How do you design a trendy dining room?

My husband and I recently bought our first house. Like all moves, it started out totally chaotic—until we got a small tulip table and two chairs set up in my new kitchen’s breakfast nook. With a place to sit and eat lunch in between unpacking boxes, my husband and I found stability. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t immediately start dreaming how we could put a built-in banquette along the corner and upgrade the light fixture to something more our style, but we still had that comforting feeling that we were finally beginning the new chapter we had long imagined. And even when the unpacking took way longer than anticipated, as it always does, the daily routine of gathering at the table made our new house feel like home.

As I look back on memories of past homes, most of the noteworthy moments happened around the dinner table or saddled up to the kitchen counter. The dining table in my childhood home hosted holiday dinners and, with newspaper protecting the wood, was a great place for my brother to paint model airplanes and cars while I played with my paper dolls. In college, my friends and I gathered around our hand-me-down tables, eating cheap pizza, studying for finals, and laughing at the weekend’s events. My apartment in San Francisco was the setting for my first Thanksgiving away from family, and it was where I learned that you need to buy groceries long before the Macy’s Parade begins. That morning we discovered our local market had sold out of turkey, ham, and even rotisserie chicken! We grabbed a few slices of deli meat, and it became one of my most memorable meals, enjoyed by candlelight in the bay window of our dining room.

Needless to say, the dining table is where life happens.

Family-friendly yet elegant, designer Katie Hodges’ work shows us it’s possible. Constructed with unsealed salvaged wood, which intentionally shows imperfections like nicks, nail holes, and knots, this farm-style table has an antiqued, time-worn quality from the start (a spill will only add to its character), while the chairs can be easily wiped down.

To make the most of this dining space, design duo Mister + Mrs Sharp created a wall-to-wall banquette in a friendly blue hue. “With chairs, we can easily gather around the table for a dinner party of eight, but for larger, more casual gatherings, many more can be accommodated,” they explain.

Built-in banquettes are genius. Not only can the whole family pile in and hang out, but the base can also store that Instant Pot or air fryer you promised yourself you’d use!

This is a fabulous small space solution and one that will get a lot of use—breakfast and homework both go great here. A round table (whether an iconic marble Saarinen or IKEA’s budget-friendly version), a chair or two, and a solitary fixture are key.

For a family-friendly banquette, a stain-repellent upholstery is key. Try performance fabrics for easy clean up. (Crypton and Sunbrella have beautiful options.) Bonus points if the chosen fabric is patterned—the busyness will act as a camouflage for stains.

Here the lines of the light fixture run parallel to the lines of the windows, which complements the room’s architecture instead of competing with it.

If your space has odd angles, a round table will fit nicely in the room—you don’t have to worry as much about the table’s placement or lining it up with the wall. The three prongs of the light fixture ensure even lighting for all guests (or for doing puzzles).

If you’ve fallen in love with a fixture, but it’s too small for the space, double up! Here, two artful pendant lamps, originally designed by Mario Bellini for Artemide in 1974, offer ample lighting and a dose of symmetry.

If you don’t have a separate dining space, try out a small round table in the living room. It works as a charming spot for a leisurely Sunday brunch or for working on a puzzle.

I grew up with a similar antique buffet in my family’s dining room. It stored all of my mother’s fancy platters and table linens. If you love to entertain (and are blessed with a formal dining room), this is a must.

The buffet and dining chairs are in line with this home’s Spanish Revival architecture, but the table and light fixture add a bit of modern glam. It’s important to honor a home’s style, but mixing in pieces you love, even if they’re a departure from the architectural style, is the key to making it your own.