How to Fake a Formal Dining Room

By Cristina Cleveland
swedish dining room - love the bright pop of orange!

I don’t have a formal dining table, my table functions as a workspace for projects, an area to entertain, sometimes extra food prep space, and more. So when I cook for family and friends I need to make an all-purpose surface and make it feel focused and a little more formal. This year my parents moved from our old house with its breakfast nook off the kitchen and separate formal dining room into a house with an open floor plan. It’s been interesting to see how our eating habits have changed with the new space. Personally I’ve found that I can take my multipurpose table from a workspace to guest-ready without making major adjustments and this works well for me,  but I’d love to hear from you – do you have a formal dining room? Do you use it often or does it only get action at Thanksgiving?


Match your dining chairs, but not your table – I’m a big proponent of mis-matched dining chairs, I love the effortless, collector’s vibe that it gives to a home. But if your aim is to give your room more formality, then matching chairs will help achieve that look. That’s not to say that the table and chairs have to be a matching set, in the inspiration room you can see how modern and traditional work very well together.

If you don’t have a separate room, create one with a rug – I have an open floor plan in which my kitchen is next to my dining table, so an area rug plays a big role in delineating a walkway and defining the two areas.

Incorporate plants, even if they’re faux – You’d be hard pressed to find a beautiful room in a magazine or blog that doesn’t have plants in it, but I understand that not everyone has a green thumb. These ceramic cacti will never require upkeep and will always be guest-ready.

Take a cue from the restaurants – In many restaurants, like Austin’s must-visit Elizabeth Street Cafe, you will find a small tray with salt & pepper shakers, candlestick holders, sauces or sugar packets. I’ve adopted this tool in my own home and it definitely makes me feel a bit more prepared for entertaining.

Set the tone with art – The paintings in the inspiration photo mix a classic portrait format with a quirky touch, and Chad Wys’s finger paint portrait is a very affordable way to get the look.

Mood lighting – Add tapered candles to your dining tables and your meals will instantly feel a little bit fancy. You can find tapered candles anywhere from World Market to the dollar store, so don’t neglect this quick and easy addition.

Inspiration photo by MyHome