I Don't Think the Formal Dining Room Is Dead; Plus a Quick Challenge Regarding Tablecloths

In which I reference the “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” school of thought.
Publish date:
February 22, 2015
DIY, weekend, How-To, Homemaking, Monthly Potluck, Apartment Therapy

I laughed when I read this post over at Apartment Therapy titled, “Is the Formal Dining Room Dead?” That's because I had only recently bought a dining room table and then plonked it in the middle of my living room. I would love a formal dining room.

My table is 37 inches by 67 inches, give or take some quarter inches — but what's a quarter inch of measurement between friends when no one is asking anyone to help move furniture around? The living room is fairly large, but even so we're on our third iteration of moving stuff around to make things look kind of natural. (And thank goodness we opted for a smaller couch.) We're figuring out chairs and benches and where to put the stuff that won't really fit in the living room anymore.

That article mentions the eat-in kitchen they have and prefer to use even when guests come over. I have to wonder how big their kitchen is and think maybe that's part of the philosophical difference. I'm happy to fit a sideboard in my own kitchen so we can hide the wine glasses safely away (from dust and cat hair) and also have a place to put everyone's dishes when we host our monthly potlucks.

But there also seems to be a reluctance to risk the nice things the author has inherited going on there. And I can understand that. We want to be worthy stewards of the things we have received from the past. But if that desire to keep old things immaculate, or at least in stasis, is preventing us from using them, then I don't think we are actually respecting the people who passed stuff on to us.

My boss at my day job is firmly of the “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” school of thought. Though she never put it into so many words, my great-grandmother lived according to a similar ethos. She had some very special occasion stuff (her wedding china) but otherwise, things were for using. And if something happened to those things, they were then repaired.

Hey, that might be part of the different mindset, too: If something is damaged, we are far less likely to have the skills to repair it ourselves and we might not even know who to contact to repair something. (Your mileage may vary, as in all things.)

If I had the room provided by a formal dining room, Ed and I would still be eating our meals there because when we eat on the sofa, it's just not comfortable. It would be easier to expand our table — with 10 people attending a potluck, we're still using both the coffee table and high-top cafe table in our living room to make sure everyone is comfortable.

But I also admit that kind of thinking is fully influenced by the increasing frequency with which we have people over to our house. A formal dining room is mislabeled because it's not necessarily a formal space but it is a social one. And making use of that social space is what makes it feel a part of one's home.

It's funny how inviting people over makes a space feel more like your own.

At any rate, I am going to champion the formal dining room. I think open concept living spaces are fantastic for plenty of reasons, but I don't want people chopping things up with me in the kitchen and I'd rather we all get to just hang out somewhere that isn't a work space. I want my guests to be comfortable and for there to be the kind of community atmosphere that comes with food and beverage and chairs around a table.

And while I'm not knocking a truly formal occasion, I'm definitely saying maybe the key to breaking down some of folks' reluctance to use formal dining rooms is making them less formal. My style is taste-dependent, as the home dec shows call anything that isn't neutral, so I'm not saying you have to bust out the flamingos and pom pom trim with AstroTurf yourself, but making a tablecloth can go a long way to making your table something you want to use.

This is not an exact and precise science. You'll need to measure the length and width of your table. Then you're going to have to determine how much extra fabric you want to hang down on the sides. Average drop length is 8 or 9 inches (so you'd need to add 16-19 inches to your length and width measurements), with formal lengths going to 12 inches.

Save yourself some trouble — find fabric that is 54" wide on the bolt. If your table is wider than mine, you'll need either a wider fabric or to edge it in something.

If you're learning to sew, this is a great project. It's all straight seams and it gives you the chance to learn how to miter a corner. But it isn't yet another draw-string waist or elastic waist skirt. But that's a "Why are introductory projects all so boring?" rant and an entirely different article.

Once you've got your fabric measured and cut, you are literally just going to hem it, and then, if you're me, attach pom-pom trim. I like to double the fold of my hem so I make it 1/4 inch instead of a 1/2 inch. It's hard to screw this up. Just keep your cut lines and folds straight and you are going to succeed.

The AstroTurf table runner, well, I had a vision. That vision did not include quite how much material I wound up with because the guy at Home Depot had to cut a minimum width off the massive roll. But for under $15, I have a bunch of fake grass left over and I'm sure I'll figure something out to do with it. It cuts easily with a box cutter. And it's super fun. We used cork trivets just in case but the stuff is, after all, designed to be pretty sturdy.

Are you waiting for formal dining rooms to die? Where do you eat? Spoiler alert: I'm definitely making more tablecloths so y'all will see more of them on my Instagram.