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Formal dining uses

Shelby L
May 10, 2019
last modified: May 10, 2019

So, I have found a floor plan I like but it was a dreaded formal dining area that opens to the living room. I cannot fathom how I could even use this space other than sticking a table in it that we would never eat at. Any suggestions? This is a neighborhood that provide floor plans to pick from, cannot afford to use a custom builder.

Comments (110)

  • Shelby L

    Photo I took during walk through at 3. It doesn't seem dark to me. It would also have vaulted ceiling. Could be subjective as I currently live in a dark house now.

  • cpartist

    Shelby what orientation is the sample house you walked through?

    I ask because if your house faces west, that means the only time you'll get any natural light out the back which is where your main rooms are is in the morning. By noontime, it will be much darker than I drew it.

    And it means that you will only have one window in one bedroom and one door in the breakfast room to let in the southern light which is the best for passive solar heating/cooling and light.

    West also means your study will be unusable in the late afternoon unless you have excellent shades to close the sun coming in.

    Please do yourself a favor and read up on passive solar heating/cooling.

    It doesn't seem dark to me. It would have vaulted ceiling. But could be subjective as i currently live in a dark house now

    And how does your current dark house make you feel? How do you feel when you visit a friend who's house is light and bright?

    Please note that it's 3 PM and every single light in the sample house is turned on. Take a look at all the shadows too. In my house I don't have to turn on lights until dusk. Ever. In fact that's how my house looks right before dusk with no lights turned on. Not even in my north/east facing kitchen because I have so much light from all the other windows. (And if it's pouring rain and the skies are dark!)

    May I also ask who the builder is?

  • auntthelma

    orientation to the sun is a factor, but it’s not the number one factor. price, location, fitting the needs of your family, schools, commute to work, old or new, basement or no, attic, yard.......

    Shelby L thanked auntthelma
  • Shelby L

    Sample is southeast, our lot is flat which is high priority and very rare there. Also established area behind so no future development .

  • pink_peony

    My home faces south west and it only has one bedroom window and the front door glass on the front downstairs. It is a very bright sunny home. I think the biggest contributing factor is my high ceilings . As anyone who has read my post over the year on here they know i can rarely get a good picture in my home because it is so bright. The picture of my entrance was taken first thing in the morning with the sun on the opposite side of my entrance and look how bright it is. I think CPartist makes a very good point about lighting . There are variables though my home case in point. Some homes live light and bright while others don’t. If your photos are from a model home or inventory home the builder should accommodate you if you ask them to show it to you with no lights on So you can get a feel if what the house is like without the overhead lighting on.

    Shelby L thanked pink_peony
  • calidesign

    I think you can make this work for you without any structural changes. The enclosed study is a great place for a playroom so the toys are more hidden. The dining area can be a nice sitting area/study/library. The long wall in the dining room could become a builtin unit for guest coat storage, other enclosed storage, and open shelving for books or decorative items. You already have a nice mudroom so I would look at the dining area as an extension of your living space. There is no need to enclose it.

  • cpartist

    Can you post the exterior? I'm also afraid that roof might be a problem too depending on where you live.

  • Shelby L

    Roof a problem how? Sorry for poor grammar the typing on webpage deletes I type dont know

  • PRO

    Because that s generally truth of spec homes in terms of being able to customize. Even semi custom can have many limitations. So...... just saying be prepared to love it as is. : ) in consideration of your true to life daily habits. and storage needs, and craving or lack thereof for light.

  • Rekha A 9a Houston area

    I have a similar space in my house. We put in a nice dining table and a. bar cabinet. We dont use the dining table for dining much, maybe a few times a ye. but the space is great and my older son does his homework here every day. He cleans up when done, so the room looks perfectly fine. We do crafts there sometimes. And because of the way its it's set up, the entry from the garage in into this space, so I have a small space to corral backpacks and such.

    We did not build, but having a nice dining space is actually niice. if you can use it for other things as well.

  • Lindsey_CA


    I really like the fact that Bedrooms #2 and #3 are "insulated" from sounds from the shared bathroom by having their respective closets against the bathroom walls. I also like the fact that the master bedroom is on the other side of the house from the secondary bedrooms, give you and your husband privacy from your child.

    Another nice thing is that you do not have to walk past the washer/dryer on your way into the house from the garage, and that you can also access the laundry room from the master closet.

