I've been wanting to write a post about the Dining Room for quite a while. In Australia, it's become virtually redundant in modern design to have a formal Dining Room. Our casual lifestyle means that more people have embraced the concept of open plan informal living… and devoting a space solely for formal Dining (and which will often only be used a handful of times at best per year) seems to be a waste of space.


Of course there is the other problem in that eating a meal from an actual dining table has become rare, and that more and more people fail to actually sit at a table for a meal together (or alone even). Many families, particularly those with teenagers or young adults in them, will have family members running on such varying schedules due to part-time jobs/ studying/ sport/ extra curricular activities that the act of actually sitting at one time together at a table has become a special occasion in itself due to rarity.


We all know the benefits that come with sharing a meal with others, so this post is not going to become a lecture on the importance of sitting down at a table while eating/ table manners/ placement of cutlery/social history of the dining room etc. I thought I'd instead discuss the selection of dining furniture.

Firstly: table size. Generally speaking you require 60cm per person in length for a long dining table. For a round table, you'll need a 135cm diameter to seat six, 150cm diameter to seat 8 and so on. When working out furniture placement in a room and table width, you'll need at least 1 meter behind a chair for push out/ pull in and general circulation space. It is always a good idea to get out a tape measure in the actual space and measure out your proposed table size, and use newspapers on the floor to mark it out properly so you can visualise it and make sure it works.


In terms of width of a table, a 1metre wide rectangular table is quite narrow - you won't be able to put much down the centre of the table if you like to put out dishes/ platters/ bowls with food on them. 1.2m wide is ideal, however it is better to go narrower if you don't have the 1m clearance around the table for the chairs as noted above.

John Stefanidis design circa 1990's

Tables can be very expensive, and generally it is they that make the most impact in a room in a decor sense. But I have to caution that the money you should invest in your setting should be in the chairs. If you consider how much wear and tear the chair gets, along with the fact that if you may end up sitting down for a long meal with friends for many hours (and therefore experience a sore back from a poorly designed chair), the chairs are the item worth investing in. You want something that is comfortable and durable with some degree of aesthetic flair.


If you buy cheap chairs you will get the same result that I have had with my horrible Eames replica chairs. They are uncomfortable to sit in, most are on the verge of collapse, and we are one short as one collapsed completely and could not be resuscitated. When we have people over we have to caution them on how to sit in the chairs so that they don't fall through the backs (it's happened a few times). We then spend most of the meal in a heightened state of anxiety as our guests's chairs creak and make cracking sounds, terrified they may end up on the floor. They were cheap, they are 6 years old, but I am not happy that they are going into landfill so soon after they were made. Such a waste on so many levels. The chairs were $100 each, which is pretty cheap in Australia for a new dining chair. So having said that, we bought 10 chairs, and $1,000 seemed like a lot at the time considering that the dining table was so expensive and we were paying for the entire new dining furniture all at once. Now, six years later… it seems like we've wasted the money. With hindsight I'd far rather have bought fewer, more expensive (durable) chairs and gradually built it up to a set of 10 then have bought the cheap ones all at once, with an end result of broken, uncomfortable and essentially unusable chairs. The saying "when you buy quality, you only cry once" is pretty apt.

my broken Eames Replica chairs

So the short version of that tale of woe is that now I advise people to put the money into the chairs. A cheaper dining chair that is well made is around the $400 mark when new (in Australia) with prices going up from there. $850 will buy you a real Eames dining chair, and there are of course chairs that are upwards of $3000 each depending on who designed them.

Another consideration when looking to buy your dining furniture is to consider who is using it. If you have a young family, or a family of teenagers then buying a highly polished "perfect" looking dining table may end up causing you a lot of angst if your family are not terribly well behaved with it. While I do not advocate waiting until your children leave home to buy good furniture and making do with the shabby in the meantime, you just have to buy wisely so that your choice reflects your lifestyle particulars and also has some aesthetic value. Our dining table is made from recycled wood and has a distressed finish. This has worked well with babies and small children who have scratched and banged and added to the general distress in a way that works with the original design. It was not my first choice of table - that was a more perfect looking modern designer table…. but having returned from a day of looking at tables in showrooms and then watching my oldest child (who was 2.5 at the time) smash his little fork into the existing dining table a few times that night while having his dinner, the distressed finish and more rustic table was chosen.

