Sociologist tell us the glue that bonds families is strengthened by enjoying regular dinners together. Although our meals are often consumed at the kitchen island in a catch-as-catch-can fashion, there is just something different and special about sitting down at nicely laid table and taking time to connect with each other. Yet for many years I believed the dining room was dead.
Building sustainably demands a certain economy. Good residential design avoids seldom used rooms that exist to showcase furniture. It just does not make good budgeting sense to build, furnish and decorate a space that may only get used weekly, if that often, and for many of us the formal dining room was one such place.
The fix: a more open plan that includes a dining area that gets regular use, and not just for eating. Any task that requires a big surface (but not necessarily solitude) can happen there. Alternate deployment for that dining table might be as a homework hangout, conference space for a small business, or crafting.
I prefer a defined kitchen with a separate, adjacent dining area, open to the kitchen but also separate enough to not interfere with cooking functions. It is important that when sitting at the dining table, one is not looking at a lot of cooking mess. And by placing the dining table adjacent to, (but not in) the kitchen, a certain order can be maintained in the space.
When planning a dining area, it is important to remember that the dining table is basically an island in a sea of circulation, so dining spaces can make great connector rooms with easy flow-through. The focal point of a dining space should always be at the center of the table rather than on a wall feature. This anchors the dining experience and facilitates interpersonal connection. Lighting can be used effectively to achieve this as in a pendant or chandelier centered over the dining surface. Even in an open plan, it is good to have at least one wall for a server or breakfront, but place windows high to keep the focus of the room inward.
Life in the 21st century is pretty casual for most of us. So I say ditch the formality and put a beautiful table where you will use it all the time. You can dress it up with fine linens and Limoge for special occasions.