    One thing you could ask the builder if you could change -- See if the door into the toilet room can be changed from a swing-in door to a pocket door. Since the door into the closet opens against the shared wall with the toilet room, a pocket door could slide into that wall. The light & fan switches could be on the wall immediately on your left as you enter the toilet room. Having a pocket door will ease/eliminate any access concerns due to potential health issues.

    Shelby L thanked Lindsey_CA
  • cpartist

    Roof a problem how? Sorry for poor grammar the typing on webpage deletes I type dont know

    Depending on how the roof is designed, if there are "pockets" where water can pool, it can become a problem over time. Pockets on roofs seem to be more of a problem on oversized roofs which yours is.

  • chelle324

    Hi Shelby,

    Sorry you are getting a lot of push back here. I have a similar layout in my home, except instead of the secondary bedrooms on the first floor, mine are upstairs. While there are many on this forum who would hate my house, but we love it. I left the formal dining area of my home open. The original plan actually had walls and a french door, but I was afraid it would seem to closed off so we left it out. I use mine as a home office (we don't have a study until one of these college aged kids leaves!). The nice thing about leaving it open is that I can change my mind later if I need to. Personally, I love being able to work at my desk while DH is hanging out watching TV or sitting at the island on his laptop.

    Shelby L thanked chelle324
  • Shelby L

    I dont have a picture of the roof. This is not a new floor plan, this builder built it in the first phase 10 years ago. I have not heard of any issues. I dont think I can change the roof though? What would remedy such a thing?

  • Shelby L


  • suzyq53

    The roof is fine. What's upstairs?

  • suzyq53

    Its really a very nice house and layout. I'm not sure why some are being so hypercritical here. Actually the fact that its a production builder who has build many of each floorplan would give me more assurance that any bugs have been worked out and that they know what they're doing. Not everyone needs or wants a custom home build which can be a total nightmare even with an established builder with cost overruns and delays and unexpected issues.

    Shelby L thanked suzyq53
  • Val B
    Looks like a nice house. I think you’ve received plenty of ideas for the space. I think a den would be nice. Somewhere, if you have kids, messy toys or loud video games can be played. My only criticism of the plan is the door to the master bedroom right off the kitchen. You need to be prepared to hear every bit of noise coming from the main living area. I like how the entrances to the secondary bedrooms are behind a closed corridor. Also, between the door to the master and the backdoor, that breakfast area space may be tight. You may actually want to keep a larger table in the formal dining space for that reason.
    Shelby L thanked Val B
  • Jennifer Hogan


    I have no idea how tight your budget is or how inflexible your builder is, but I know that my sister purchased a builder lot with a limited number of plans. Her floor plan is similar to yours. Due to some mobility issues they needed to widen some areas of the home, so to accomplish what they needed the builder did work with her to expand the house by 3 feet.

    I think what she did was actually much more involved than what I would ask your builder to do.

    I would see if they would square off the back wall. It will add about 200 sf to the house, but would solve for the limited space for dining with guests. It would also allow you to add some needed closet space in the entry and off the mudroom.

    I would center the door and have windows on either side of the door.

    Obviously you could make the closets longer or shorter, based on your percieved needs.

    You could use the little corner for a small desk, mail and purse station or a small bar or book shelves.

  • Jennifer Hogan

    I don't think anyone has asked one very important question. How often do you serve formal dinners or have more than a couple of guests for dinner? Do you have business dinners or just friends and family?

    If you are like me and only entertain friends and family, you don't need more dining space. You have 4 seats at the counter and can fit a small table in the breakfast nook.

    I would probably still see if I could get a sliding glass door instead of the tradtional door in the breakfast nook. Having the door open will limit your table selection. If that is not an option, you can still get a round table that becomes oblong with 2 leaves. If you happen to need the extra dining space you can encroach on the kitchen space and block the entry to your bedroom for the few hours that you are entertaining.

    Another option is to get a drop leaf table that coverts to a side table when not in use. You can always move some furniture out of the way if you need extra dining space.

    This one is only 12" wide when not expanded, but expands to 60" when needed.


  • auntthelma

    It is a great house. Don’t let people plant doubts in your mind.

    What are you thinking about all the helpful comments you’ve gotten? Mud room, pool room, toy room, closets? Are you leaning toward any?