 my rustic style dining table in our casual living area

Similarly, buying upholstered chairs when you have toddlers or young children is a recipe for disaster. There are a lot of chairs available in either plain timber finishes or in polypropylene that are wipeable, and it's far better to accommodate the actuality of your life, than to have chairs that are encrusted with the remnants of meals past.

my Sideboard

 my sideboard with food served buffet style for a dinner party

I'd also suggest that if you can possibly accommodate somewhere else to serve food off, you'll be very pleased to have it for larger meals. We have our French antique cherry wood side board, which is extra wide. It's perfect for putting out platters of food and doing a meal buffet style, or for holding all the bottles of wine and extra things for meals that are already plated and served to table. If you're in an open plan living room your kitchen island bench may double up for this, but if you can accommodate the extra bit of furniture it's well worth it as it will keep the kitchen free for the actual act of cooking.

rustic table dressed up for a dinner party

In terms of formal dining in a separate room, things have changed drastically in the formal dining room in the past 10 years. For a start, as more and more people have done away with having a special dedicated stand alone room, the very formal furniture has naturally been jettisoned as well. Auction rooms are awash with Georgian, Regency, Victorian and Edwardian era Dining furniture from extension tables that will accommodate up to 14 or 16, sets of balloon back dining chairs, and large and heavy sideboards. In the early 1980's Victorian furniture was highly fashionable, as were large formal dining rooms, and now with our more casual lifestyle they are most definitely not. Like anything, it's cyclical so if you're after a bargain for the future and have room to accommodate it then a formal table and chairs might be a good investment. The big tip is that "brown furniture" as it has been called in a slightly derogatory manner for the past 15 - 20 years is starting to become fashionable again, so if you're interested in antiques these are the things to buy now. And if you're someone who has adult children that have stated they're not interested in inheriting your cherished family antiques, sit tight as they may yet change their mind.



Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece's Dining room in London via

It always feels special to me to be invited to someone else's home for  meal - no matter if it's a simple Lasagna and a salad (as one friend used to make for us in Melbourne - she would say she wasn't a good cook, so would make what she was good at, and wouldn't use the excuse that it wasn't gourmet fare and multiple courses to not have people over). The act of hospitality is a great pleasure when we are living in a world so rushed, and in which it's becoming so difficult to make meaningful connections due to the pace of life. It's most definitely something worth celebrating with some decent dining furniture.


48 comments:

  1. Another great post. I am glad to hear ‘brown furniture’ is coming around again and yes, our grown up kids are now showing interest in our cast offs which I have loved so much I couldn’t bear to part with, (and have stored away.)
    The gate leg table looks like going to our son’s apartment when he moves in, along with some 1930s chairs. Other pieces have come and gone depending on whether they have fitted the location. I feel like a furniture hire company! Love your rustic table too and always salivate at that light fitting! Tonkath

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    1. Oh that's very funny about the furniture hire company… I think I've done that to my parents a few times in the past - as I'd move into a smaller place or back into something bigger or upgrade a piece things tend to bounce back and forward between our houses for storage or borrowing. Glad you held onto your cherished bits and pieces though, and so nice to hear your children are appreciating them too Tonkath.

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    2. Sorry to but in here but I've just gone through the same experience as Tonkath after moving out of our terrace in Sydney. Brown furniture hooray!!! I also have storage items, am praying the kids will look after their respective acquisitions!

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  2. H, your dining room table is gorgeous. I find it really tricky trying to figure out where to spend the money. I love buying less and buying better quality, however I do struggle with selecting furniture and knowing whether pieces will last, especially when moving from house to house and room sizes etc. Think our next upgrade will be a dining room table and chairs, so I loved reading this post x

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    1. If you're not sure about the size of room you're going to end up with you could investigate buying an extension table - there are some more modern ones if you're wanting something modern in style (doesn't have to be Victorian), but it solves the dilemma of what you might end up accommodating. Our table was bought when we were in our cottage and i bought the biggest we could fit with it pushed up against one wall on a short end. I wanted something big enough to accommodate children and guests in the future… so a table for 10 it was. But the chairs are definitely worth investing in! I can't emphasise this enough based on my experience with those terrible collapsing chairs.

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  3. I love brown furniture and I love having people over for dinner as often as possible!

    Isn't Marie Chantal's dining room lovely?

