Posted by: jeb1 | January 17, 2011

Actually Using a Dining Room


The formal dining room, for many, is a waste of space.

People tend to eat more casually in the kitchen or living room these days, using dining rooms for special occasions. “It’s impractical to have that huge room saved for something that happens just a few times a year,” says Vern Yip, an interior designer and HGTV host.

But a dining room can be redesigned so that it’s easy to use for multiple purposes. All it takes to make a dining room into a home office, conference room, craft room, game room or hangout room is enclosed storage space, good lighting and comfortable seating. One thing he doesn’t advise: “If, however, you want to still keep it looking like a presentable dining room, converting it into a playroom would not be a great idea.”

David Walter BanksVern Yip at his dining room table which also doubles as a desk.



In Mr. Yip’s Atlanta home, he uses the dining room almost every day for business meetings, work or chores like wrapping presents.

Anchoring the room is a dining-room table that seats eight, can be expanded and is made of cherry wood that doesn’t look too fragile. To protect the finish, he sometimes works on “cheese boards made out of slate” with felt-covered backs. If your table is antique and you want to use it regularly for work, Mr. Yip suggests having a protective glass surface installed on top.

The choice of chairs is important. “Get some chairs that people can actually sit in for a good length of time,” he says. In Mr. Yip’s home, he has modern chrome and black chairs that have a padded leather seat and back and flex as their occupant moves. “They’re sculptural and beautiful but also really comfortable,” says Mr. Yip, who notes that leather is easy to clean.

Actual swivel desk chairs can work around the table, he says. Pottery Barn makes traditional-looking versions in wood. “The fact that they both have casters on their bases makes them versatile and fun,” he adds.

Art or decorations shouldn’t be too fussy. Mr. Yip’s dining room features artifacts he’s picked up from trips to India and Bhutan and a pair of antique bronze champagne buckets that he uses as planters for orchids.

Lighting is key as well. “Make sure you have a light fixture that can illuminate your space well, but put a dimmer on it so when you’re wrapping presents you can turn the lights up, but if you want a more romantic atmosphere you can turn them down,” he says.

Closed storage is essential, he says. Glass-fronted china cabinets put their contents on display, so it’s harder to store work files or supplies in them.Mr. Yip stores his work supplies in antique Chinese cabinets.

He also makes sure that all the electrical outlets are easily accessible. “I want to make sure that I can plug in my laptop,” he says.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that you still want some elegance in your dining room. “The moment you put in real office furniture into your dining room” he says, “you have crossed the line.”

Write to Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan at


  1. Liked your article on the multi-use dining room. I had not thought of this approach to a little used room (for some of us, that is). This expands my thoughts on how to get better use from this room.

    thanks again

  2. […] in California), has a very interesting article on how to deal with an under-used dining room.  Check out Jeb Design/Build Blog for his ideas on how to get more use from this space and still keep it a dining room for those more […]

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