  • Shelby L

    People actually pointed out that I may actually need the formal dining as a function dining room. I didn't realize that my current table probably won't fit in the dining area. We don't host regularly but we do host on holidays and bring out our plastic 6ft table. My son is not old enough to play games or homework yet but we are moving one house away from my brother in law with my nieces and nephews (family of 6) so I think big dinners and games could be in the future. I guess I didn't think of the alternate uses of a bigger table. I will leave it. May put my current table there and buy a smaller round table for our regular dining table. I will see if we get use out of it.. If not will use are a a little nook for reading/foyer comfy area. I appreciate you all!!!!!

  • andria564

    I like Jennifer Hogan's idea. If you can square off the back, you can put a larger dining area where the kitchen dining is and use the formal dining area for something else.

  • Val B

    Sounds like a good solution. Good to think things through before rushing to a decision.

  • Val B

    Agree with others to try to switch the back door to a slider so it doesn’t hit the table in the breakfast nook.

  • lyfia

    For a sub-division house I think you could do worse, so not bad. I would see though if you could eliminate the "brick waders" on the little piece in the front and just continue the siding all the way down. Here's a rough illustration.

    I'd also use the brick on the porch pillars instead of the stone. Too many materials going on otherwise.

  • Lynda
    My floor plan is similar with the kitchen/nook/living area. We have no issues with a dim or dark kitchen. In fact, I never even need my lights on in the kitchen during the day. I do not like to have a ton of windows that I would end up having to cover to decrease the amount of glare and light :-)
  • Lynda
    Shelby - I think leaving the dining room is a good option. One thing I would possibly consider changing on your plan is to not have the exterior door in the nook area and instead put sliders or French doors in the living area? I say this only because the door might decrease your table space in the nook? Maybe a banquette could then be built in? We have the banquette below - my kids loved it when they were young in our old home and everyone loves it in my new home, even my 87 year old Mom happily slides right in.

    Good luck on your new build - and congratulations. It’s fun if you don’t let all the little things get to you.
  • pink_peony

    As you can see my floor plan has only two areas for light in the front. we opted for the front bedroom instead of the study which eliminates the light filtering through the doorway into the entry. To further cut off light we closed off the formal dining area (but i placed transoms as mentioned) . We have an abundance of light.

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  • cpartist

    Yes but Pink look at the light you have in the major areas of the great room and kitchen as well as your bedroom. Compare that to the amount of windows the OP has and you'll see why I'm concerned that without the lights on, her house will be dark. Is your orientation ideal? No but it still allows for an abundance of at least filtered light into your main spaces.

  • pink_peony

    Cpartist ideal for who? Actually our orientation is pretty ideal for the climate we live in. Here in NC Summers are hot and humid and thank goodness we have a ton of light without the heat of sun blaring into our windows. She is in OK and I imagine she has the same hot summers. I understand what you're saying but for them it might be absolutely ideal like it is for us! My neighbors home faces west and she hates it because she has to have the drapes drawn for a good portion of the day to keep the heat out and the sun from killing everything LOL! I will say this I have lived in a west facing home, and two east facing homes and thus far this home has been my favorite because it has all the light the others did without the heat. Actually my last home before this was east facing and I hated it. Darkest home I have ever lived in. Tons of windows, 9' ceilings but the floor plan and the fact that it was a wooded lot made it like a cave.

  • cpartist

    My point is the ideal direction is to face the main spaces south. I'm in SW FL and that's what I have and it works great. In winter, the south sun streams into my living room and in summer when the sun is higher in the sky, the lanai helps to filter the south sun.

  • pink_peony

    My home would be baking if it faced south where the majority of the sun beat down all day. So not ideal for me and I imagine many others too. Also not always realistic. I mean imagine if every single house in the United States alone faced south?

  • PRO

    Rather than one direction? Multiple exposures matter most. Much depends on whther you love light.

    A south or west facing home. when you hate light is a ticket to a tomb of $$$$$ window coverings. Those folks? Far better off and happier in eastern and northern exposures . Or live as shut ins.

  • katinparadise

    Shelby, I think you'll be happy with your decision to keep the formal dining room. I have both in my house, plus counter seating and we always use the dining room when family is here. I think you're going to find that the door from the patio swinging into the breakfast nook is going to limit the size of table you can use in that area, thus the # of people you'll be able to seat. Even at something like Sunday dinner or having family over for game night on Friday night means you'll want to have a seating area large enough for everyone to gather. Sitting at island seating while everyone else is sitting at the table in the breakfast nook is almost like being banished to the "kids table" during holiday dinners.

