Dining room dreams

Our house has a ‘great room’ plan in the main living area. The kitchen, dining room, and living room are all one big space that flows together. Over the years I’ve loved the open plan, and the flexibility I have to rearrange furniture when I want.

However, the dining space is only 9×12.  Crammed into that space is a 4×8-foot dining table, two benches, and 8 chairs.  On Sunday evening with 14 people around the table it is tight, tight, tight.  It works, but just barely.  We seat the smallest, skinniest people on the two ends of the table, and I’m not even kidding.  Add any more people to our group and we’re setting up tables in the living room.

Since one of our wishes for the future is to make our home a welcoming place for our adult children to visit, I’d really love to find a little more entertaining space somehow.  But we’re not anxious to extend the term of our home loan.  We’re on track to have the house paid off in just a handful of years, and we want to keep it that way.

John and I have been noodling around solutions lately. A ‘big’ dream is a 12 x 18 foot dining room built right along the side of the great room.  I picture a step-up dining room with a wood floor, something along the lines of this, with both rooms open to each other. An 18 foot room would accommodate a bigger table for those times when company is here.  And with the table in its own space, we’d also have more space in the living room for the seating area.  Sweet, eh?  The down side, of course, is the cost.  Probably at least $25,000 even with doing a ton of the work ourselves.  Spendy.  Ah, reality — such a harsh and merciless thing it is.

Not quite ready to give up on my idea of more dining space, over the weekend I did some more brain-storming with graph paper.  What about a small bump-out just for the dining room?  Outdoors it would be very modest in appearance, something along the lines of this.

I picture it being maybe a 3 foot deep by 6 foot wide, just big enough for a wrap-around window seat, into which we could slide the table.  The window seat would seat several people, maybe even 4 or 5 of the pint-sized variety.

John’s been talking for awhile about building us a narrower table to give more walking space in the dining area.  Thanks to the bump-out, the table could even be a bit longer, maybe 10 feet or so?

It’s not the easiest decision:  a small project that we could afford soon (instant gratification, baby!) vs. a big change that would be an awesome long term solution, but that would take some time to save for.  Such a trade-off.  I’m not sure what we’ll end up with, but it’s fun to dream about possibilities…


  1. Some years back, with only two quiet children, we had a small dining room and antique furniture from my Nanny. Today, we have a long dining table with legs the size of tree trunks for stability:-) We, too, had a small dining room – way to small for our family after adoption and older ones courting and getting married. We had a separate living room that we turning into the dining room and then the tiny dining room turned into a school room for the younger guys. Gave up the living room/library – books and bookcases are in every room now, but having the dining room is so worth it. We have a separate family room that also flows into the kitchen. I miss the quiet space for reading and doing projects, but the dining area has become a central point to congregate and have long conversations – no adjoining to the sofa – we just all hang out and chat. It is great and I’ve never looked back. Look forward to see how your project comes along.

  2. We have a great room set up too in our house in OK. I miss the formal dining area we had in WI. At first I thought it would be great, and it is when we need to add three leaves to the table to accommodate family and friends, but most of the time we don’t need to.

    I love the idea of a bump out. But my more practical side thinks that “do it once, do it for the long term.” It may take longer, but from all I hear about remodeling, it’s a big pain to live through. Why do it twice?

    It is fun to look through photos of remodels and dream about possibilities isn’t it? I do it frequently. 😉

  3. Our suburban house has the same problem–the eating area is the most crowded place in the house. We have little kids doubled up on the table ends in toddler chairs from Ikea. Sad since the table is such a central family place. I hope you can soon have the room of your dreams.

  4. This may sound like craziness, but it has worked for us for years …. Faced with the same situation, my mom swapped the dining room and the living room. She determined that eating dinner was a higher priority activity than watching tv. (We grudgingly agreed.) She found a used, huge (like, 4 or 5 leaf extension) expandable dining room table. Refinished it. Found a nice set of 10 matching chairs at a yard sale. Refinished the wood and paid a friend to reupholster the seats with a plastic-y type fabric. Made some nice table clothes to fit the table, with a big sheet of clear plastic over the top to protect it from spillers. Couch, loveseat, tv in old dining room. (Can throw beanbag chairs in there for movie night.) Spent no money on house remodel. Now that we’re all grown and out of the house, she leaves the table set with the good china all the time to (1) show it off and (2) show that she’s ready for any of us to come home for dinner any time!

  5. I’m not sure if you know Anna White’s blog, Knock Off Wood, but she has great FREE plans on her sight for furniture. We’ve built many things from her sight and are currently working on 2 bankable book shelves for our so’ns room, similar to the ones from the Land of Nod website. She has some great dining room table plans too.

    • Wow! That site is awesome. I am in love with the reclaimed wood farmhouse table. I am dreaming of that table in my dining room. I think I would do two benches though and add a little more overhang on the ends to fit two chairs comfortably. Thanks for the link!

  6. My mom has struggled with the same issue (but her dining room is on the 2nd floor, so no bumpout possible), and my house isn’t much better, but we’re in the process of building new with a nice big dining room and plenty of room around it to expand with folding tables for company – Very exciting!

