How to Program a Room: Dining Room Reveal

Back to a dining room.

A few months ago, I shared my dining room/home office switcheroo.  For a quick recap, when first moving in, I used the second space of my double front room (in these New Orleans Shotguns, it is typically used as a dining room, but I wanted to be different) as a home office/library:
The very dark, but professional home office.
2nd version of home office library with desk replaced by antique table.

Dining room tucked into corner.

 In short, the reality was that I used the home office much less than I thought I would, and the dining area much more.  After a couple of years of trying to fix the issues with rearranging furniture and paint, I did what I should have done in the first place: I decided to really program the spaces.  since I've already revealed and discussed the home office, I'll focus on the dining room.
home office after
 First, I'm sure most of you are wondering:  "What the &$*# is programming?  Aren't we talking about rooms, not computers?"  Yes, we are, and the programming I'm discussing is architectural programming which can, of course, be adapted to interior design problems both big and small.  In design school, all of our projects had to start with a program.  In definition, a program is a determining of the problems or uses of the space, an identification of users, an identification of problems and existing elements that must be incorporated into the design,  and the development of a plan to deal with these things.  In other words, a detailed plan to design a space.  The goal is to try to do all the planning, problem solving, trouble shooting, and  working out of major design elements during the initial pre-building stage.  While there is always some tweaking that must be done, the goal is to know exactly what and why you are doing something before you begin.  While I usually do this for clients, I do often impulsively jump into my own projects and often have to remind myself to treat me as I would a client.

1. The First Step:

Identify Functions of the space.  In the case of a Multi-use space, prioritize uses.  A classic example of a multi-use space is the guest room/bedroom.  Usually one is more important--it's either a home office where a guest can sleep if necessary or else a comfortable guest room where one can do a little work---it's rarely a 50/50 proposition.
For my new dining room, primary function is to provide sit-down dining for 2-6.  Secondary function is as passage way from front door (which opens directly into adjoining living room) to back of house.  Third function is to provide primary focal point upon entering.  Fourth is to provide buffet dining for 8 or more. Fifth function is to provide storage for linens, barware, and holiday decorations.  Sixth function is to provide a place for occasional crafting.  Finally, I want an addtional reading nook, with a chair that can easily be incorporated into nearby conversation are.  Whew, that's a lot for one room.  At this time, you should look through your desired functions and see if any are contradictory; if they are, start deciding which is more important to you, remembering to focus on how you live 360 days of the year--the other 5 can take care of themselves.

For example, in the case of the guest room/home office.  If you work from home 5 days a week and only have guests 1 or 2 a year for a few days each, focus on the home office.  The guests can rough it for a few days, or you can rough it and let your guests sleep in your room.  If, on the other hand, your house is a hot destination and you have guests almost every month and only use your office for surfing the web and editing digital photos, you might be better off having a real guest room and confining your "home office" to a small writing desk.

2.  Determine Users.  My users are Thomas and me, 2 or more guests.

3.  Identify What Design Elements You Need for Your Users to Function.  Okay, if I want up to six people to dine, I definitely need a table and 6 chairs.  Since I want to craft here too, I want the table to be durable and easily cleanable.  Ditto for the rug underneath.  Since I want storage, I need a buffet or china cabinet.  Since I want the dining room to serve as a focal point, I need some striking art and/or accessories.  I also need something to serve as a bar, and a small scale chair for reading.  Furthermore, if I want a reading chair, I need a place for a lamp as well as a small table for books and beverage.

4.  Identify Fixed Elements/Features/Challanges:
  One major challange is space:  the room is only 12'x14' (though it feels bigger since it opens to living room with 8' opening).  Making this more problematic is the fact that the natural path through the area is by a non-functioning, but protruding fireplace.  That means the table must be small-42'-48', but expandable to seat 6 or function as surface for buffet.  It also means that table must be placed off center.  However, it can be centered on buffet.  Because of room layout and functions, buffet wins over china cabinet--the surface can serve as bar, and it provides a better opportunity for striking art and accessories.  There is only room for 4 chairs to live in the space;  the additional 2 must find homes in other rooms.  Luckily, existing vintage table with easy to clean Formica surface (i don't hate the  Formica----I just told myself, " But it's vintage and original") fits requirements.  Cowhide rug also fits easy to clean guideline.   Since the room is open to living room, wall color and window treatments must match those, which already exist (even if I wanted to redo them, and I don't, budget prohibits this).  In fact, dining room needs to be an extension of living room.  Fireplace is unfortunately ugly with red brick hubby refuses to let me paint or cover, so it is to be largely ignored.  Lighting fixture is ceiling fan--in this climate, a necessary evil.  It matches the one in living room and is centered in room, not over table.  However, it is ceiling mount and innocuous enough to be ignored.  Especially at night, with lamp lighting, it is not noticeable.