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    1. her whole house is so stunning - I love following her on insta to sneak a peek at the different rooms (and private jets etc…)

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  4. Heidi these posts could form a book that would be very useful, your writing is so clear and interesting! Good advice regarding the chairs and from personal experience too. When our children were young we used a long rustic table made of old pine which was perfect as the extra distressing added to its charm. When we moved into our Edwardian house it didn't quite suit and within a couple of years we bought a proper dining set, Edwardian with 10 chairs. Actually Christopher found it for us, he has such an interest in antique furniture. We found a sideboard in the same style just last year and it's a very welcome addition to our dining room.
    We use our dining room for every single meal, we don't have an eat-in kitchen and have stuck to the original lay-out of the house. I do spend quite a bit of time polishing that table but I love the room, though now we need more lighting and perhaps another side table or a desk perhaps with a small lamp. Finishing touches really!
    Interesting that brown furniture is on the rise again, I know it's been a great time to buy antiques here as well. The old stuff is made so well though of course it's not cheap to maintain, I had my 10 chairs re-upholstered last year and it was very expensive indeed.
    What will you do about your own chairs? Will you eventually replace them do you think? xo

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    1. I'm currently on the hunt for new chairs, but it's a bit like goldilocks at the moment - as they need to be child friendly, but adult looking, but comfortable… and so I haven't found just the right thing yet. Hopefully soon as every time we have people over (which seems to be every week at the moment) we spend so much time sitting on them and vow to get new ones asap.
      Your dining room sounds so lovely Dani, and I love that you use it every day. The older furniture is so well made and comparable quality furniture that is new is unbelievably expensive. It really is a buyers market at the moment so well worth buying in bits and pieces. xx

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  5. Do love your dining area Heidi. Beautiful and so perfect for your house and family!

    As you've pointed out, dining furniture can be really tricky. At our little house, we do have a separate dining room but it's very small. When it came time to replace the old furniture after the nest was empty, we couldn't find anything new we either liked or that was appropriate for the room. All the modern dining chairs seemed to be so large with very high backs (perhaps more comfortable, not sure) but I think they're probably designed this way because the dining area is now generally part of a big open plan area (as you've already covered) - and the high back chairs become a feature and differentiate this area from the other space. But they were just too big and bulky for our small room.

    Eventually we ended up buying old brown furniture. The table is French cherry wood with parquet squares on the top, from the early 20th century. It only seats six but can be extended for eight. It's already semi distressed so wasn't too worried about the grandchildren, who, being girls tend to be quite dainty and careful anyway. We found the table at the National Gallery shop at the end of an exhibition of French Impressionists. It was used to display objects for sale that related to the Exhibition. As the surface emptied I suddenly thought it would be perfect for us - and it is. Then we had the problem of finding chairs - but luckily a local antique shop had 8 old English brown chairs that work quite well with it and seem to be pretty comfortable. Hopefully they're solid (they seem to be).

    Years ago when we lived in a tropical climate in Colombo the dining room seated 12 on old English chairs. One evening during dinner one of our unfortunate guests completely disappeared under the table as his chair crumbled under him. Not a large man either. The chair had just become very fragile without our knowledge. Luckily he wasn't hurt, just a bit embarrassed. We found him another chair and gave him a nice big glass of wine and many apologies. Pammie

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    1. I remember a similar thing happening with one of my parent's dinner parties and a Victorian balloon back chair. They can get a little wobbly with age, and people don't sit so upright any more so you find a lot more strain on the junction between seat and back where they lean.
      Love the sound of your table, it sounds just beautiful Pammie! xx

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  6. I want your chandelier - DIVINE!!!! The trend away from a formal dining room is catching on here in DC, as well. When I tour new homes / constructions, there are still formal dining rooms but they are getting smaller in size. Fabulous post. xo

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    1. Thanks Loi, we just are so thrilled with it, it was made by a local craft collective. I've noticed new homes in the US are still built with Dining rooms, but it really is becoming rare in Australia now. xx

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  7. Great post!! Your dining area is beautiful and the light fixture is just stunning. We are still definitely in the shabby table stage. My son has ground his fork into the table on at least a few occasions and I've given up my upholstered chairs as a loss. We will change to a new table and chairs once the kids are older.

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    1. Upholstered chairs are not great with kids, or things with lots of weave in the seat (like wicker or rush seats) which can trap breakfast cereal and become impossible to remove. You have my sympathies Louise! x

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  8. What an interesting post. So much to talk about! I so agree with you re buying cheapo furniture. It's heartbreaking about your chairs. I can feel your pain. We always had dinner at the table until the boys left home. They still know where we are sitting every nite at 5pm.

