8 Features of a Contemporary Dining Room

With these 8 features, the modern dining room prizes function over formality...

For centuries, the dining room has been designated the “schoolmarm” of the family home. A stuffy, rigid space off limits to children and pets, filled with stiff high-back chairs, brass napkin holders and fine china taken out once or twice a year. 

Not anymore. Today’s homeowner is all about the democratic use of space, adopting a no-room-left-behind policy of which the dining room is part. The modern dining room isn’t reserved for special occasions alone, but rather, is used daily by the entire family over shared meals, school projects, and storytelling for all occasions.

With these 8 features, the modern dining room prizes function over formality... 

“Bluetral” Colors (pictured above) 

Gone are the days of the dark, oppressive dining quarters. Today’s interior designers have imbued the dining room with a sense of cheer and levity with light and airy hues. The top color choice among them is “bluetral,” the new neutral. Says Huffington Post, “all shades of blue, especially navy, is a hot trend that doesn’t seem to be losing its charm.” That goes double for mosses, sages, soft greys, and teals.

Gallery Wall

The modern dining room doubles as a mini art gallery. Choose one wall to create a dynamic collage of signature pieces, from whimsical prints, ornate clocks, painted ceramics, vintage mirrors and antique kitchenware. The one rule of a perfect gallery wall is there are no rules. Pick odd shaped frames, styles, patterns, and colors. Or, pick one single large-scale piece to fill an entire wall as the room’s dramatic focal point.

Wall Treatments

Wood cladding, wainscoting, marble, and exposed brick are all back in vogue as ways to dress up the modern dining room wall. Where lumber and stones are concerned, the name of the game is “accent,” or picking one wall to adorn. The other popular treatment for this room is wallpaper. Thankfully, the old paste and bubbling process of yore has been replaced with cutting edge, peel-and-stick sheets, which come in any imaginable color, texture, print and pattern. You name it, from landscape murals, 3D geometric shapes, grass cloth, watercolor, jungle-inspired or retro, there is a wallpaper to please everyone.

Another blooming trend for dining room walls is the vertical garden.

Open and Airy Shelves

The modern dining room is less museum and more use-um. It’s not about hiding fine china inside century-old, French carved oak cabinets with skeleton key locks. It’s about vintage butler pantries, colorful hutches, and open shelves to showcase the motley arrangement of hand-painted ceramics, family photos, personally curated kitchenware, masonry, leather-bound books, and all the misshapen imperfect art project bowls made by the kids.

Mix & Match Chairs

The formal arrangement of identical chairs has no place in the modern dining room. Now, it’s all about mixing and matching unique sets of vintage metal chairs in colorful hues with worn, wooden school chairs that show the marks of age and carved names. Stools mixed with upholstered seating, and of course, the ultimate “asset” of the modern dining room: the picnic bench, either standing alone on one side of a table, or built-into a wall with tufted backboard, cushions, and storage.

Window Treatments

Older dining rooms were often known for heavy drapery and sun-blocking valances. Now, it’s all about letting the natural light flow in, via soft, sheer curtains, clear leaded glass, laser cut metal screen inserts in gorgeous snowflake patterns, and a booming selection of window shades that come in endless colors, patterns, designs, and fabrics to suit any style.

Able Table

The modern dining room table strikes a fine balance between durability and simplicity. Clean, long lines matched with strong, uniform materials. Topping the wish list are the classic barn table, made of salvaged lumber and rich, dark stains. And, the painted metal table. Also making a major comeback to the dining room floor is the bar cart. Writes Huffington Post, “the return of the bar has been a welcome addition to dining rooms.”

Open Spaces

The modern dining room is no longer an afterthought of the home’s blueprint. For large, open floor plans, however, the key is to create a space that feels both distinct and integrated at the same time. Designers strike this balance with innovative panels, screens, sliding barn doors, vintage window dividers, and a modern take on the popular 70’s architectural element, the pony wall.


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