How To Give Your Dining Room The Va Va Voom

This week I switched my dining room and sitting room around and immediately set off a terrible chain of events that involved potential complete redecoration of both.  Unfortunately, my problem is that the moment I move a piece of furniture, the walls immediately look as if they haven't been painted for a decade and nothing 'fits' anymore.  This combined with the App of mind changing hellfire that is Pinterest has meant that I am now in planning mode for a whole new look in both rooms.  I'm not going to tell you what Joe says about this situation but be assured that the words 'great idea' and 'go ahead' have not been uttered in our house this week.

My dining room prior to room change.

My dining room prior to room change.

The dining room is one of the most important rooms in our home.  I LOVE cooking and socialising and the two combined is, for me, a perfect night in.  Sometimes I like the preparation of a dinner party even more than the actual evening.  Dinner parties are the ideal solution - you don't have to leave your own home, people bring wine and all you have to do is climb the stairs to bed at the end, no drunken taxi ride, potential phone loss or falling over in gutters necessary.  When I was young, my best ever memories are of sitting around my parents dining table for hours with extended family at Christmas, drinking liquors in tiny vintage glasses and smoking Silk Cut as if they were going out of fashion.  Those were the days.  Those halcyon days of mid course fags and stockpiled cigarettes as there was no Sunday trading and the concept of running out would generate palpitations.

The 90's family dining experience with my Dad and brother.  Forever remembered for Oxford Landing, big hair, big glasses and copious Marlboro Lights.

The 90's family dining experience with my Dad and brother.  Forever remembered for Oxford Landing, big hair, big glasses and copious Marlboro Lights.

Aside from the big dining room table, we had a round kitchen table that we ate at most nights.  This was the 1980's.  It was the Golden Age of the the gourmet freezer offering - Findus Crispy Pancakes and Chicken Kiev were our staple diet, followed by Arctic Roll or Birds Eye frozen mousse.  One of my overriding memories of this kitchen space was choking on a Wimpy chip and fainting straight into my dinner.  I was very prone to fainting when I was in my teens.  I worked in London and the Metropolitan Line during rush hour was not my friend.  Many mornings I would find myself crammed under someone's armpit or worse, a rogue groin, only to be prostrate on the floor the next minute after passing out.  Even then, I can count the number of times I was offered a seat after these episodes on one hand.  Shocking.

Outside Slap Harry's in Piccadilly where I spent every night after work drinking Harvey Wallbangers, possibly a contributory factor to my fainting days.

Outside Slap Harry's in Piccadilly where I spent every night after work drinking Harvey Wallbangers, possibly a contributory factor to my fainting days.

Anyway, my room changing exploits have made me think about what it is that makes a dining room work, particularly in a dinner party situation,  and how we can do this without splashing the cash.  Not everyone has a dining room so I've tried to incorporate solutions that could be equally helpful in a kitchen diner.  Plus as always, I've shown inspiration from my own personal mood board, AKA a plethora of Instagram experts.   Here we go.

This Table Is For Dancing

Let's start with the obvious.   I've learnt my lesson the hard way that buying an expensive table prior to having kids is a bad move.   When Joe and I met and visited House Of Pine to furnish our entire house, we bought an expensive, solid table to last us forever.  Allegedly.  Firstly, we didn't take into account that we would have three children who would use it as their own personal drawing board and secondly, it only fitted six people which meant as soon as more than one other person came for dinner they had nowhere to sit.  So after selling it to my friend Kate who recycled it and painted it, we bought an IKEA Norden table that is quite frankly the best table since The Last Supper.  It was £170 and extends to three metres.  I've fitted 16 people around it for dinner.  I've danced with my sister on it whilst singing American Pie right through to the end and it's still going.   If you are looking for something that fits all needs, extendable tables are a really practical choice.  If you can't stretch to one (no pun intended) then I'd say go for as big as you can possibly fit in your dining space.  No one has ever complained that their dining table is too big unless they are Daddy Warbucks.  NB  The original pine investment table is still going - if you visit Siblings Home Cafe in Caversham you can actually sit at it for coffee.   Recycling at it's best.

Pick A Chair, Any Chair

This is an issue that constantly drives a wedge between Joe and I.  My preference for dining room chairs is style over comfort - if Joe had his way, we would all be sitting on custom made Lazy Boys whilst we ate our dinner.   So we've compromised and have three different types of chairs around our table, some of which it has to be said are more comfy than others but all of which look fabulous in Instagram photos.  Which is what matters, obvs.  Mixing chairs is a really good way of giving any old dining table a bit of edge and individuality and is a non budget busting option.  Although I have to say that if I could afford it, I would have a full compliment of ten Wishbone chairs and be a very happy woman.