    And what a joy it is to be invited to a dinner party. It's such a rare pleasure these days. xo

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    1. It is SO rare to be invited to people's homes these days Janet, it's strange given how popular cooking and entertaining shows are on TV it seems everyone likes to watch others doing it but not do it themselves! I know I really appreciate being invited to other people's houses as a result.

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  9. Thanks for a great post, Heidi! I love my dining room set and we eat there every day, en famille, early or late depending on kid's schedules. My table is 120 years old and was my great-grandparents and is the great joy of our house!

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    1. I love your dining setting too Wendy, and especially love that it is a very treasured family piece with all the memories that go with it. I'm sure your Great-Grandparents would be so thrilled their family is still sitting down together at the setting they bought.

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  10. Years ago I bought a cheap IKEA round extension table. A bit nasty to look at but with a stylish floor length cloth (al la 'skirted round table' it has always looked interesting dressed with flowers, lamp or whatever. 24 years on and I still use that table for all meals with guests. The key thing is the comfy chairs. Couldn't agree more. Excellent post.

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    1. Very clever with the skirted table concept - I've seen that done a lot in English interiors, but for some reason it's not so common here in Australia (and I don't know why - it looks fabulous). Sounds like you got your priorities right too with the chairs Judith!

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  11. Fabulous post Heidi and good advice. We built on a conservatory style dining room back in 1997( glass walls solid roof). We have never regretted it. So many celebrations held in it. I've had as many as 14 people around the table. My husband made it from Kauri timber. It's a rustic style and I love it. Previously I had a highly polished table that use to make me feel stressed every time we sat down to eat. Because of lack of money we started out with plastic garden chairs not a good idea. Thanks for your efforts with these informative posts. Your dining space is beautiful and I think being invited to someone's place or having people over tops a restaurant any day.

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    1. How wonderful your husband made your dining table! That is very special indeed, and kauri is such a lovely timber it really must be a fabulous centrepiece of your conservatory. Agree with you about going to someone's home - so much nicer, and dinner progresses at a more leisurely pace than when you're at a restaurant and being rushed out the door so they can seat the next lot of patrons...

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  12. I love everything about that first picture (and MC's dining room). Thanks for the informative post. I want to do a sideboard in my dining room, so will measure the space as you suggest: nothing worse than overcrowding a room. I say dining room, but it is (as I think I've explained before) a strange L shaped room that resembles a tetris piece.
    xx

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    1. Definitely squeeze a sideboard in if you can fit it Charlotte - they are such useful pieces of furniture to have. But I know you've had problems working out your furniture arrangement in that room due to its odd shape, so you'll just have to try to do what looks right and works on a practical level too… look forward to hearing what you do! xx

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  13. Thanks for the lovely post Heidi! I have opted for a dining room in this house as I grew tired of the open plan situation we've had before. I do wish however, that our table was slightly wider as I'm not able to place platters etc down the middle. I love the painting above your sideboard as well as the fab light fitting! xx

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    1. I'd love to do platters down the middle of my table too Jenny, but it doesn't fit - unfortunately we had to buy a table that worked in our old (tiny) cottage, so it was narrower than what would have been the ideal size. xx

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  14. Timely post! I am mulling over the issue of chairs as I will be hosting my very first Easter lunch for family and am just beginning to set up house (read: no room in the budget for 8 decent chairs.) I've decided to invest in two good chairs (for the oldies) and the other 6 can be IKEA and hopefully by Christmas I can afford the other 6.

    "The saying "when you buy quality, you only cry once" is pretty apt."
    Ain't that the truth!

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    1. Oh it's a saying I've definitely learnt from over big and small things too. The chairs would have to be the biggest error I've made in the furniture department - I buy for the long term, so it makes me so annoyed that they're as awful as they are.
      Hope you had a wonderful Easter, and sounds like you worked out a good practical solution to the chair conundrum.

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  15. Such a fabulous painting Heidi. I love it!
    And your lights are stunning too.

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    1. We never get tired of looking at that painting Si! And love the lights too (although not dusting them.. which is a massive pain!)

