I’m sharing my golden rules on how to decorate a dining room in this post. Or should I say, I’m pointing out all of the design crimes I see in people’s homes. Don’t shoot the messenger; I’m just doing the work of the decor gods to ensure your space lives up to its full potential.
Dining rooms can be tricky to furnish. They come in so many shapes and sizes that people often struggle when it comes to pulling back on how much to bring into the space. Or, even worse, they under-furnish the room so much it feels like a place the Super Nanny would send naughty kids to think about their bad behaviour.
You really don’t want either to be true of your dining room, so let me cover off some key things to avoid below. By the end of this post I’m confident you’ll know all the necessary tips and tricks to decorate a dining room successfully.
1. The Table and Chairs Are The Same Material
Eek! This is one of the biggest dining room decorating mistakes of them all so I thought it best I start here. In an ideal world your table and chairs are different materials and colours. That means you gotta avoid the biggest no-no of them all: buying package deal dining suites.
Under no circumstances would I ever encourage you to buy tables and chairs that match perfectly. It’s just way too much of the one finish. Not only is it overwhelming in terms of colour, it can feel very hard and uninviting to have so much timber in one zone.
You definitely want some softness involved if possible. Think about mixing timber tables with upholstered chairs, or a glass/marble table with some leather options. There are so many stylish combinations available, you’d be mad not to mix up your materials a bit.
2. The Table is the Same Colour as The Floor
Double eek! Not only do you want your table and chairs to have some variance in colour and material, but you want the legs of the table to be a different colour to the floor as well.
If you don’t get this right, it’s as if the table grew out of the floor like the T-1000 Terminator coming back to life in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Remember how, when shot, he’d just grow up out of the ground again. This is not the style inspiration you want for your dining room.
The table top can be the same colour as the floor, but in an ideal world the legs would be a different material, like black metal legs on an oak floor. It just helps to break up the visual monotony. Think of it like layers of a cake. You want cream between the sponges!
The other thing you can do is put a rug under the table, but this comes with some warnings too…
3. The Rug is Too Small for The Table
Honestly, some dining rooms just don’t need rugs. Sometimes they’re simply not large enough. I’d actually say about 80% of the homes I go into as a designer have dining rooms too small for a rug under the table. But people do try anyway, and the result is often less than ideal.
As a rule, you want to be able to pull your dining chair out, sit on it, and still have the back legs of the chair sitting on the rug. If your chair legs are sitting half on the rug and half on the floor underneath, the rug is too small and you need a larger size.
Given that dining chairs, when pulled out, sit about 50cm away from the table, your rug needs to sit at minimum 60cm from the edge of your table top. If under these calculations, your rug is really close to hitting the outer walls of your dining room, the room is too small to take a rug.
4. The Table is Too Small For The Room
Some people have the lucky problem of having large rooms in their home. I know, tough life huh!? But when it comes to buying a dining table for the space, they opt for a smaller one either because of budget, or worse, because they only need a table for the four people who live in the home.
Successful rooms are all about scale of furniture. A big room with a small table looks like a mistake. So although you only need four seats at the table, if the room is built for a six or eight-seater, you’d be wise to have a larger table. Or perhaps you need to bring in supporting pieces like sideboards to fill the footprint.
I know functionally this might seem odd, but it’s honestly more important to get the right size table and not use a section of it, than to have your dining room feel like an echoey town hall with one small bingo table sat in the middle of it.
5. You Went Cheap With Your Dining Chairs
Uh-oh. The budget buyer in you thought, why bother spending loads on chairs? And now you have the chairs, you need major spinal manipulation after every meal. This is the perfect time to pull out the phrase, you get what you pay for.
In a dining room, I’d sooner recommend you go cheaper on your dining table and invest in the chairs. Seriously, the table can be dressed and decorated with tablecloths, runners, placemats, a centrepiece, and more. The chairs on the other hand; they’re just chairs. They’re items you’ll sit on for hours over the course of your week, every week, for years.
I would always suggest you pay good money for chairs. And by all means, go to a showroom and sit on them if possible. Looks can be deceiving and every butt is different; what your booty needs can be very different from another. So always give chairs the tush test.
6. You’ve Shoved in a Sideboard When It Won’t Fit
Like Anthony Callea has proven, good things can come in small packages. The dining room is no different. If it’s small, it’s small. Embrace its cosiness and avoid putting too many pieces of furniture in it.
I have a whole post here on how to furnish a small dining room. But one of the big rules is to keep it stylish, but minimal. If you’re sitting at your table and people need to ask you to move in to get between you and a sideboard, you probably need to lose the sideboard.
People get very focussed on needing certain items for their room, but they fail to ask the room what it can actually fit. The room won’t answer you, by the way, so let me do the talking for it: less is more in a tight dining space.
You might even be better off bringing in a slimline console table over a buffet or sideboard. Here’s a list of my fave small consoles.
7. There’s no Mirror or Artwork on the Wall
Ever watched that British TV show Naked Attraction? It’s an endless cringe-fest seeing all of those bare bodies. I feel the same way about naked walls in a dining room. Please cover them up immediately.
In a small dining room, a mirror or piece of art can be the one focal point the space is crying out for. A mirror will make the space feel larger, but art can be just as wonderful and eye-catching. Make it a large statement piece instead of a cluster of multiple frames and you’re onto a winner.
Even large dining rooms need art and a mirror if there are two walls up for grabs. I prefer a mirror hung over a sideboard or console, with a large statement piece of art on an adjacent wall. It gives the space a slightly more formal, resolved feel.
8. There’s Too Many Chairs Crammed Under the Table
Here’s a common story: You get the dimensions for the dining table you want. The store calls it an eight seater. Then you find the chairs you like. All seems well until you try and get three chairs either side of the table and they’re rubbing up against each other like the cast of Love Island.
The missing link here is that the legs of your dining table are often set 10 or 20cm in from the edge of the table top. So you never have as much room as you think you do. This problem is only exacerbated when three people try and sit in these chairs on either side of the table. Not ideal.
You want to allow for a gap of about 20cm between each chair, so just keep that in mind when you’re shopping. And if you are trying to fit loads of people around your table, consider a circle or oval table, where you can easily squeeze more chairs around it. Or, consider a bench seat on one side of a rectangle table.
9. There’s no Pendant Light Above The Table
The horror! Now, this isn’t going to work in every single dining room. I hear your protests already, don’t worry. Some smaller open plan dining nooks in apartments, for example, just won’t bode well for a pendant above the table.
But in a large space, or a dedicated dining room, I always suggest installing a feature light. Not only does it give a dining room a more formal feel, but it can also make the room feel finished. Trust me, lack of pendant lighting is one of the things that makes your home feel like a rental, so I always try and convince clients to get them where possible.
Here are my golden rules for pendants about dining tables, with loads of suggestions on which shapes and styles work for which tables. Well worth the read.
10. There’s No Centrepiece On The Dining Table
Last but not least, I’d like to leave you with a warning about finish touches in dining rooms. Even if you have a small table in a small room, you need to resolve the tabletop with a delicious style moment. And no, I don’t mean food when I say delicious, I mean a vignette.
Every dining table shape and size is going to dictate a different sort of centrepiece you’d put in the middle. But every single table needs one. You don’t want it too high, of course, but you do want it to be somewhat prominent.
Try your best not to go too small with the centrepiece either. Better to have one big moment than a few small ones. Small moments on big tables never look right. So go big or go home.
How many of these dining room decorating mistakes have you made? I’d be keen to hear your confession in the comments section below. Don’t worry, you’re in a safe space!