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A Fresh Approach To The Kitchen Dining Area

I believe that if the kitchen is the heart of the home, the kitchen table is the pulse of the family. Not everyone has a breakfast nook or even space in their kitchen for a table and chairs, and of course, many of us have long since turned our dining rooms into home offices or playrooms.

Dining nook with built-in banquette and chairs and a greenhouse window
Via Instagram @sophiepatersoninteriors

But I’ve noticed a longing lately in many of my clients to go back to having some form of a designated dining area, most likely in large part due to how COVID changed the way we live in our homes. What they want is a dining area that provides them with a different experience than what they’ve had in the past–something that’s a happy medium between the uber-casual, kid-friendly breakfast nook and the stuffy formal dining room.

I think many of us are craving a space that makes even our most casual meals feel special without turning them into formal affairs. We want the inviting feel of the kitchen where we can simply enjoy one another’s company combined with the elevated feel of a dining room. When you put those two things together to create a kitchen dining area, you get a beautiful space that still feels relaxed. A spot where we can let our shoulders drop away from our ears and just be ourselves while also settling in and enjoying a beautiful environment for a meal.

Depending on the kind of space you have available, there are a few different approaches to take to achieve this fresh type of kitchen dining area in your own home.

The built-in dining nook

I absolutely love a built-in kitchen dining nook, particularly when it features some type of defining architectural detail. Though they’ve been in homes since the early 1900s, nooks with built-in banquettes have gained popularity again recently due to their cozy, inviting vibe. Whether a booth-style double bench form, a corner v-shape, or a semi-circular configuration, you’ll, of course, need to have the right space in your kitchen to accommodate a built-in banquette. If you don’t, you might be able to claim an adjacent space such as a closet, a small bedroom, or even a portion of your dining room to add it to your existing kitchen’s footprint.

Custom banquette and modern artwork in kitchen dining nook designed by San Francisco interior designer Robin Heard.
Robin Heard Design

Keep in mind that a custom built-in banquette will feel less flexible. But it will also anchor the space in a way that a table and chairs simply can’t. The perfect example of this is the dining nook in our San Francisco kitchen project. Our client had a table and chairs but was craving a banquette. As part of her kitchen remodel, we designed one that incorporated a file cabinet in the base because she wanted the nook space to double as her work area. The plentiful natural light from nearby windows also makes this an ideal work-from-home spot since natural light boosts our productivity and focus.

If you don’t have windows in or near your kitchen’s nook, you can always add an oversized mirror or a mirrored wall to the nook to reflect light around the space. It’s also worth noting that this kind of space is very easy to flip from dining spot to home office if you have a hybrid schedule and don’t want to fully devote a space in your home exclusively to your work.

The banquette was an impactful change both visually and functionally. It absolutely makes the space but it wasn’t crazy expensive (that’s a huge design win-win!). In fact, the banquette is so inviting that it turned the nook into another living space. It’s a spot where people naturally want to sit and visit, read, or just relax! If you opt for a built-in banquette, I strongly recommend upholstering it with a performance fabric. Performance fabrics today are not the same as they were even just a few short years ago. Most of them feel great to the touch (not stiff or coarse) and there are endless options now for color and pattern.

Alternatively, if you love the look of leather, there are many high-quality vinyl options available, as well. If you pick the right one, no one will be able to tell it isn’t leather and it will be so easy to clean up, making it the perfect option for a sophisticated look, even if you have kids at home.

Kitchen with dining area nook featuring banquette window seat, round table, and contrasting chairs
Via Instagram @lindyegalloway

The flexible dining nook

Another approach to a kitchen dining nook is to do a built-in banquette combined with moveable chairs for a hybrid option or to use all movable or modular furnishings. A movable table and chairs can work well in a dining nook provided there’s enough space to allow the chairs to be pushed back and for people to walk around the table comfortably. Modular options can include any combination of movable furnishings.

Think about combining a loveseat with chairs or pairing two identical sofas on either side of the table facing one another. Even a quartet of lovely upholstered or slip-covered armchairs surrounding a round or square table will make for a comfy, cozy nook. Please note, however, that using a loveseat, sofa or armchairs at a dining table would likely require a customized seat height. For a standard table (at 30" H), you want roughly 9-10" from the seat height to the top of the table for comfortable dining.

The kitchen-dining room combo

Even if it isn’t in the form of a nook, I definitely love the idea of having a dining area as an integral part of the kitchen itself rather than as a completely separate room. As noted before, one option, if you don’t have that kind of space available in your existing kitchen, is to borrow space from an adjoining room.

In particular, I love the idea of opening up the dining room into the kitchen to create a kitchen-dining room combo. It simultaneously handles the “Where do we put the kitchen table?” question and the “What do we do with the formal dining room?” question. Just taking down one wall and making your kitchen and dining area into one large space can really work magic for your home’s look, feel, and functionality. Elevate the finishes and fixtures in your kitchen and then outfit the kitchen dining area with casually elegant furnishings and décor to make the newly enlarged space feel truly seamless.

A casually elegant kitchen dining nook with two settees on either side of a table in front of a large picture window.
Via Instagram @jeffreydungan

The separate dining room

Of course, if you don’t wish to or can’t combine your kitchen and dining room into one space, you can still create an inviting yet elevated dining area. To turn your existing formal dining room into a cozier, nook-like space, focus on furnishings with relaxed silhouettes, including ultra-comfortable seating, and fabrics that feel fresh and inviting rather than fussy. Make the space feel less formal and more like an extension of the cozy, friendly kitchen by repeating colors, textures, and even a finish or two in both spaces.

Whatever your existing kitchen dining situation is, I hope you’ll take inspiration from these ideas to create your own cozy yet elevated dining space to make mealtime feel special and relaxing. And if you’re wondering about entertaining with this new form of kitchen dining, I’m looking forward to sharing a post in the near future about entertaining for special occasions without a formal dining room!


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