The dining room has long been an integral feature of the modern American household, serving as a place to meet, entertain, or simply enjoy a meal. Over the years, the lifestyle of the average consumer has changed, noticeably affecting what is now one of the most high-traffic areas of the home. As the ideal look and function of the dining room continues to change, this is what furniture industry leaders need to know:
What’s happening in the dining room?
If you’re looking for evidence that the American lifestyle has become more casual and, at the same time, more fast-paced, look no further than the furniture sector. In recent years, consumers’ shifting preferences when it comes to furnishing their kitchens and dining areas have mirrored a fast-moving culture that demands more of our time and attention while allowing for new levels of leisure and convenience. While elaborate formal dining sets were once far more commonplace, relegating casual dining furniture to a niche retail category, Americans are now choosing to enjoy their meals in a more laidback setting.
Recent research conducted by Impact Consulting Services clearly demonstrates this trend. The firm, which also owns Home Furnishings Business, polled a number of recent buyers on their dining habits. Of those who had recently purchased dining room furniture, 88 percent reported that they usually eat in a casual dining area, while just 12 percent were more likely to eat their meals in a formal dining room. Impact’s examination of recent furniture buying trends aligned with these personal reports: 72.8 percent of surveyed recent furniture buyers had selected casual dining furniture. Of the 27.2 percent of shoppers who did purchase pieces for a formal dining room, just 15.4 percent reported eating in the space on a daily basis, and 35.2 percent reported using the room less than a dozen times per year. Additionally, 26.2 survey respondents reported eating in their formal dining rooms on fewer than four occasions each year.
In contrast, people are spending far more time in the casual dining spaces—and not just at meal time. Today, a rising number of homes feature open-concept great rooms rather than formal dining rooms, and more open kitchen floorplans are expanding the space’s function. Regarding casual dining arrangements, 45 percent of them are located in the kitchen, while a roughly equal amount are found in a separate room. Regardless of location in the home, casual dining spaces are accommodating a wider variety of activities; the kitchen table is also a popular place to sit and talk, pay bills, do homework, or even watch TV.
What are people buying?
As the average American dining room becomes a more casual space, customers are buying fewer pieces. Expansive dining tables and floor-to-ceiling china cabinets are declining in popularity; now, small case pieces, counter-height tables, and dining tables with removable leaves are catering to more informal and versatile dining needs. Tables and chairs comprise the most popular purchases for casual furniture shoppers, while just under 4 percent of recent furniture buyers took home a sideboard, buffet, or china cabinet. And as these extra dining accoutrements seem unnecessary nowadays, other accessories are gradually becoming new staples of the modern home. For instance, in recent years, wine racks have become a highly sought-after item for millennial consumers.
The shift to more casual dining areas is also leading consumers to place less emphasis on the cohesiveness of their dining furniture. Shoppers are now less likely to purchase full sets of matching tables and chairs, instead opting to mix and match pieces that suit their tastes. This has begun to influence design trends, prompting furniture companies to design more dining pieces with versatile designs that are easy to pair.
How have designs changed?
The dominance of the casual dining sector has opened up new possibilities in the realm of furniture design. With consumers less likely to purchase formal dining sets—or to even buy full sets at all—the industry is experiencing a shift to a more transitional aesthetic. In general, shoppers are selecting styles that offer something unique without being too eclectic; today’s casual dining rooms are noticeably modern, yet subdued enough to serve as comfortable, inviting common areas.
Dining room color palettes are moving away from darker finishes such as cherry and oak in favor of lighter tones. Gray and white are popular base colors for subdued design schemes featuring creative pops of color, often provided by modern accessories or basic kitchen tools.
Consumers’ preference for lighter colors has extended to countertops, cabinetry, backsplashes, and even appliances. These tones are helping to create a more open, airy ambience in kitchens and dining spaces, especially when paired with a diverse selection of textures and materials. Today’s casual dining spaces are likely to contain a wide variety of different mediums, finishes, and styles. This is true for both individual pieces and the room as a whole: many chair and table designs now incorporate both wood and metal elements, and an on-trend casual dining ensembles may very well feature an antique, rustic table with contemporary upholstered chairs. Other decorative touches, such as the glass of a mirror, the steel of a window frame, the brass sheen of a modern lighting fixture, or even the lush foliage of a potted plant often add further texture and diversity to today’s casual dining spaces.