Expert Advice

Make Your Dining Area The Heart Of Your Home

Many consider the kitchen to be the heart of the home, however, our interiors columnist Lauren Li makes a convincing case for value of the good old fashioned dining room!

‘Do we need dining rooms more than ever?’ Lauren wonders in her thoughtful column today. We think she could be on to something!  With the relentless ‘busyness’ of modern life, and our addiction to screens and social media at an all time high, perhaps a distraction-free space for sharing mealtimes with loved ones is the ultimate indulgence in 2019!? Here, Lauren shares some ideas to make your dining area sing!

Lauren Li

A successful family dining room within a larger open-plan space, in the Northcote home of Tai Snaith and family. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Lauren Li
6th of March 2019

The dining room has been neglected in residential architecture for many years. The old fashioned formal dining room, with a door off the hallway and a table in the centre is a relic of dinner parties gone by. Today, if you’re lucky enough to have a separate dining room, it is more often used as a home office situation!  Removed from the action of the kitchen, and the view of the TV, no one is interested in spending time there.

This got me thinking, do we need dining rooms more than ever? After all, how luxurious to have a room dedicated to nothing more than sitting around a table breaking bread with loved ones. No TV, no phones, no view of dirty dishes and no noisy distractions. Imagine a room to talk to one another every day for breakfast and dinner. Or if you like to entertain, a room with a table crowded by noisy friends where the wine pours freely beside the flickering of candlelight. Alas, I’m aware I’m probably on my own here – I can’t see the open-plan trend slowing down any time soon…

Often houses built today incorporate a dining area within a large open-plan space that includes the kitchen, living, often merging into an outdoor living area. In this context, it’s up to the homeowner to carve out a ‘dining room’ within a larger, multi-functional space.

This can be a lot to ask, and makes the furniture and lighting selection and placement extremely important, to really create a ‘room within a room’. It can be difficult to create a cosy and welcoming feeling in these open plan spaces – that’s where good interior design, decoration and styling comes in!

At the other end of the spectrum, a dining area is the first to be deleted in cookie-cutter apartment developments. With space at a premium, once the sofa and TV go in, there is often no space left for a dining table and chairs. The developers of these apartment buildings are really  impacting the way the inhabitants live. Without space for a dining table, they are suggesting that one is to sit on the sofa facing the TV at mealtimes, or simply vacate their home to find dinner at nearby restaurants.

But all hope is not lost…

Even the most compact of spaces can incorporate an intimate dining experience. A cleverly designed fold-away table means that there is still an opportunity to sit together at a table, and not just sit on the sofa, as seen in the tiny cottage of Josh, Jenna and Freddie DenstenArtwork by Samantha Totty. Stools by Fred International painted a custom apricot. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design  Files.

The table is pushed against a built-in bench seat to maximize the space in the chic, compact apartment of Sean Fennessy and Jess Lillico. Ceramic face by Louise Kyriakou from Modern Times. Painting by Neil Tomkins. Sculpture by Sanné Mestrom. Tulip dining table by Eero Saarinen. Restored Cesca-style chairs. Pendant by Laal. Herringbone floors by Storey. Photo – Sean Fennessy. Styling – Jessica Lillico.

Absolute comfort and elegance in this dining area by Robson Rak. Again, space is used efficiently with a combination of in-built seating and dining chairs. Paintings by Sean Meilak and Heidi Yardley in the kitchen/living area. Styling – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files. Photo – Eve Wilson.

There is something totally inviting about booth seating. Doherty Design takes in-built seating to a new sophisticated new level in this renovated farmhouse in Beechworth, Victoria. Photo – Derek Swalwell.


One way to create a dining area in a compact space is to use built-in furniture. It’s space efficient because a built-in table and bench seat can be made to suit the exact dimensions of the space. Even a freestanding bench against a wall and a dedicated lamp over the table will give you more space, and a similar feel if you’re renting.

Think of the dining area as a space to engage the senses. Whether it’s a table for one, or a homework station for the family, the dining area should be a well lit, comfy and inviting space to spend time.

Soft upholstered chairs look inviting around this rustic dining setting, framed with an eclectic collection of PET lights overhead, in the former home of Chris and Arabella Wilson. Table by Mark Tuckey, retro tulip lamps from 1stDibs, Aga stove from Aga Australia, and PET lamps. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.


