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  • Writer's pictureNathan

What Happened to the Formal Dining Room?

Just as many trends go in and out of fashion, where and how we choose to dine has also been subject to change throughout periods in time. As a contemporary interior design agency, we have worked on several projects where our clients wanted us to transform their formerly closed off dining room spaces into open plan living areas, so it’s a fair question to ask “what happened to the formal dining?”

Hierarchical dining was popular in Medieval times

The formal dining room was established during Medieval times when slaves would serve food to the royal family and guests in the great hall. Without fail, the host family would be sat at a raised table towering above the rows of their guests below.

This hierarchical was used to signify your value to the family and the further away you were, the more dispensable you were to the family. It was a very strict affair and guests had no choice but to behave and follow the family’s protocol or be removed, forever.

20th Century Dining Was More Diplomatic

Our dining experience in the 20thcentury was a bit more diplomatic than Medieval times. There were no more raised head tables and the nuclear family would sit at a scaled down square, round or rectangular table. In home across the country in towns and cities alike, family and friends would eat their meals together in a coordinated dining suite. The accompanying furniture in the room would be manufactured to match, including china cabinets, buffets, sideboards, tables and chairs. These furniture items are what would make up the average formal dining room for the good past century.

But, where did the formal dining room go?

Shifts in society brought with them lots of distractions, from radios to TVs, commuting, busy lives and almost anything that could take our attention away from sitting down and dining together, having conversations and even making eye contact. As there were fewer people dining together at home, the good old dining table became an echoing symbol of neglect.

Technology allowed for any time to be meal time

As the speed of technological advancements increased, it become easier to cook almost anything whenever you wanted it and accommodate to various schedules and desires. This came in the form of fast food, microwaves and meals that were ready in minutes. Our dining room tables became desks, somewhere to sort through our laundry and do almost anything but actually dine at them.

Of course, when holidays came around they would be dusted off and cleared of debris to enjoy the function they were designed for just a few times a year. The next day returning to their desolate life of disuse once they had served their purpose for a special occasion.

Now, formality has been thrown out of the window

While many home owners have embraced the concept of open-plan living, many home renovations still include plans for a dining room along with the open space plan. However, our furnishings and choice in décor aren’t as rigidly dictated as they once were and incorporating a suit for dining isn’t at the top of our mind as much as it once was. But something has changed and it’s the word “formal” to describe our dining room.

What is also gone? Well, the furniture you will be seeing on sales sites are those once treasured dining room suites are for sale. We no longer hold onto our ancestors’ dining furniture and exchanged them for more modern pieces, while still wanting that dining experience. People still love to sit together with their families and friends, throwing dinner parties and enjoying food together but it is a much more informal affair.

A lifeline for our dining room?

Trends cycle in and out of our lives, mostly without us noticing, but people start feeling nostalgic and begin to miss the days of eating together as a family and catching up on the day’s events. We have a feeling that perhaps the concept of sitting down and dining together is making a comeback to our homes.

We are now seeing families making the effort to take a break from the distractions of every day life and begin to embrace the family dining experience again. Leaving behind the technology that gripped us for a taste of how life you used and maybe should be.

The dining table will rise above its symbolism of a breakdown in communications and be reborn as the place where families and friends share a meal and a conversation together again. Whether this takes place in a separate dedicated room in the house or as part of an open-plan space, the dining room is still very much alive.

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