Despite our ongoing love for open-plan spaces, the dining room is making a comeback. Once relegated to a dumping zone for clutter, it’s reclaiming its status as a social space set to be the background for many happy memories.
Still, it can be tricky to find inspiring dining room ideas. It’s a room that requires limited furniture, but the pieces it does needs take up a lot of space – and leave little room for anything else.
Happily, there are plenty of ways to make a modern dining room stand out as a design-forward space, whether yours is a room in its own right or one connected to a larger open-plan setting. How? It’s all about the interior design basics: color, pattern, texture and form. Getting these right by harnessing contemporary trends is a failsafe way to create a scheme that feels social and stylish.
To help inspire you – and give you a creative nudge – we’ve created an edit of the very best modern dining room ideas from interior designers and architects, featuring clever ways with furniture, shapes, materials and palettes.
Ellen is livingetc‘s print editor, and an experienced interiors journalist. Here, she’s curated her favorite modern dining rooms and asked their designers for their top takeaways from each space that we can apply to our own homes.
10 of the best modern dining room ideas
1. Install statement lighting in your dining room
Because dining rooms often contain few furniture pieces – little more than a table, chairs and perhaps a sideboard – they’re the perfect opportunity to go big on statement dining room lighting. ‘Keeping the table and chairs elegant and unfussy, you can play more with the other elements of the surrounding room – from the ceiling to the floor,’ says Mindy O’Connor of Melinda Kelson O’Connor Architecture & Interiors (opens in new tab). ‘Decorative lighting is a fantastic way to add drama, and beauty, to a space.’
For this project by interior design practice Ohra (opens in new tab), founder Zlata Rybchenko used a minimal color palette to stage the backdrop for key pieces. ‘We developed an approach focused on the essential things in our clients’ lifestyle and critical for interior design,’ she says. ‘The result is a calm and cozy atmosphere that serves as a stage for the clients’ fantastic collection of art and furniture, such as the Androgyne dining table and the Wireline suspension lamp by Flos.’
2. Don’t be afraid to mix and match pattern
The inherent minimalism in dining rooms mentioned above means it’s also a space ripe for experimentation – where maximalism can really pay off. In this design by Studio Enass (opens in new tab)it’s all about the pattern clash: the chairs, rug, artwork and tiles are all statement pieces tempered by a neutral backdrop.
‘We wanted to create something that was playful and fun yet sophisticated for this dining space,’ says interior designer and founder Enass Mahmoud. ‘The white walls gave us the opportunity to splash color and pattern into this room without being too overwhelming. Even though we used three different fabrics for the dining chairs, they were still from the same color scheme, which also complimented the window dressing. We then added another layer of pattern and color through the artwork and rug, which worked really well alongside the wall-to-ceiling tiles used in the space.’
3. Experiment with shapes for a truly modern space
Creating a dining room that feels interesting is about playing with shape as much as color and pattern. This space by Studio AHEAD (opens in new tab) is a masterclass in this, combining traditional forms like the chairs with sinuous curves for a calm, pared-back room, while the art on the dining room walls ensures that it’s engaging, too. ‘We wanted to create a space where the young married couple’s families could unite in that was soft, warm and inviting,’ says principal designer Homan Rajai.
To achieve this, the design places as much focus on comfort as it does on style. ‘We intentionally created a long sofa/banquette because we always find that dinners can linger on when people can lounge at the dining table,’ explains Homan Rajai. ‘The furniture is sourced and custom made in Inverness and Sonoma using Shaker-style chairs that were handmade, which give it a traditional feel – but then pairing it with our sheep stool and sheep art on the wall, which are part of our furniture collection made from sheep wool raised in Sonoma. The room is warm and grounded, but sculptural and contemporary.’
4. And think carefully about the materials you use
We all know matchy-matchy is a thing of the past, and that extends to material: the most contemporary dining spaces contrast furniture pieces to bring hard and soft finishes into the scheme, like this space by interior design studio Folding Chair Design Co. (opens in new tab), which combines a cool stone table with warm, curved chairs in a boucle material. ‘First to mind [for a modern dining scheme] is materiality,’ says Gianpiero Gaglione, owner and principal designer of Gianpiero Gaglione Interior Design (opens in new tab). ‘You could say a traditional dining table would be in wood or stone, whereas to create a contemporary feel, you could lean on materials like glass or Corian.’
If you sway towards wood or stone, Gianpiero recommends opting for high gloss or sharp edges to keep the piece contemporary. If you want to incorporate metals, he continues, then ‘go with anything in a polished look – for example, polished brass, polished chrome, polished copper. Any of these can evoke a glamorous and futuristic look.’