Tonal textures in this Brunswick home are layered in this cleverly designed space, to create a comfortable dining area which is a real focal point of the house. Photo – Derek Swalwell.

This dining area, belonging to artist Miranda Skoczek tells me that time spent here is going to be fun! Photo – Caitlin Mills. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.



A few practical ideas can help make the dining experience easier and more pleasurable. The chairs should be comfortable to sit in for a while, and the dining table is a piece worth investing in. These are pieces of furniture that we touch and interact with on a daily basis for many years, so we want them to last.

A handmade table by one of the many brilliant Australian makers (get lots of great ideas from 11 local craftspeople here!) only gets better over time. A timber table top that tells a story of family life through its dints and scratches becomes something worth treasuring.

The types of chairs we sit on should be comfortable, practical, look good, last for years and fit within our budget. Consider upholstered, timber or polypropylene (plastic), or even a bench seat.

Mixing up different types of chairs adds character and personality to a space and there are basically two different ways to do this; every chair is different for an eclectic mix, or only the chairs at the end of the table are different. Don’t aim for perfection (the ‘right’ dinnerware, artwork perfectly hung and colour matched, cushions plumped and lined up in a row) rather aim for a space that feels relaxed, functions well and invites you in to stay a while.

In an open plan space with high ceilings the noise levels can get out of hand. A floor rug under the table has soften noise considerably. Also try fixing some acoustic paneling such as Echo Panel to the underside of the dining table. Sisalla Barn House. Photo – Tess Kelly.


Although the dining table is technically part of the kitchen, it doesn’t feel like it. In her home, Annie Portelli has created a distinct dining room with the pendant light overhead, and a rug under the table which helps acoustically. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli. 


When we’re sitting down for a meal, whether it be breakfast or dinner, think about sound. If it’s an open-plan layout with noise from the dishwasher, exhaust fan and cooking in the kitchen, consider using soft furnishings such as cushions, curtains or a floor rug as an acoustic buffer.

Turn the TV off and play some tunes instead!

We love the materials palette and decorative flourishes in James Tutton’s former Coburg home. Though grand in scale, the use of a soft palette, overhead pendant lighting and artwork makes this space feel welcoming and relaxed. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Kara Rosenlund‘s dining area feels personal and inviting, with the table surrounded by treasured collections. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

A moody dining experience surrounded with wine, in the spectacular home of Bear Agushi in Armadale, designed by Workroom, with interior decoration and styling by Simone Haag. Does it get much better? Photo – Derek Swalwell.

The dining space in the Northcote home of Tai Snaith and family. Keeping books at hand in the dining area is not only practical, but looks so inviting. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.


A dining table is one of the largest surfaces in most homes, so it’s an opportunity for displaying your most loved pieces. Arrange a collection of vases or objects on your table, even a simple bunch of flowers in a sweet vase makes the everyday dining experience a little bit brighter.

Alongside the table, if space permits, consider bookshelves or a buffet to display treasured artwork, books, flatware or even a wine collection. Maybe there is room for a glamorous bar that illuminates when opened up!

Another great way to create a lovely atmosphere in a dining space is with lighting. A pendant light over the table instantly creates a clear zone for dining, particularly in an open plan area. Find some spectacular examples below.

Lighting selection isn’t always just about practicality, it can also be something adds real wow-factor to space. In the home of Penelope Cohen, the Creative Director of Skin and Threads, interior designer Simone Haag used dramatic overhead lighting as a focal point, with this amazing pendant from Delightfull. Photo – Mark Roper.

An oversized paper pendant lamp is a wonderful addition to the open plan living area in this Warrandyte home. La Calma leather sling chairs by Plutonic, and Akari light sculpture overhead. Photo – Eve Wilson.

The grand dining space in the home of Bear Agushi in Armadale, designed by Workroom, with interior decoration and styling by Simone Haag. Cab chairs Cassina from Space Furniture, and Giffin Design pendant lights. Wind chime by Agustina Bottoni. Artwork ‘Riven’ by Ian Rayer Smith, purchased from Otomys Gallery. Marble table sourced by Simone from Italy.  Photo – Derek Swalwell. Styling – Simone Haag.

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