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Recently I did some space planning for “empty nester” clients. Their kids had all moved out, but still return for family dinners and special occasions. That’s all fine, but the “family” has gotten larger with the addition of spouses and grandchildren. It has become increasingly difficult to accommodate everyone at the same table for dinner. Sound familiar?

The Problem: Small Dining Room

For these clients, the enjoyment of having everyone at the same table was a “must”. Ideally they wanted to be able to seat 16 people comfortably. The problem was that their current dining room was an enclosed room of about 10.5 x 12.5 feet with no potential for expansion. At the most, they were able to fit 12 people very snugly into this room with the addition of two table extension leaves and extra chairs. There was very little space left to walk around the table. The “kids” (not so little anymore) were relegated to the kitchen table.

The Solution: Re-purposed Family Room

On the opposite side of the house was the family room measuring 10.5 x 16.5 feet. Adjacent to the family room was the living room which was used only for entertaining. Can you see where I’m going with this? Here is the case I made to my clients for moving the dining room function into the family room.

1. The family room is no longer needed for its original function as a family gathering space since the clients had become empty nesters.

2. The family room is located off the kitchen, so the proximity for ease of serving food is the same as the dining room.

3. The family room is the perfect size for a new dining space with the potential to seat 16 people.

4. The family room has the potential to become an even larger open concept space by removing the dividing wall between family room and living room.

5. Why not move the television into the living room so the empty nesters can enjoy their living room on a daily basis?

They were on-board with the idea, so I proceeded to prepare furniture layout plan options, two with the dividing wall between family room and living room left in place, and two with the wall removed. One of the options was to create a multi-purpose dining room by including a small sitting area in front of the patio doors for enjoying the backyard. The dining table would be kept in its smaller footprint with leaves stored away. Then, in advance of guests arriving, the sitting area chairs would be moved to the living room and the table leaves popped into place. My clients liked this multi-purpose option and in the end they opted to leave the dividing wall in place, in order to preserve wall space for their recently acquired entertainment unit. They also decided that their old dining room could be re-purposed as a main floor office/library space.

Converting the Family Room Décor

Simply moving the family room furniture out and the dining room furniture in, is really not enough to re-purpose the space. In order to create ambiance for elegant dining some décor changes are required. Here are some of the steps I recommend.

1. Lighting: Contract an electrician to install a junction box for your chandelier. Make sure it is installed where it will hang over the centre of the dining table and not simply in the centre of the room. Also consider adding a recessed ceiling light in each corner of the room (about 18″ away from walls). These should all be on dimmer switches.

2. Fireplace: Update an existing fireplace by removing the hearth and refacing the surround with an elegant material such as marble or granite. (One option is to repeat the kitchen countertop stone.) If your fireplace is wood-burning consider installing a gas insert. Or consider removing the fireplace altogether so your buffet can take pride of place on the focal wall.

3. Walls: Paint or wallpaper to add interest, warmth and drama.

4. Ceiling: Paint the ceiling a shade of the wall colour to increase the coziness factor.

5. Moldings: Add crown molding and beef up the baseboards to make this room an elegant principle room. Add wainscoting or chair rail to visually reduce the wall height and help protect the walls from chairs moving backward.

6. Flooring: Wall to wall carpeting doesn’t work in a dining room! Install hardwood flooring to match what you already have elsewhere in the house. It will be easier to clean up spills and move dining chairs back and forth. Although I am not a fan of area carpets in dining rooms, they do add a lot of warmth. Ensure your area carpet is large enough so chairs don’t get caught half on and half off.

7. Furniture: Investigate getting another extension leaf made for your existing table or upgrade to a new one of the appropriate size. If purchasing new furniture, consider slightly narrower chairs. Remember, extra dining chairs can be scattered around the house to replace desk or bedroom chairs.

8. Draperies: Install new floor to ceiling draperies for windows or sliding glass doors.

9. Mirror: Add a stylish mirror over the fireplace to add sparkle and reflect the chandelier. If you have a china cabinet, install mirror behind the shelves.

10. Art & Accessories: Add a large piece of art opposite the fireplace or a large grouping of smaller frames. Add a table runner, a floral centrepiece, candles and voila – a fabulous new dining room!

It’s never easy to make the decision to shake things up in your home. But it can be very rewarding and even exciting. However, it does take some planning and budgeting. And of course, when considering any renovation, the age-old question inevitably comes up as to how it could affect the resale value of your home. So you may want to contact a real estate agent in your area. On the other hand, if you are not planning to sell your home, why not make it work for you?

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