5. Opt for quirky alternatives to conventional seating
A modern dining room needn’t be conventional when it comes to furniture: space depending, you can play around with seating options to make your scheme feel more relaxed. The bench seat is a good example of this: it adds a communal quality to a dining area, creates an interesting asymmetry, and it’s also practical as a means of fitting more people around a table.
We love the casual feeling the curved sofa-style banquette seating in this space by Nesta Studio (opens in new tab) lends to the room; it contrasts texturally with the wooden chairs and makes use of a corner to maximize space. Used in a kitchen-diner, a sofa like this can also help to soften the purpose of the space, making it feel less like a task-based room and more like a living area.
6. Play around with color for a quick contemporary update
How you use color in a dining room makes a huge impact on how contemporary or traditional it feels. A dark, rich jewel color on the walls makes for a grander, more formal scheme, while lighter touches lift the space and can allow elements like furniture and artwork come to the fore.
In this scheme by interior design studio Folds Inside (opens in new tab), a neutral base color plays host to pops of pink and blue with clever dining room paint ideas. ‘The starting point for the design of this room was the baseboard color, which is the color thread that links the ground floor of this house,’ says founder Emma Gurner. ‘Used here as an accent color on the woodwork, we also chose dining chairs and art that would compliment the scheme and tie it all together. To make even more of an impact of the bold art print we painted a pale blue border around it, tying in with the decorative ceiling light above the dining table.’
Color is also a useful tool to define areas in a larger open-plan setting. ‘If your formal dining table is in an open space, use a graphic rug to define the space and add some visual interest,’ says Amy Youngblood, owner and principal designer of Amy Youngblood Interiors (opens in new tab). ‘Jewel tones are huge right now and it’s always fun to incorporate a jewel tone fabric into your dining chairs.’
7. Utilize banquette seating for a space-saving, on-trend look
Another take on alternative seating arrangements, banquette seating is a great small dining room idea – and it’s also trending in the interior design world. Irene Gunter of interior design studio Gunter & Co (opens in new tab). uses it in several of her projects.
‘We extended the rear of this Notting Hill apartment kitchen to create a snug spot for informal dining,’ she says. ‘A space-saving banquette covered in blue faux leather allowed us to squeeze more seating into the small area. We then added a bespoke dining table with a solid oak worktop that is gently chamfered and curved to avoid any awkward bumps when getting in and out of the banquette area. The finishing touch is the Aim pendant light from Flos, which ties in well with the black timber frame of the glass extension.’
8. Use your dining room to display your favorite art
The chicest contemporary dining schemes include artwork – but rather than a gallery wall, why not embrace one statement piece of art? Art as a point of focus is well-suited to this space as guests have little else – other than the (delicious) food – to draw their attention away. A piece with some kind of contrast – color, for example, or texture, or even a statement picture frame in a neutral scheme – is particularly successful.
‘The dining room offers so many opportunities for really showcasing and taking in the objects and images you display there,’ says Mindy O’Connor of Melinda Kelson O’Connor Architecture & Interiors. She recommends a few special considerations to make the most of your chosen piece: ‘Emphasize artwork on the walls with picture lights and plenty of breathing space.’
9. Incorporate architectural details into your dining room design
The best modern dining room ideas are those that incorporate the key features of the space and enhance them – particularly when they’re as architecturally stunning as this scheme, which belongs to jewelry designer Rosh Mahtani of Alighieri (opens in new tab) and her partner, designer Fred Rigby (opens in new tab). It features a bespoke concrete bench, which wraps around the table, and whose sharp edges contrast with a large arch above.
Incorporating your dining room seating into an alcove or corner is a great way to achieve a similar effect, as it will help highlight these interesting elements of a room – and can maximize space, too. Also pay attention to windows: particularly beautiful designs with spectacular stained glass or paneling, if you’re lucky enough to have them, can act as artwork when a dining table is positioned directly underneath.
10. Experiment with wall texture for a unique dining room look
Look beyond beautiful but well-used ideas like paneling in your dining room and opt for something a little more surprising for your walls instead. With so many wall textures available, this surface is ripe for experimentation – and as a dining room isn’t prone to the same wear and tear as spaces like kitchens, bathrooms and hallways, you can afford to look to ideas like plaster, high gloss or even upholstery to add interest to your scheme.
If your dining room is part of a larger kitchen, however – or if you have very messy small children – then a more practical but still interesting solution is tiles, like this example from London-based MW Architects (opens in new tab). Removed from their usual spots in kitchens and bathrooms, they’re an unexpected addition to a dining room that add color, texture and contrast – while being easy to clean, too.