It’s a question that begs to be answered and worth delving into. In order to best answer this question we need to take a look at today’s modern families and their lifestyles. We are busier than ever before. Our days are longer than in the past. Today’s school children have longer days with more activities and more homework, perhaps, than those of previous generations. The greatest difference may be that today’s homes consist of, primarily, two working parents/partners.
Gone are the days where the mother stayed home and tended to the house and greeted her husband and children when they came home at the end of the day. Gone are the days when the workday ended at 5:00pm. Today’s family members come and go at various times and into the late evening hours. Because of this it is not uncommon to have a staggered family meal, depending on what time everyone gets home. For those who do sit down and plan a family meal, this can take a great amount of coordination and effort and, does not often happen 7 days a week. What does this have to do with the dining room? A great deal!
How often is the dining room used?
Our lifestyles tend to be more casual today, and our homes are a direct reflection of this shift. Older homes, those built between 1920 and 1970s, with the smaller kitchen were outfitted with dining rooms just off the kitchen. Food was prepared in the kitchen and then transported into the dining room. Once a meal was finished, people would then relocate to another room… to the kitchen, perhaps, to clean and do the dishes, or to the common living area or to a bedroom.
Dining rooms, once used daily are not seeing much use at all these days. Some use them from time to time while others not at all. Whether a dining room is used or not really comes down to lifestyle. Very few of these rooms are used on a daily basis. Many are used for entertaining or for family gatherings and holiday meals. Some use this room but just once or twice a year.
Where are people dining?
Our kitchens see more traffic and more use, perhaps, than any other room in the house. This is especially the case with busy families. The kitchen has become central not only in our homes, but in our home life. We are spending more and more time in the kitchen. It is where we cook, congregate, work, entertain, discuss the day’s events, plan future engagements and pay bills. We also happen to eat in here. Our kitchens are outfitted with music and television sets and this space has become a true living room. Today’s kitchens are larger than those of years past and often have more than one seating area. It is not uncommon to see both an island surrounded with chairs and a separate space large enough to fit a table and several chairs. With two eating areas is there really a need for another?
What’s happening to existing dining rooms?
Many formal dining rooms are sitting vacant, empty – gathering dust and cobwebs. Others, however, aware of this grand wasted space and have decided to turn these unused rooms into something that better fits their lifestyle. These unused dining rooms are being converted to accommodate today’s lifestyle. We are seeing them become dens, playrooms, offices, libraries,. craft rooms, art studios, exercise rooms…
The walls are coming down!
Expanded spaces and open floor plans are very much in demand these days. Newer homes are built with this thought in mind, and older homes are being reconfigured and redeveloped so that they too can have this open feel. Even small Colonial and Cape style houses can have an open floor plan. As long as weight is redistributed properly, load-bearing walls can easily be removed. For many this is ideal. Not only does this open up the home, making it feel larger, but for those with young families, some feel it’s easier to keep tabs on everyone without having to be in the same room. Homes with open floor plans are hot commodities in the real estate market, in fact, Realtors often promote their listings as having an “open floor plan” to create interest among buyers. This isn’t, however, the case for every home.
Open floor plan vs separate, traditional dining room
Which is more desirable, the newer, open floor plan or the more traditional, dining room? There is no right or wrong answer here and people seem to be equally divided here. Some prefer the modern look and feel of a more open floor plan while others prefer the traditional setup with separate living areas. As with everything, the beauty here, too, is in the eye of the beholder. It comes down to family, living and lifestyle and perhaps even tradition.
Those who grew up with traditional dining rooms, with memories of great holiday meals, loud, boisterous and energetic family get togethers may want to continue with tradition and pass this down to future generations. While some view these rooms as a waste of valuable space, others prefer to hang tight to these rooms, even if they are only used a handful of times a year. It’s about preference, lifestyle and choice. In an informal poll, about half the people responded to preferring a separate, closed off dining room with the other half preferring a specified dining space, but not in a separate, closed off space.
Dining areas in smaller homes and apartments
Many Americans and most Europeans live in homes and apartments too small for separate dining areas. For those residing in apartments, lofts and smaller homes, the kitchen is, once again, the center of the home for entertaining as well as dining purposes. In lofts with open floor plans, large farm tables are often central to the space. Much in the same way a kitchen table has become multi-functional, these have as well, providing hours of family meals, and entertainment as well as a place for homework, crafts and board games.
The family dynamic is changing
With the rising costs of living and a poor economy, many young people cannot afford to live on their home. It is becoming more and more common for today’s youth, after finishing university, to move back home while they look for work and to try to save a little money. In addition to this, as our population ages and is living longer, many elders are moving in with their children as well, making many homes multi-generational and redefining the term modern family. For these families more living space is therefore needed as opposed to the need for a separate dining area.
Whether or not a formal dining room is wanted or needed depends a great deal on tradition, lifestyle as well as size of the home. Those who view the space to be antiquated and unnecessary opting to turn these spaces into offices, bedrooms and libraries. Some, however, are choosing to have a room that is multi functional – a room that can best be served for different purposes – a room that could be converted from office or library to dining area, and if designed properly, this conversion is easily done. Maximizing the use of a home’s square footage is most important all around.