of today!  Life is so short!!!  Live your life as your most authentic self!  And there is no better starting point than to update the place where you break bread and connect with other humans.  I declare the contract that you had with that old furniture null and void.  You are free.  

So let’s manifest this.  I’m picturing your old table gone and your new dining area taking shape. It has padded comfortable chairs and accessories unique to you.  There’s a new wall color and less formal drapes, and you find your family gravitating to that spot to work or play or eat.  Maybe the room is now better set up for multi-function use - it could double as a classroom or an office.  And maybe you find yourself sipping a cup of coffee in there, simply because it’s a place where you want to be. 

What could be better than all that, you ask?  Well, in my opinion, decorating your table for the seasons is the icing on the cake.  My Halloween decor includes plastic rats and glitter skulls - but find your own groove.  There is so much to choose from in the fall.  Gourds, and twigs with berries, and branches with their turning leaves still attached.  Pinterest abounds for inspiration.  Or go to the dollar store—because I know you’re running low on plastic rats. 

dining room, interior design, jen coles, home design