Experts: Demographics typically decide if homeowners desire dining rooms
Dining rooms once were centerpieces of the home, featuring decorative chandeliers and furniture suites with lighted china cabinets.
They still exist that way in many cases, but in some homes, they have become casual corners that architect Deborah Battistone calls a “dining space — not a room.”
They are a new centerpiece now — that of the great dining-room debate.
Michael Boruch of Moon knocked down the walls that once enclosed his 1958-era dining room. He now has an open space between the kitchen and foyer of the house with a table in a corner that can handle a meal — or a coffee-shop-like chat.
But Deborah Kane of Howard Hanna Real Estate's Monroeville office said the lack of a dining room can be a deal-stopper in a sale.
It is easier to sell a home without a living room, she said.
The debate even affects furniture sales. Lori Brasiola of Arnold Furniture near New Kensington said her company has about 10 formal dining room sets in stock. Fifteen years ago, she said, “we would have had as many as we could have put our hands on — at least twice as many.”
Elliot Fabri Jr. of South Fayette's EcoCraft Homes, a builder of high-end, modular homes, said it largely is a matter of demographics. Younger clients have little interest in dining rooms while older clients have always had one and wouldn't be without one.
“If there is some hesitation, I try to play the card that they could use that space better,” he said.
If they are open to change, he said, the space generally is connected to the kitchen — sometimes with an eating nook — or used to enlarge the living room.
That decision can have a great deal to do with where the homes are being built, he said. In the company's work in Newbury, a development in South Fayette, most of the clients are old enough to have families and want dining rooms.
When the company is working at other sites, such as in trendier Lawrenceville, the clients are younger and the room is not important, he said.
Use of the space is the most-important concept, said Bonnie Loya from Coldwell Banker's Peters office. Since the late 1990s, she said, open design has become popular, leading to first floors that merge kitchens and living areas. Meals often are served in areas off the kitchen that get names such as breakfast-, morning- or sunrooms, she said.
“People don't want to lose the space, but they use it differently,” she said.
Instead, that space is used for playrooms, dens or even bedrooms for elderly parents or children returning home after college.
She and Battistone from the South Side's Studio D'Arc think appreciation of open design is more of an issue than age when dining rooms are eliminated.
Loya said, however, that she tends to advise buyers who are changing the layout in houses to be mindful of the possibility of returning the design to its original form.
“You know how things are,” she said. “They come and they go. So it might be nice to put that wall back up to make a house more marketable if the more defined space becomes popular again.”
Hanna agent Michael Bassilios agreed that the flexibility of space must be kept in mind.
“As long as you have a place to put a dining room, taking it out is fine,” the agent said from the West Suburban office in Moon.
He said the dining room has maintained more popularity than some of its critics contend. While dining room suites might have declined, sales of tables still are strong, he said. They often are wedding gifts to young couples who want to retain a place for them in their new home.
“There is something sacred about them,” he said.
Arnold Furniture's Brasiola agreed that dining tables have retained their popularity, but he said the best-selling styles these days are more casual ones that can fit in a dining space that is not necessarily a dining room.
In redefining his dining room, Boruch used an L-shaped leather couch in the corner that bends around a glass table on a metal base — hardly the creature of a formal dining room. With tables on the other two sides, the site is ready for dinner.
The room becomes less of a traditional dining room because of the upholstered chairs and coffee table next to it.
Boruch said he is constantly in search of homes in which he can advocate that type of work. He said he became a fan of such styling when he was living on the West Coast and was exposed to the designs of real estate developer Joseph Eichler.
“An informal dining space is fine,” he said. “How often do you have guests over that you need a formal dining room?”
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.