Sideboards Rule

When it comes to the dining room, it's handy to have all your tableware close to hand.  If you've got room for a sideboard, this storage solution is a total winner.  I've got a few of these in my house including three IKEA BESTA units put together that are perfect for this purpose.   I've also got vintage sideboards which, in my opinion, are the ultimate in dining room storage.  60 years ago they really knew how to make a sideboard work for you - built in drinks cupboards, shelving, cutlery drawers.  Plus they look really cool as well and add a real edge to your decor.  You can find some fab bargains on eBay and Gumtree and there's great satisfaction to be gained in repurposing a well loved piece of good quality furniture.  A winner all round.

Mood Lighting Is The Way Forward

Again, lighting is a wedge issue.  I am a huge fan of subtle lighting and think that dinner parties are definitely improved by not being able to see everyone completely clearly.  Let's face it, after a few drinks you only look as good as when you started if you are actually wearing beer goggles.  In all situations, full overhead direct bulb lighting is a no no.  As in, NEVER.   Joe has minus five and a half eyesight and often loses patience at being unable to see his dinner party guests so gets up and turns on the overhead light.   He's always immediately verbally abused by all women present so it quickly goes off again.  Lots of side lighting, candles and fairy lights.  Or if all that fails, a dimmer switch.  It's the only way.

Layer It Up

I have a few tablecloths that I use for my dining table.  Because it's so big when extended, I use a couple from H&M that I bought in the Sale - always worth a look - and overlap them.  I also use oilcloth from The Range or JYSK which you can now get in some really cool designs, plus they have the benefit of being wipeable.  I have a plastic lace effect one that I often use for dinner parties that works really well.

Another thing I have learnt over the years is to always put a rug under the table.  I know some people think that rugs and food are a match made in hell but they are actually ridiculously practical, easily hoovered and hide all crumbs until you have finished eating.  They pull it all together and make the table a focal point rather than a practical view.  And they look great, as proved by nearly every photograph I've used in this post.

You Don't Have To Be Matchy Matchy

Who wants matching tableware?  Not me.  And we all know it's expensive to buy full sets of dinnerware.  Charity shops are full of the most gorgeous crystal and glassware that is simply begging to be used again.   My dining table always has three glasses per place setting and they are all vintage - wine, water and liquor.   All bought for peanuts, beautiful to look at and give my table that personal touch.   I'm working on having vintage dinner plates too and have started collecting them, but in the meantime you can't go wrong with plain white which are an economical choice.   Same applies to cutlery - when you are feeding 16 people at one time, there's no chance of matching knives and forks but I think that gives it a quirky edge.

Everyone Needs A Bar Trolley

An essential part of the dinner party process.   You can pick up drinks trolleys from the charity shops or eBay for a tenner and pimp them up to within an inch of their lives.   So practical and they look really cool.   Put your prettiest drinks bottles on display and add to it with fun barware, paper napkins, maybe a light up BAR sign.   Vintage decanters can be sought out cheaply too and look fab filled and displayed.   Add a plant and some glitz and you're away.  

I've Got The Music In Me

Finally, music is the one part of the dining room scenario that needs to be spot on.  My best advice for this is to have the speaker in the next room and turn it up a notch as we've found that when we have a speaker directly in the dining room, whoever is sitting next to it can't hear anything anyone else is saying (although depending on who you are seated next to, this could be a blessing in disguise).  Secondly, do not allow your husband or partner to choose the music unless you are married to either Steve Wright, Jo Whiley or Fat Boy Slim.   I've made this rookie error before.   Many the time we've been sat in a civilised fashion eating a prawn cocktail only to be blasted out by The Stone Roses or Bez.   I always go for something along the lines of jazz club/Ed Sheeran minus Stormsy/Ellie Goulding for that calm yet social mood enhancing atmosphere.   Although tbh, by the time I've got to the cheese course, I'm usually shouting for 'Never Forget'.   Which is ironic because after that it all gets blurry and I've usually forgotten.

So there you go.  My top tips for giving your dining room a bit of va va voom.   I will keep you all updated on my own transformation but I need some inspiration, so tag me on yours using the hashtag #diningvoom and I will regram my favourite on my feed on Wednesday.  Happy Easter!