Two Views of Adjoining Living Room*;
I do plan to frame large b+w photo one day, but no budget for that right now.  Included cute doggy to distract.
 *Shots are unstyled for truth in blogging.  Actually, I want to take a moment for a brief diversion and rant---I'm starting to get fed up with all the heavily staged and vignetted shots in so many magazines and on so many blogs.  I understand that people want their spaces to look as good as possible and would rather focus on a vignette than an unfinished space.  And I certainly make sure there are no dirty drawers and dirty dishes in my own photos, but it's getting out of hand.  I've seen some rooms so styled with pillows and nicknacks that no one would be able to find a seat or put down a drink. End rant.*

5.  Develop and implement plan.  The pre-planning is the hard part.  If that part is done well, the implementation is relatively easy.  This is also the point where aesthetics come in.  In other words, up to now, it's better to think in functional terms:  I need a table, of this size;  I need a buffet of these dimensions, etc..  Once you've determined what you need to function, then, and only then, should you start thinking about how they will look specifically.  For instance, I like a funky, blend of things; a pastiche of cottage, mid-century, and found objects---that led the way to how  the final dining room looked.  However, I could just as easily done it in the current craze of Belgian by selecting different pieces of the same scale.  Imagine the room painted pale grey with a reclaimed wood buffet, painted table with french style chairs covered in feed bags and the canvas replaced with a large antique map of Paris.  It would look and feel completely different, but function in exactly the same way.  In fact, this is what goes wrong in design most often.  Many times, people, including myself, start from thinking I want this look or this color and work backwards into trying to force function onto a certain look instead of applying that look to a function.

In this case, I had a buffet and table of the right dimensions.  I painted an overscale canvas to create a striking backdrop, as well as to tie into the new aqua paint of the stairwell/office next door.  I now have my storage and bar, my dining for 4 (as of now,the  extra chairs live in the kitchen.  I also have a couple of stacking stools in the living room that work for dining).  By placing the table off-center of the room, but centered on the buffet, I have a striking visual from the front door, which providing a wide-enough walk way.  The seating to the the right of the fireplace provides a nice reading nook, with an unexpected bonus.  On more than one occasion, a non-diner has sat there and talked with people lingering over coffee or wine at the table.  The reading nook also provides some interest from the door with the bright chartreuse lamp shade on the soon to be painted table.  It also helps to prevent the passage way from being too straight--too much of a bowling alley.
I know it's just the same picture, but it's easier than having to keep scrolling up.
6.  Evaluate.  An often overlooked, but important step.  As you implement, stop and evaluate how it's working.  In my case, I noticed that we immediately started eating at the table more, rather than on trays in front of the tv.  Guests also lingered much longer at the table.  As much as liked the look of the bookcases, I'm made much happier by the sight of the pair of  orange glass lamps (which were living in different rooms) and the art.  In short, I'm completely happy.  But by evaluating, I would know to make necessary tweaks.
Closeup of bar.
The reading nook.  Artwork is on salvaged door.  Chair slipped to blend with living room furniture.
So, in short, learn from my pain.  The secret to a successful room, one that blends the functions you need with the aesthetics you enjoy, is planning, lots and lots of planning.  The more planning you do, the better the result.


Valorie Hart - The Visual Vamp said...

LOVE all the changes! That bar set up looks familiar :-)
Can hardly wait to come over and dine!
xo xo

Vickie H. said...

I think you did a wonderful job! And I am always enamored of your personal artwork! Sorry he won't allow "work" on that fireplace surround....it would REALLY give such a "lift" to the entire space.Oh well....ya gotta pick your battles.

Thanks for sharing. I love your process.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading about the process. Your painting is absolutely divine. MD

Margaret said...

I LOVE your home! It brought tears to my eyes for some reason. Perhaps because I know my mom lived in a shotgun, and your home speaks of easy casual, and real people live there. Thanks...