It’s coming up to that time of the year when guests are arriving and people need feeding. For many, the dining room has been knocked through to provide a large living space but even if you don’t have the luxury of a separate room, albeit one that is probably under-used for 51 weeks of the year, you can still create the right atmosphere for a spot lavish entertaining.
The perfect dining room must be inviting; formal yet relaxed, comfortably lit without scaring the guests and free from all the junk that accumulates throughout the year. One point to consider is that as it’s probably used less than the other rooms, you can afford to be really dramatic. Red is a popular choice because as well as being bold, it also stimulates the appetite. If you feel that’s a bit overwhelming, just paint one wall or the dining end of the kitchen to differentiate the working bit from the fun bit.
Watch out if you have upholstered chairs – even if you can keep the children off, sooner or later one of the guests will spill something. If you must have material either make sure you can remove and wash it easily or go for leather which can be wiped down and its look often improves with a bit of abuse.
Here some of the experts give their views:
THE RESTAURANT DESIGNER
David Rockwell’s projects include Maze and Nobu as well as the new terminal at JFK airport and stage sets for Legally Blonde and Hairspray.
The most successful restaurants are the most intimate ones. It doesn’t matter how big your dining room is, guests prefer an intimate environment, but in order to make them feel comfortable not cramped, try to have at least 36ins clearance between the edge of the table and the wall behind. Make sure the host has easy access to the kitchen so as not to disturb everyone else.
To make your dining room a really special place to eat, we always try to combine old world craft with state-of-the-art technology. Mix up china and glassware, have a variety of different lighting and eclectic, but personal, decorations on the table. Try finding some vintage plates to use as chargers, and remove them when dinner arrives. Use different glasses for red and white wine and think about serving dessert in unusual bowls.
When painting the walls, warm colours are best, but avoid green as it makes both the food and the guests look pale and chairs should not be so comfortable that guests feel sleepy.
Personally I like a crowded table because it feels celebratory and like a cornucopia and I’m not a fan of tablecloths – unless you are on holiday. I prefer to use a table runner and great mats instead.
Anton Mosimann became one of the youngest chefs ever to receive the coveted Chef de Cuisine diploma at the age of 25. His six private dining rooms are regarded as some of the most beautiful in London.
Without a doubt, the food should, in my mind, be the star of the show of course. Creating the perfect dining room is about creating the right ambience where the food can shine through so that everyone can enjoy it with all of their senses.
Lighting is crucial as that sets the scene from the moment you enter the room.
I prefer a round table so that everyone can see everyone else and the conversation flows more easily.
When it comes to decorating the table, I like to be seasonal, so at this time of year, I would have a white tablecloth with white napkins and lots of fruit and nuts scattered around. You can also add sticks of cinnamon for that wonderful fragrance and then sprinkle icing sugar everywhere so that it looks as if it has been touched by snow. Make sure you leave the nutcrackers out so people know they can eat the decorations.
Flowers are welcome, but be careful that the fragrance isn’t too overpowering or it can influence the taste of some delicate wines.
Finally it is useful to have a sideboard which is an ideal place to decant the wine or from where to serve the food.
THE INTERIOR DESIGNER
Nina Campbell’s range includes fabric and wallpaper, table linen, china and glass and she is renowned for her love of rich colours.
A red dining room is part of our English design heritage and there’s nothing quite like it for formal grandeur. It summons up images of animated conversation above cut-glass crystal along with a sense of luxury and ease. You can save it from looking too traditional by updating it with sleek modern lines and straight edge shelving.
But the key to it is to add drama with the centrepiece of your table and then use crystal and candlelight.
The arrangement of the table makes a contemporary dining room. It’s nice to mix and match our china and glass but you don’t need to have a vast collection of it to make the perfect table setting. Tablecloths and placemats, napkins and flowers as well as ornaments from around the house all have a vital part to play in creating an atmosphere.
THE LIGHTING EXPERT
Sally Storey, managing director at John Cullen, is passionate about lighting. Her book Perfect Lighting (Jacqui Small £30) is available on Amazon and from other bookstores.
The first rule is to have either a narrow beam or a chandelier over the middle of the table to highlight the flowers. This will bounce light onto the table and reflect it softly back onto the guests’ faces so they aren’t being dazzled and feel uncomfortable. Then if you need more lighting consider lighting the fire if you have one and arrange your candles on a narrow strip of mirror like a table runner, which will double the reflection. If you are using the room for lunch rather than dinner, use wall lights to widen the room and make it feel fresh and possibly a couple of uplighters to bounce off the curtains. The key is to give drama to the table and soft light around the room.
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