    But – I was going to say, a 4′ wide table seems really wide. I imagine it’s hard to pass things across. So maybe your best bet would be to get a narrower table, like you suggested. You wouldn’t lose much seating space and you’d gain lots of walking space. Our current table is 42″ wide, and we could seat 2 on the ends if we needed to, but it would require the people sitting on the long ends to scoot down a little bit.

    In the meantime – think of the memories and bonding your kids are getting all being squished together!

  7. I don’t know if this will work for you but it’s what we did when we were raising the gang. Dining room was actually the 10 x 15 front room( 3 rooms away from the kitchen but the only room big enough for us to eat together) and we have close to 30 when all the kids come in. We built a 3 ft wide by 10 ft long picnic table and then put benches on all 4 sides. The long side actually had 2 sets of benches.Hubby put a 6 inch wide board on a couple of the benches to hold booster seats on the bench for the little ones. My one daughter now has this table now and we built 2 smaller ones that fit together for when they all show up here.

  8. I’d be wary of going down to a 3 foot wide table if you expect to have toddlers around it. I have a 3 foot wide table and a 21 month old son and I frequently wish for a wider table. There is nowhere in the center where he cannot reach, which makes it hard to secure the candles or the Super Bowl party chips after the toddlers have had more than enough.

    I find it is also more difficult to set a pretty table with my dining room table. When I set the table for a crowd I can just about fit 3 placemats across: one in the middle for food and one on either side for people. So we never get to have centerpieces.

  9. Stephanie Blanchard says:

    We’ve swapped rooms like Lisa suggested. It works, for now.

  10. We switched the dining room with the living room too. The living room is so big in our home that it accommodates easily a table that seats 10 persons, as well as all our book cases and piano. It’s like eating in a library! It works well for now.


  11. We have dreams like that for areas of our house. If we converted it to how we want it would make the house livable for a long time, but like you it costs and is a lengthy process, oh to have endless money and time to renovate!

  12. I don’t know the set up of your dining room, but if you have walls on two or three sides, you might consider building restaurant style benches against one, two, or possibly three walls and making your dining table and benches a bit like an extra large restaurant booth. This pushes everything up against a wall, which eliminates the need for passing space behind the chairs on at least one side of the table. The down side is that its a LONG scoot and slide for folks to seat themselves on the bench side of a large table like that. On the other hand, little kids usually LOVE doing that, or crawling under the table to reach their designated place on the bench. I’ve seen this done in several interior design magazines, usually for small spaces and when done well, it’s very nice-looking. The best thing is that you could try it by just moving some of your existing benches, chairs, and table and trying to live with that configuration for a few days.

  13. Not sure of the layout of your house, but a possibility may be to knock out a non-weight-bearing wall to open up the room further… Maybe if you show us pics of your existing set-up we could come up with even more ideas!

  14. This is very utilitarian, but may I suggest a “dollar per year” type calculation? Take the smaller remodel, its total cost and divide it by the expected number of years it would be a comfortable fit for your family. Then take the total cost of the big remodel and divide IT by the total number of years it would be expected to comfortably fit your family. Keep in mind that at some point, it may be easier and better to shift Sunday dinners to a grown child’s home rather than your own.

    On the other hand, we have the plan to also swap the dining and living room. Actually, with the family room, the dining room would more just be a breakfast nook/buffet table with the big table in the living room. Right now, with only 3 kids, we can all fit in the dining room so its just future plans.

    Good luck!

  15. Since we have a big family (not as big as yours by any means), the the possibility of growing larger through children growing and having their own families, or through adoption or fostering, we have big dreams of our own of closing in and adding onto our back covered porch. We have a big enough porch that if we closed it in by itself would make a nice sized dining room, but adding on to the existing porch would make it even nicer.

    But that is planned for later…much later. Right now we crowd around a table meant for 6 and there’s 8 of us. It’s tight, but it’s fine for now.

    I totally know all about dreaming big lol. I think most bigger families do that, especially when we are crowded and jammed packed all the time. Lots of room is always a dream 🙂

    • Had a huge 3,500 square foot house for five years and boy was it hard to clean. While the extra room was nice it fosters a sense of disconnect that I didn’t like and so we made an easy decision to sell and move into a place that was 600 square feet on 10 acres. The kids thought it was a great adventure and still say we were camping for the three years we lived there, but as parents we thought we should have more room (giving in to family and friends who couldn’t believe kids could be happy in such tight quarters) and so moved from there much to the disappointment of all the kids.
      What is the old saying: The grass is always greener….
      Moved into a modest four bedroom with 1,100 square feet nine years ago which still neighbors and family cannot believe we like as much as we do, but not going to listen to others this time and going to be happy with what we have; and given the state of our economy—very happy we have it.

  16. The window seat idea sounds pretty cool. I think the pic of the window seat add on from the outside actually looks kind of cute and different. Could the short term solution be part of the long term solution later on in someway?

  17. In reality when all the kids come home with families, boyfriends or girlfriends we don’t all sit in the same place for meals so giving my big table away was smart (though I cried some the night before it was scheduled to leave). I had to come to the realization that we only ever used the big table for puzzles on one side, homework in the middle and the very end for eating, and when everyone was home–they like to go to the downstairs family room, into the living room or even outside to eat. And boy was keeping that big table cleaned and decorated on a daily basis a headache compared to my ‘little’ new table now.
    Heard a quote not long ago: Dreaming about the future can be destructive if you are not happy with what you have now.


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