Optimum Dining Room Size

hillsidebldFebruary 16, 2014

We are building a home - working with an architect for the plans. i don't entertain a lot but when I, its usually a sit-down dinner for 20+ people. Now we have a large dining room 15x18 and so I bring in multiple tables so everyone can sit together.

What do you guys suggest is a good size dining room - not too small but not too big that you are dedicating space to a room that you rarely use?


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A perfect dining room for large groups would have:

- A large rectangular table. Why? Because a rectangle will be most space efficient in an average room, and a rectangular table is most likely to be "adjustable". I personally like "adjustable" because that large table can be uncomfortable on the rare occasion that you're feeding four people.

- With the need for many seats, I'd suggest narrow chairs -- something like ladder back chairs. Always choose chairs constructed with a single piece of wood for the leg and back. For example, ladder backs tend to be built with one piece, whereas Windsor chairs are a two-piece construction, and at some point the upper portion is going to separate from the lower portion.

- Having a bench on one side of the table seems to be a trend lately -- probably because one bench is cheaper than several chairs. However, benches are never particularly comfortable: someone's too close to the table, someone else is too far.

- At least 36" behind every person's chair. Preferably a little more.

- In a group of 20, you likely have an elderly person or two -- or, if you don't now, you will at some point. Consider where at the table you could seat this person. We used to give my recently-deceased grandmother the seat at the end of the table because it was easier for her to reach.

- Consider where you, the hostess, will sit. When we have "a dinner", my husband takes the seat at the far end -- waaaay down by the window because he never gets up during a dinner. I sit at the other end, which is nearest the kitchen because I'm most likely to jump up to retrieve the forgotten this-or-that.

- A wide opening (perhaps opening to the hallway) on one of the "wide sides" of the table. PLUS another entrance on another wall. This allows plenty of space for people to come and go comfortably.

- Preferably windows on two walls, which makes the space feel more open.

- How do you serve? Family style? Buffet? Plated meals handed to guests? Whatever your plan, think through where your food will be laid out and how it will reach the table.

- Where will beverages be placed? On the table? On an adjacent buffet table? In a steps-away butler's pantry? Again, think through where they'll be placed.

- In thinking of beverages, don't neglect to think of after-dinner coffee. I personally don't drink it, but MANY people in my family expect a cup of something hot with dessert or after dessert.

- Where will you have dessert hiding just out of site? My answer is, The Pantry.

- Where will you store dishes and glassware? Do you want a china cabinet in the dining room? Or, if you have a massive amount of dishes to feed these crowds, perhaps you'd be better off with an adjacent china closet. Do you use the same dishes for special occasions that you use every day? That may make a difference in where you want to store it all.

- Since you're considering a big room and a big table, I think I'd go with two moderate-sized chandaliers rather than one big model. I think a big one would be overwhelming and wouldn't give enough light to the table ends. In addition to the overhead lights, you'll need either some cans on the ceiling OR some wall sconces. I personally prefer wall sconces; the light bulbs are easier to change and I like the "bouncing" of the light against the wall.

- If you're doing a buffet where people will serve themselves, don't neglect light in that area. What you don't want is one overhead light /people's shadows to be thrown upon the buffet as they attempt to serve themselves. Either cans over the buffet OR a wall sconce at each end of the buffet will fix this problem.

- Finally, this is going to be a big room, and it's going to gobble up heat and air conditioning. If it were in my house, I'd like to have pocket doors so I could close it off when it's not being used. You can "pocket" French doors, which means you have a view of your lovely room.

None of what I just discussed could be considered "budget".

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 2:38PM
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MrsPete - your post is really useful and thorough! You've given me a lot to ponder on.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 4:16PM
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It depends, how many sideboards or china hutches will be in the room and how large are they?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 5:38PM
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i probably wouldnt have any sideboards or china cabinets. now we have a simple table and bring in other tables to usually form and l shape.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 6:51PM
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Sophie Wheeler

You need a min of 24'" in width at a table for seating. 30 is better if you want people to relax and be comfortable . So take your desired goal of 20 seated tea 30 to be the most gracious host and your table needs to be 300" long just for the people. Add in the 3' minimum aisle space and you're up to a 28' room. Might as well go for 30' so you can do a buffet. A proportionate widths to such a long room would be 20' using the golden mean ratio. And you'd probably want at least 18' ceilings to keep that proportionate as well. In other words, it will be the biggest room in the house and not often used when it's just the family.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 8:47PM
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Another possibility--I made my kitchen eating area as large as my dining room, so I could seat 10-12 at each table--if I had the right tables. It's also not quite so noisy with fewer people in each room.

