• Meg

    Hi John,
    Back from two weeks of Italian country architecture. Good for the soul. I can’t find the bedroom checklist you mentioned that you’ve posted. Where am I going wrong?

    So on to dining rooms. I agree with the need to organise the table in sympathy (often this means in symmetry) with the surrounding features. I notice in the first example that the entry to the room lies on one of the axes of symmetry. In my dining room the door is off to the side and the circulation requirements mean that it makes it hard to place the table symmetrical with the fireplace which is central on the opposite wall. With the room the proportions and size it is I think it would be better to recognise the strip of space in front of the door is required for circulation and create an entry space for the room, and then have the fireplace central to a dining zone. I also have this problem in my living room (two rooms of a central hall in georgian house). In summary the circulation pattern forced by the door alters the functional symmertrical axis. Would draw picture but can’t find camera.

    Another very important point about the dining room is its proximity to the kitchen. Georgian houses often have the kitchen on a different floor to the formal dining room. I’ve seen new houses here in Dublin built to the same plan. An example of people buying for trophy home being better understood by consumers than good design. Unless you’ve got the caterers in you want to be able to get the food to the table so if they are seperate rooms they should be next to each other.

    In the examples to show dining spaces that didn’t work so well I found myself trying to solve the problems. Using bistro benches or round tables might help solve the problem of a tight alcove. Sliding doors or panels could be used to hide the open kitchen if desired. I was a bit stuck on the ‘corridor dining room’.

    What lighting is best in dining rooms? Overhead or wall sconces or something else. I guess you should be able to dim the lighting for atmosphere and also plan for music.

    Storage is also an important consideration. There might be a formal dinner service to house or perhaps the dining table is often used for homework etc so a fast easy way to schange uses is important.

    Great to be back.

  • John Brown

    Hi Meg,
    Welcome back. I hope you had a great time in Italy. The interesting thing about those old country villas is that most of the rooms were not designed for a specific function – they are just great rooms with good proportions and nice tall windows. Over the generations they have been easily adapted to the particular needs of the time.

    Sorry about the confusion with the bedroom summary. There may have been a bit of a delay in getting the post up but I believe there is now a link under the video player for the bedroom exercise.

    It is hard to visualize the situation in your dining room but it sounds like acknowledging the circulation zone makes sense. Otherwise I think the space will feel awkward.

  • Jim Argeropoulos

    I don’t have much to add today. Only that I’d like to have enough room to expand a table for guests.

  • Belle, Toronto

    The ideal dining space is hard to classify as most people have quite set ideas (and furniture) how they want the space used. I prefer a casual dining area but only one. I dont like space taken in the kitchen with an eat-in area and then a dining room which is only used once in a while.

  • Frances Grant-Feriancek

    Hi John,

    I’ve have so enjoyed lurking and drawing my floor plans, since I found your site. I beleive it was something I read in the Globe and Mail, please keep it up. It is both fun and educational!
    Today’s lesson had me jumping up to measure around my dining table, it has always felt tight, 2’4″ to 2’6″. I was pleased to learn however that the bay window we have added to our 1967 bungalow and the planed placement of a second window are both centred on the dining area.
    We have become a renovating nation and with resourses like your’s we can add to our home’s livibility and not make costly and regretable mistakes.
    Will you at some point be discussing stairs? I want to install two 5 or 6 foot wide open treads in my back entry. Open treads would allow all of the 4 by 6 foot entry tile to be visable, thereby not causing it to appear any smaller than it actually is. I also think the kids could kick thier shoes under the treads theyby leaving foor space. Is this something that is feasable? I can wait for an answer if this will be covered at a future date.

  • James Scott

    Sometimes you go crazy thinking what have I got myself into.

    Here’s my own original layout vs some modifications we have made to date. At the top of the dining space we have a race track of doors that lead from the dining are to the living room, to the hallway and back again. And as you can see by the placement of the table it was really tight but had a great view of the bathroom. Fortunately we had no children at that time so dining was bearable.

    Fast forward a few years and the removal of the wall and the movement and closure of a few doors and the space does open up.

    The living room has a textured ceiling that included a cove. When the wall came out I rebuilt the cove on a short box (yellow lines). A similar box between the kitchen and the dining helped create 3 zones. The ceiling in the dining area will have a more formal cove installed in the next week or so.

    Eventually the dining window will be replaced and centered on the dining table and the front entry will be corrected as well. There is a series of 4 pocket lights in the dining area and a rough-in for a pendant or some other light fixture for the dining table. The credenza is fairly low allowing for a really awesome art piece to go across from the table one day as well.

    Of course I committed myself to features that had I seen some of the ideas from the project catalog I would have changed immediately. Such as a relief where the baseboard is flush with the wall. Cool look!

    I know I’ve gone a bit extreme, but a cramped dining area with all it’s problems really sunk in today.


  • James Scott

    Hopefully this works.


  • Terri

    James, I don’t know if I speak for anyone else, but I can’t open your jpg file. I’m really curious now to see what you’re describing. Sounds like quite the project.

    I don’t think I have anything to add to this discussion as Meg and Belle voiced my thoughts so well! I might just say something which is obvious to me, but doesn’t seem to be to many of the designers for these cookie-cutter condos: a window or glass door near the dining area so that one can look out while eating, working, reading and so on.

    Aso, a wide enough entryway (in a more formal dining space) to accomodate large gatherings and the multiple passages back and forth of dishes and people seems like an obvious point, but maybe worth mentioning?

  • Terri

    I guess I do have more to add, afterall! I remembered that I’ve been in homes where one has to thread her way around the dining room table to go from kitchen to living room. In other words, the access to the kitchen from the living room was not just across the dining room but at the opposite end (like, kitty-corner). If one must go through the dining space, it should be in a hook or straight run at just one end of the room.

