5 Fresh Dining Room Layout Ideas

Designers share five original ways to rethink the traditional dining room arrangement.

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The small pieces — and the addition of a desk — allow Radhakrishnan to use the room as a supplementary home office, and offer an added bonus, as well: "Once or twice a year, when I DO want a traditional dining room for a holiday meal," she says, " I can put the small furniture pieces to the side and move in the big kitchen table." Photo by Raji Radhakrishnan.

Close your eyes and picture a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving: Grandpa carving the turkey at one end of the long wooden table, Grandma at the other end, seated on one of 10 matching chairs. For a long time, that set-up was synonymous with "dining room." But the American family has changed since Rockwell last put down his paintbrush — and American dining rooms are changing, too. "People are entertaining in a much more informal and creative way today," says San Francisco-based designer April Sheldon. "They're mixing different patterns in their dishes and putting branches and shells on their dining tables. The traditional mahogany table just isn't working with today's lifestyle."

So, what is working in today's dining rooms? Mixable, matchable furniture in unusual materials and unexpected finishes, making a style statement by breaking all the rules.

Like many busy people today, designer Raji Radhakrishnan and her family usually eat dinner in the kitchen. "I almost never use my dining room for sit-down meals," says Radhakrishnan, owner of Raji RM Design (http://www.rajirm.com) in Brambleton, Va. "We're much more likely to use our dining room for high tea or cocktail parties, so I have set the space up for that. The table is fairly small and has a sofa behind it, with two antique Bergeres with caned seats facing it. There are some small end tables and I bring in other small tables when I want to."

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