A trestle rectangular table works best. If needed, you can put 2 people at each end if there are no table legs in the way of the chairs. Unfortunately, my DR table is oval with legs, so I can only seat 8 comfortably since the chairs are a bit awkward to get in and out of, even though there is space for 10.


    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 10:00PM
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So how large should a room be for a use that is "seldom"?

Hollysprings gave a good guideline for seating width at a table--24"-30" each. The aisle space between table and wall or furniture should be 3' (min)-4' (Best). With these two dimensions you can figure out the options for your question based on various table and seating arrangements.

If it were my house, I'd probably host the meal out on the patio, where I didn't have to build space for a seldom used function. Good luck with your project!

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 9:04AM
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Thanks all. I wouldn't have one long table. The way we do it now is have a 90inch dining room table and then bring in two more 6ft tables to create an l shape. It works great. I guess I need to figure out how much space I realistically need for the same set up.
Also, my architect mentioned having a wide opening to the foyer and seating people there - or at least gaining space because people can have their backs in the opening instead of against the wall. Anyway ever utilize their space this way?


    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 10:31AM
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My grandparent-in-laws have their foyer and dining room open to one another and designated with columns. When they host family dinners, they set up a table in the foyer area and it works out well. I'm planning on copying the idea if I ever get to build.

This post was edited by really7 on Mon, Feb 17, 14 at 11:05

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 11:04AM
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My girlfriend would use her foyer as spill over for large dinner parties…both rooms have the same flooring so it worked. In my current build, we are planning to have the set up of dining room, foyer and living room across from it, so I can extend out into the foyer and living room if I need to for large parties. I had my living room located directly behind my dining room in my old house…I would just extend my table into the living room when I needed the extra space. I totally get where you're coming from…you want that space when you want it…I just can't justify allotting that much space to a room that I need THAT big a couple times a year. Good luck…I look forward to hearing what you decide! :)

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 1:29PM
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Our dining room is 12 x16, which seems fine for the size of our house (3600sq ft) and for our furniture (rectangular table that sits 8 and a chest/sideboard.) I have one more leaf I can put in it to add 2 more seats and still keep everyone in the room (the chest is against the 16' wall) but when I had a formal dinner for 14, I managed to get another 6' table on the end to form a "T." It helped immensely that the 6' table was on the end near the cased opening into the foyer so it didn't feel tight. I honestly wouldn't want a bigger dining room since it isn't used daily. My old dining room was 12 x 13 and that felt a little small.

When we entertain larger groups, we use informal seating and buffet style service at the kitchen island.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 3:22PM
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Yes, I have a friend whose dining room is arranged in such a way that she can extend her table and have people "scooted out in to the entryway". I'd forgotten that.

HollySprings, I must argue with your math, though I do get the point. You didn't seat anyone at the ends of your table. If you're seating 20 people at one table, the table will have to be wide enough to seat two at each end -- otherwise it'll appear too spindly thin. So that means 4 people at the ends, 16 down the sides, or 8 people per side. Thus, if you allow them 24" per person, it'd be a 192" (16') table. If you allow them 30" per person, 240" (20') table.

The patio is sounding good! Given that we're in a mild climate, that's actually my personal plan. With both leaves "in", my dining room table is 102" (8.5'), and that's pretty big . . . and we have squeezed 5 people down each side and two at each end (by the way, it's 40" wide). On the rare occasion we've done that, we've brought in the four chairs from the kitchen table and used the kitchen table as a buffet /dessert spot. It's not ideal, but no one complains while they're eating good food! When we move, though, we'll be outdoors when we have groups of this size.

This post was edited by MrsPete on Mon, Feb 17, 14 at 17:54

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 5:53PM
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