Dining rooms come back, in a new form

A few years ago, the dining room was headed for extinction, as many people favored family rooms with eat-in kitchens over more formal spaces.

But the popularity of at-home entertaining has generated a renewed appreciation for the dining room, though in a different form.

Today’s dining area opens to the living room, kitchen, or both. It has a more comfortable mix of furniture. Gone are matching dining sets; now you can mix and match tables and chairs.

In place of elaborate china, you’ll find more upscale casual place settings in nontraditional shapes and colors.

On the following pages, we give you fresh ideas to turn your dining room into a casually stylish place for family meals and entertaining.Buying the right table

A table’s style affects the look of a room as well as how many people you can host. Before you buy, here are some things to consider.

Shape. As a general rule, many designers suggest buying a table that mimics the shape of your room. However, round and oval tables can be perfect for small dining areas because their rounded edges allow more people to sit and move around the table comfortably.

Size. While you used to be able to add leaves to a table to expand it for company, many modern tables lack them (although some furniture makers are now incorporating slideout leaves that are stored under the table). It’s important to consider not just the size of your dining area but how many people – and how often – you entertain. Based on furniture makers’ figures, you should budget 23 to 25 inches for each person. To seat eight people comfortably at a rectangular table, for example, it would need to be approximately 76 inches long.

Material. As formal tablecloths vanish, the tabletop needs to be attractive and durable. To achieve a less-formal look, try mixing materials like wood, upholstery, metal, and stone. You can also mix and match chairs, like the setting here, where the one red chair makes a dramatic impact.