Create the perfect layout, make space for everyone and get the practicalities right with this ultimate guide to designing a dining area


An island unit serves to divide the cooking and eating areas in this scheme. Bespoke kitchen by Roundhouse 

Every home needs a place to sit and eat, whether a breakfast bar or island unit with stools to perch on, a dedicated dining area with a table or even a separate room. And you may be able to benefit from a combination of more than one set up. If you’re self-building or extending, take into account both your everyday and special-occasion dining requirements to identify the best use of your new space from the outset of the planning process. The advice of an architect or kitchen designer will be invaluable at this point. Renovators restricted to working within the building’s footprint may be able to knock down or put up internal walls to reconfigure the layout.

Planning the layout

A well-organised layout that has an efficient connection to the cooking area is essential to ensure mealtimes are as relaxed, comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Ease of accessibility is particularly important. A kitchen and dining room on different floors, for instance, would make cooking and eating highly impractical for use on a daily basis.

Open plan layouts help to prevent whoever’s cooking from feeling isolated from family and guests when preparing meals. This type of scheme also provides ready access to the dining table, creating a relaxed setting and making it easier to serve meals. Also, incorporating the kitchen, dining and living areas into one big room will create a spacious, airy and light-filled space. But, if you would prefer to have some separation between the three areas, consider the benefits of designing a broken plan arrangement.

This alternative layout to open plan involves incorporating design ideas and architectural detailing such as different ceiling heights or floor levels, half-height walls or an L-shaped layout to signify different zones within the space. You’ll find more tips below.

 5. DSL Parkgate House 4

Different ceiling heights define the kitchen from the dining area. Modulnova kitchen at DesignSpace London.

Finding space

It’s important to be able to seat everyone in comfort, and to move about the dining area with ease, during both everyday meals and special occasions. ‘Consider whether you’re planning for a family of four, a group of 12 for big dinner parties or both,’ advises Amos Goldreich at Amos Goldreich Architecture. ‘Once this has been established, you can begin to design the layout to ensure each chair has sufficient  room around it to be pulled in and out, and that there is room to manoeuvre behind them.’

Architect Richard Gill at Paul Archer Design agrees: ‘In all cases, make sure the tables and chairs are pre-measured and sized to suit the space and, if you already own a particular set of furniture or know the table and chairs you want to buy, tell your architect. The furniture can be included in the drawings and the layouts properly tested. While it sounds simple, this attention to detail can be overlooked as clients focus on fixed elements – or they simply defer the decision until it’s too late.’

It’s also essential to consider the position of structural features. ‘It may seem rational to place a structural column in a particular place,’ says Richard, ‘but this can have implications for where it’s possible to place your table and chairs.’

6. Ikea PH148601 

Choose furniture that co-ordinates with your cabinets in an open plan layout. Kitchen, Ikea.

The importance of good lighting

You may need to make adjustments to your plan depending on how daylight will affect the new space. ‘I often find that making a direct connection from the dining area to the garden or terrace enhances the sense of spaciousness, even when the room is limited,’ says Goldreich, ‘This may mean adding rooflights, glazed sliding doors or large picture windows to capture the view.’

A considered use of fittings such as wall lamps, spotlights and pendants can make a huge difference to the atmosphere of the area during the evening. Dimmable background lighting can be used to create an intimate setting. A chandelier, single pendant or series of pendants suspended at a relatively low level above the table will provide a relaxed, cosy atmosphere. This technique works well in both a separate dining room and an open-plan space where they can also be used to create a sense of separation. Even in daylight, a large pendant will draw attention to the table. Use a variety of fittings such as adjustable desk lamps and spotlights to suit different functions if the table is also used for hobbies or homework.

 7. Martin Moore Mys 3

The dining table benefits from being right in front of the window in this bespoke kitchen from Martin Moore

Practical floor options

When selecting flooring, opt for a material that is easy to clean, yet warm and inviting. Engineered wood boards, porcelain and natural stone tiles, luxury vinyl and even quality cork tiles are all good options. Laying new flooring is a good opportunity to consider installing underfloor heating for luxurious warmth without having to find floor space for radiators. You may also choose to design a change in floor type to signify different zones in an open or broken-plan scheme. Whichever floor type you opt for, always take a look at the real thing before you buy. ‘Make sure you consider as many samples as possible,’ suggests Goldreich. ‘Real examples can look very different to online or catalogue images.’

Factor in sufficient storage for your present and future needs. You’ll need somewhere to keep china, cutlery and glassware close at hand. Built-in solutions make the most of every inch. Otherwise, look for a freestanding island, drawer units and console tables with shelving. Both built-in and freestanding options can be used to separate an open-plan dining space from the cooking and seating areas.

 3.Jones Associates Architects Ltd ggardner

Engineered wood flooring defines the dining area in this renovation by Jones Associates Architects 

Zoning an open plan space

Ideas for creating a sense of separation from Amos Goldreich of Amos Goldreich Architecture

    • Movable partitions that can be opened and closed as required are an excellent way to achieve flexible and practical space. They can be detailed to swing fully back to become part of a wall.
    • Louvres can also create a semi-open division between areas, which can be closed off when needed. This is a cost-effective way of dividing up a space without the need for a glazed screen or partition.
    • Adding steps between functional zones gives the notion of a different space without the need for walls. Usually this change of levels result in a higher floor-to-ceiling height, which again will enhance the feeling of spaciousness.
    • Try pairing an additional opening, either in the form of rooflights, a glazed door or picture windows, with your dining zone. It will bring in more natural light and also frame the eating area.
    • If you’re willing to sacrifice floor space from above and are structurally able to do so, add a double-height void to your dining area. Creating extra height will define the room and make it feel more spacious.

 8. Rational Tio kitchen designed by Open Haus kitchens

A small rooflight brightens this eating area. The cabinets are Tio from Rational

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