Without a formal dining room, how do you carve space for elegant dinners out of a living room, family room or kitchen?
So many twists on this tale have been tried: banquettes and tiny tables in the foyer; dining tables that convert to coffee tables at the flick of a lever; tiny, occasional tables that combine into one large unit to seat six comfortably in the living room.
I had to face this challenge recently, in a long, rectangular living room. The window end of the room was conveniently adjacent to a tiny kitchen, too small to support its own dining or snack area. The dining space in the living room had to provide both early morning coffee for two busy, career-minded people and a spot for entertaining and dining.
To carve out the necessary space, I built deep frames for the two conventional windows at the end of the room. Using 2-inch-by-12-inch boards cut to fit the 8-foot height of the ceiling, I made a dining alcove perfectly sized for an elegantly carved settee that I found at a country auction. Its curvilinear shape and blond wood finish look sophisticated against the deep green painted wall between the windows. A substantial foam seat and two plump-back cushions make the settee cozy and comfortable.
Two caned chairs, of dubious origin but graceful and elegant, complete the dining group. These, plus two similar chairs at the other end of the room, are lightweight enough to be occasional chairs, for either dining or extra seating around the sofa group.
To give the space its own festivity, I hung six different turn-of-the-century fixtures over the oval, trestle-based dining table. They are simply milk-glass or clear glass shades left over from elaborate old gaslight wall or ceiling fixtures. An electrician wired them with white porcelain sockets and switches and white-coated wire.
We hung the lights-from a thick, white-lacquered floating “ceiling,” suspended from the ceiling by almost invisible nylon cords. Above eye level, the cords gang and plug into a multiple convenience outlet, where the wall meets the ceiling; it is neatly concealed by the floating ceiling.
In the deep window alcoves formed by the vertical, foot-deep frames painted glossy white, I used white match-stick roll-up shades from ceiling to floor. A recessed wall washer above each accents the matchstick texture.
I planted two elegant fichus trees in huge terracotta pots and placed them in each alcove. Here, they can diffuse the light from the windows and frame this elegant dining area in leafy splendor.