    No bathroom doors coming off dining room (or easily visible, as James’s place had).

    Try to have the messiest part of the kitchen (mostly the sink area) not visible to diners (but Meg already touched on that one in her post…)

  • Louis Pereira

    Some critical dimensions i follow:

    44-48″ between table and wall or appliances
    24″ walking past someone seated
    16″ min. edging past someone seated
    20″ min. depth seated person
    22-24″ each place-setting

    Jim has mentioned it already, but i also like the option to extend the table lengthwise. Each 24″ interval provides one seat each side. Therefore in order to accommodate an additional 4 people, ideally you should have approx. 4′ clearance on either end of the table.

  • James Scott

    Sorry everyone,

    I hope this works. The Slow Home Webmaster helped me correct the error.


  • Erin

    I like the idea of reinforcing the parameters of a ‘formal’ dining space whether it is open or enclosed. Entertaining is an integral part of most new home buyers’ wish lists but I think they are often disappointed when buying off a plan. Showing a dining table certainly doesn’t mean it will be a room where people feel welcome and comfortable – this exercise is a great help.

    I am new to commenting but have been enjoying the site for about a week. Looking forward to learning from all of you.

  • Cat

    I don’t seem to have much to say about dining rooms, but extending the table did bring to mind one thing I saw on TV where the chandelier was in a track (?) and could move, at least in one direction, as the table expanded/contracted. Looked like a good idea.

  • Jim Argeropoulos

    My mom centers her formal dining room table under the chandelier when the table has all the leaves out. Whe she adds leaves, she goes to the trouble of centering the table again.

    Unfortunately her formal dining room is also a traffic path from the kitchen to other areas. She can extend the table into that traffic path and beyond into the living room if needed because there is a wide archway between the dining room and the living room. Due to the traffic issues, and the chandelier, she doesn’t center the table to the center of the archway.

  • Doug Roberts

    I have always wanted a round dining room table, as I find they tend to work best for conversation. However, in my experience most dining rooms cannot accommodate a decent-size (eg. seating up to 8 people) round table. Even if the dining room starts out as a square, once you add a buffet along one wall , you are left with a rectangular area for the table and a round table won’t fit. Of course the other issue with round tables is that they are more difficult to expand and contract than rectangular tables.

    As others have mentioned, our family has made very little use of a separate formal dining room, so we now have just one dining area that we use both daily for dinner and for entertaining, as well as an informal breakfast bar along the kitchen island for quick breakfasts and lunches. In this house there happens to be a wall between the dining area and the kitchen, but I don’t think that is essential in order to use the dining area for entertaining. In fact, my “dream house” floorplans typically feature one large square-shaped great room, with a kitchen in one corner, a dining area in an adjacent corner and a living area across the other half of the room centered on a large stone fireplace, with a vaulted timberframe ceiling and large windows on 3 sides (along the lines of the attached drawing). Although I have never lived in a house with this sort of great room, I think it would work well for both day-to-day living and entertaining, as the dining area would be integrated with the kitchen and living areas and able to expand as needed.


  • Terri

    James, Thanks for re-posting your renovated dining room plan. It looks like you solved all the major issues really well and in the process created a much nicer place to sit and eat.

    One little question: I noticed that the entry lost its closet, or did you do something else there?

  • Terri

    Louis, Thanks for posting the exact dimensions for seating people around a table. These details are of the utmost importance when planning a space for all possible uses.

  • James Scott

    Hi Terri, I did lose the closet in the front hall. We’re on a corner lot (facing east) and our common entrance is near the back of the house. Eventually either the front yard will be closed off with landscaping and the entrance that you see will only be used for accessing that portion of our yard, or the entrance will be moved altogether.

    I hope to expand what I did above and take a look at both options in the coming weeks.

    The one coup that we did have was the purchase of a late 60′s Danish teak dining set (nary a scratch). Once expanded it can seat ten people easily so it was important that the space could handle that kind of crowd and the resulting traffic.

  • Grace

    I like multi-purpose spaces, especially dining/library tables. A wall of books behind a dining table suits me best.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for the question about stairs. Yes, we are going to have a segment on this very important, and often overlooked, design issue. I am thinking of doing it as a combination of a “room by room” and “in detail” segment because there are some great examples of well designed stairs by a variety of architects.

  • John Brown

    I appreciate your comment about dining as a multifunctional space. There are lots of ways in which families can use a table. It is important to stop thinking of the dining table as some precious piece that everyone is afraid to use and instead think of it as an essential piece of furniture that is used multiple times through the day (for eating, working, playing, etc).

    Adding a bookcase to a formal dining room can transform it into a study or library as well as a place to eat.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for posting a plan of your ideal house. I also like round dining tables. We have a 60″ diameter Saarinen tulip table that our family of 4 eats at every day. It can easily accommodate 6, 8 with a bit of squeeze and one more if everyone has a drink and knows each other. I think round tables are great for conversation. However, they do seem better suited for open plan dining areas rather than enclosed formal spaces.

  • John Brown

    Jim and Cat,
    You bring up an excellent point about lighting. The right light is essential to set up the right atmosphere. Too much light and it feels like a dissecting table. An off center ceiling light can be really frustrating and happens all to often in cookie cutter houses because the location is usually thoughtlessly selected. We did design a house with a movable light fixture that could be recentered around an expandable table. A less expensive alternative (and the one that I use every night) is candles. There is something very nice about the ritual of using candles and the light they provide is beautiful – even for a family dinner in the middle of the week.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for sharing the plans for your house. It’s getting me thinking that maybe we should start a new segment….

  • Peter

    This video no longer works?