In my humble abode, the dining room has gone the way of the parlor, the carriage house, and the sleeping porch. Which is to say that neither The Hubby nor I use the room in the way it was intended.
Lots of things happen in the dining room on a daily basis that have nothing to do with eating or food. Our table — a farm kitchen style that bears the wounds of five children — rarely hosts a plate or placemat. Its six intentionally mismatched chairs don’t get much use either.
I suspect others might confess to similar room restyling, which says plenty about how we gather to break bread and share conversation. Not that I’m judging this evolution as good or bad. I’m simply noting that a change in habits often spills over to furnishings. Surely, this has been going on for centuries. (Does anyone still have phone niches? Root cellars? Cast-iron stoves?)
Currently our dining room is The Hubby’s office. He doesn’t claim it as such, but visuals do all the talking. His laptop sits at the table, flanked by piles of paper and a smattering of items that have no resemblance to tableware. Over the past week this potpourri of non-food stuff has included a bolt and washer, a sheet of bubble wrap, and an empty Amazon envelope.
Here’s a confession that is probably news to no one who knows us: My muscles tense every time I walk by this … this blatant squatting. Actually, my reaction involves more than tense muscles. A couple times a month we squabble about the appropriate use of the table. The Hubby feels he’s putting the room to good use. He doesn’t like wasted spaces and underused areas.
I, on the other hand, envision a pristine table topped by nothing but a vase of fresh flowers or glossy green elephant ear leaves from my garden. Maybe an appropriate seasonal runner spanning the buffed wood. Or, a bowl of delectable fresh fruit. Something magazine-y, such as what you might find inside House Beautiful or Better Homes and Gardens.
Is that too much to ask?
At any rate, this “disagreement” is a good first-world problem to have, a problem shared by many who suddenly find themselves trying to fit modern habits into old-style home design. My neighbor, for instance, employs her dining room mostly for craft-making. The glue gun may be her favorite guest.
Of course, my dining room is used for the consumption of food on special occasions, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. Also, when the grandchildren visit, we gather in a semi-formal arrangement that demands Fiestaware and shoes. We chat about school and extracurricular activities across the table, mindful of manners and messages, and I remember the nightly meals spent with a younger version of their parents. The arguments, the whining, the yelling and the muttering. During these moments, my heart swells with nostalgic bliss, even as my brain assures me there was nothing rapturous about those meals in real time.
Now that there’s only The Hubby and me, we usually gobble down our dinner at the kitchen counter or at our individual tray tables, watching the news and commenting on it. Admitting to this embarrasses me, for a reason I can’t quite explain. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I made communal dinner mandatory when the kids were young.
We’re not alone, of course. According to a 2019 survey by a smart oven manufacturer, only 48% of respondents eat at a dinner table these days, though 72% grew up doing so. The couch has become the primary at-home eating place for 30%, with 17% vouching for the bedroom.
Then again, maybe the death of the dining room has been exaggerated. More than 60% of homebuyers, including the young’uns, still want a dedicated area for meals even as they say it won’t always be used for that purpose. My children are very much part of that group. All four households take their meals in their dining rooms.
Huh. I guess something I taught stuck.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.