    The one thing I would ask about for sure is moving the corner fireplace to the bedroom hallway wall so you have more options for furniture and t.v. arrangement. Honestly, I'd rather have no fireplace than a corner fireplace. Just my opinion of course, but it may be worth considering.

  • cpartist

    My home would be baking if it faced south where the majority of the sun beat down all day

    Actually unless it has no overhangs, it wouldn't. In winter the sun will be lower and will enter the home but in summer the sun is higher and doesn't really reach into the windows.

    Like I said, I'm in SW Florida with a south exposure and my house stays cool.

    West is the worst of course.

  • suzyq53

    Yep. I have west. All year long sun blasting straight in. It stays cool mostly though.

  • tqtqtbw

    Plan to plant a tree to shade the study, not too close to the house, if you can. I agree that I would rather have a center wall fireplace or no fireplace than have a corner one. They really limit furniture placement.

  • Jennifer Hogan

    Am I missing something?

    In my home the livingroom is usally used to watch TV or a movie, sometimes used for converstaion, to read or to work on a puzzle. I don't understand why having the fireplace centered on a wall would make it easier to place furniture. I think it actually makes it more difficult to place furniture unless you want your TV over the fireplace. (Generally not good for electronics and not a good viewing angle).

    If the fireplace is centered on a wall you lose the use of that wall for seating. If it is in the corner you can place the TV in the center of either wall and have your seating facing the TV.

  • Brad

    Our formal dining will be used for a grand piano, cello, and accouterments.

  • cpartist

    Jennifer the tv can be designed to be to the left or right of the fireplace on the wall. It the fireplace is in the corner, it becomes an afterthought and hard to plan furniture around. The fireplace, not the tv should be the centerpiece of the room and then the tv can be pulled out to watch.

  • suzyq53

    I have a corner fireplace but its flat with no hearth. I'd take it over nothing for sure.

  • suzyq53

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  • pink_peony

    We had a corner fireplace in our second home and i loved it. It was actually easier to arrange more seating on the space and let the TV be centered on that seating so everyone had a view of both the TV and the fireplace. Generally when you have to place a TV to the left or right of a fireplace you end up having to compromise on TV size.

  • Jennifer Hogan

    "The fireplace, not the tv should be the centerpiece of the room and then the tv can be pulled out to watch."

    Says who? Most of us have working central heat and no longer need to sit around the fire to stay warm. Is this an antiquated ideal that people are hanging on to without asking why?

    I see lots of pictures of living rooms without TVs posted by designers, but yet I seldom see homes without a TV in the living room and I see plenty of posts from people trying to figure out where to put the TV in rooms where this was the afterthought. Why not design around the way most people live today instead of ideals and design rules that were born 50 or 100 years ago?

  • Val B

    I agree - I’d probably rather not have a fireplace than have it in the corner. If you do move it to the other wall by the bedrooms, make sure the firebox and mantle are low enough that you can mount a tv over it without the tv being too high up.

  • queenvictorian

    The fireplace is an extremely good visual anchor for furniture arrangements and the overall look of the room whether it's functional or not. It has existed as a focal point and gathering place in the house for a thousand years and is therefore pretty deeply embedded in our civilization's collective conscious as the focal point and gathering place in a house.

    The TV, on the other hand, emits entertaining moving pictures that require you engage with it instead of the people around you. It profoundly changes the living room dynamic. And not in a good way, in my opinion.

    I grew up in a household in which the TV was foisted off in a corner/separate room because it was not really that important and also a pretty antisocial activity. My husband and I have our own house now, and while we love our TV and video games like the red-blooded Americans we are, the TV went into a spare room turned den because it would get in the way of the fireplace if we put it in the living room.

  • suzyq53

    Aside from aesthetics, my corner gas fireplace can heat our entire great area in a few minutes with just a flip of a switch. Of course we have central heat, but rarely use it overnight. Its not that cold here, but it can be a little chilly in the morning. We use it so much more than we ever used our prior wood burning fireplaces because its so easy.

  • Val B
    Actually, looking at the actual pictures of other homes, I think the corner fireplace is fine. You still have room for 1 or 2 chairs in front of the window and can then place the sofa facing the wall with a media unit for the tv.
  • dsnine

    I know this is a long thread, but about halfway up bpath did a great floorplan with minor modifications to have the fireplace on the side wall and a mudroom along the front.

    For maximizing functional storage and making the apace better laid out her ideas were wonderful and I’d encourage you to take a second look at them. Best of luck to you!

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