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Do we really still need the dining table?

By Rick Schafer

It’s the picture of tradition: The family of five sitting merrily around the dinner table, quizzing each other about their respective days. 

Or try a bigger scene; extra seats squeezed in from the lounge room, table crowded with friends and relatives, laughing and exchanging pleasantries over the top of share plates and bottles of wine.

Eating together – at home – is one of life’s pleasures. It’s a chance to recharge, physically (obviously) but also mentally while taking a break from your own head to catch up on what’s going on inside the heads of the loved ones you’ve chosen to share your meals with.

Yet with the rising prevalence of smaller footprint living, dining rooms are increasingly left off design plans and kitchens and living spaces are merging into one.

It begs the question, do we still really need a dining table?

Where are we eating these days?

It’s no secret that busy lives breed on-the-go lifestyles – and we’re busier than ever.

Breakfast might be a smoothie on the way to work; lunch is invariably eaten at the desk, and dinner is – not lovingly prepared as we might hope – but, either a last-minute takeaway order consumed on the couch, or eaten at a restaurant, another chance to squeeze in a networking opportunity, friend or hot date into the schedule.

“With more people on the go than ever before, there is a tendency to eat out,” says Adrian Galiazzo, of Crafter Furniture.

On the flip side, as a society we’re becoming more food-obsessed, helped along by MasterChef and the raft of cooking shows given prime time spots on TV. With this comes not only the desire to know all the best chefs and fine dining but also to understand food, where it comes from and how it’s made.

Make way for the kitchen island

Travis Dean, director of Cantilever Interiors, would argue that certainly in the inner-city, where apartment living is becoming the norm, architecture is having an impact on furniture design.

“We’re seeing a new direction in island bench design, and we’re designing more options for service-free island benches, which means they don’t have to cater for plumbing, gas and electricity. This makes the island bench double as a tabletop so it can be used as part of the kitchen and the living area in homes,” Travis says.

In many new apartments, the floor plans simply don’t allow for a dining table. But they do include space for an island bench. In bigger family homes, island benches are also popular as everyone seems to naturally congregate in the kitchen.

Hold on, there’s still space for a table!

Adrian says that while island bench tops may bring family members together ahead of meal time, there’s still a place for the dining table to sit and enjoy a meal once it’s ready.

“Kitchen designs have seen the island bench top dramatically increase in size over the years, but the benchtop still remains predominantly a place to prepare meals or showcase a beautiful coffee machine or kitchen appliance,” Adrian says.

Adrian says it’s the size and shape of dining tables that are changing – the tables themselves are not going anywhere. He believes it’s because we’re so much busier, that we cling to this symbol of togetherness.

“The dining table persists as a symbol of the heart of the home – much like the hearth of bygone eras,” he says.

“It’s a central hub that unifies families and gathers friends. Around it, we share not only a meal, but our day, our thoughts and feelings, and our ties are knit even closer. There’s something special about sitting around a dining table as opposed to a kitchen bench or a coffee table.”

Dining table solutions for small spaces

For those of us who are not quite ready to let go of this ‘central hub’ in the home, there are ways to maximise on space and still have somewhere for the family to gather at meal time (that’s not an island bench or couch).

Try these dining solutions from Adrian to increase the flow of space in your home:

  • Customised banquettes and space-saving booths.
  • Pull-up stools, as an alternative to the customary dining chair.
  • Benches with casters that can be easily moved or ‘hidden’ under the table.

For those of you happy to forego the dining table, try these tips from Travis to make an island work:

  • Adequate lighting is essential, so make space for a pendant or three.
  • Dimmable lighting can help you soften the mood when the meal is over.
  • Ensure bins, chopping boards and large cutlery drawers are ergonomically placed.
  • Feature comfortable overhangs (minimum 300mm) for stool seating at islands to create a comfortable seating zone.

In the future, the dining table will modify to keep pace with our changing lifestyles, yet remain relevant.

“Fold-out and collapsible tables, built-in slide-out tables, custom kitchen counters with built-in dining tables – there is a myriad of creative solutions for creating a dining experience without necessarily going down the route of a traditional dining table,” Adrian says.


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