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  16. All your topics are so relevant to me right now. I have been planning a trip to Sydney in May to check out a couple of dining tables I've had my eye on and thank goodness I read your post. One of the tables is only 95cm wide! I will give this one a miss now that I realise there will be no room to place serving plates in the centre. I like the size of your dining table. Is it 2.4m x 1.2m? I agree with the others - you should write a book! - Denita

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    1. Hi Denita - the table is 2.6 x 1m - so is a 10 seater, but a bit of a squeeze for a 10. If we'd bought the table now I would have had a wider one to be able to set out platters better, and a fair bit longer to to make a generous 10 seat… at the time we were very space constrained, so this was the biggest we could comfortably buy (I was buying with an eye to the future and a larger house). Good luck with your table hunt!

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  17. Loved this post especially the bit about chairs, "encrusted with remnants of past meals". That was one criteria for buying our chairs.
    Our kids now aged 11 & 13 prefer to wait for dinner so we can all sit down together & chat every night, despite fact that their activities all finish at different times every weeknight except Monday nights. Den xxx

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    1. That's so nice your kids like to eat with you Den - you've obviously done the right thing at some point. Ours definitely have the idea that you don't eat with the TV on, and comment on it if they see someone in a tv show doing that.. so they're used to sitting up and chatting together as well. xx

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  18. What a great post...I agree with everything you've said, especially about the ideal width of 1200 mm and buying good chairs. Unfortunately, like you, we purchased 12 'cheap' chairs a few years ago because even though they were low cost individually, the multiple x12 factor blew the budget! We have been lucky to have had no breakages but they look worn and tired already. New, 'good' chairs definitely on my long wish-list!
    We have antiques in storage and a mash of other pieces of differing styles that like TonKath gets regularly loaned out to the nest leavers and then returned or swapped! My daughter calls the basement storage area the 'free ebay shop'!

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    1. You sound a bit like my Aunt KL, who has an area like you're describing too! That's very annoying about the chairs you've had, it is hard though to find chairs that tick all the boxes.. especially on the cost front when you need so many of them. Hopefully i'll find something this year that works. xx

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  19. We don't have a formal dining area- perhaps when we renovate. I hadn't ever realised there was a formula to table room per person, but will keep this in mind when entertaining. So sad about that Eames chair replica. Just brought child versions of the Eames chair replica from ALDI- Hope that doesn't happen! My father in law used to have an antique furniture shop, so we inherited a lot of our furniture when they closed. There's still a lot in storage- it's not very child friendly.

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    1. I have kids sized Eames replica ones, and so far they've been sturdier than the adult version!! Lucky you with your inheritance!!! I love a few hand me downs, especially if they're antique!

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  20. Your table seems to lend itself to casual or dressed to go to the ball - its the glamour of those lights and that art work isn't it?
    We just have a table in the kitchen where only six can sit though we've crammed 10 in there many times. I 've realised the big thing as the chairs have to be comfy so people can loll around for hours. In my next life i would love to get some chairs with arms on them, as that's when you can really be comfy. We have 8 guy friends who are really tall over 6.5 and I don't think they find the Philipe Stark Louis terrible comf.

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    1. well, kind of! It's a ball that involves rickety chairs that you might find yourself falling through!! Agree with you about the chairs, and it's what is making it hard to pick replacements - I want something super comfy so that we can sit for a long time at the table when we have people over, but they also have to be easy to clean… sometimes mutually exclusive.

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  21. Beautiful images, I have always been a great fan of Victorian furniture. It is such a shame that dinner parties a a rare occasion these days. I recently purchased a beautiful new Victorian dining room table and chair set- just need to invite some friends round to entertain now!

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    1. How lovely Hannah - I'm sure your new setting will have some fab dinner parties in its future by the sound of it. Agree with you how sad that dinner parties are a thing of the past, no one seems to entertain like that any more which makes it all the more special when you're invited over.

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  22. I think people are crazy to give up their dining rooms! But then again I use mine all the time and realize a lot of people don't. Mine is large and I wish it were larger!

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    1. Your dining room is really lovely Stephen, but so many that I see in real estate listings are bland soul-less rooms that you can see are rarely used. I think that's the thing about all rooms - they need to be used to feel full of life, if you have a room in your house that you don't have a purpose for other than a formal dinner or to sit in (no tv, books, music etc) then it won't get used. xx

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  23. Another fabulous room! The artwork and light fixture are truly amazing! Your thoughts on dark wood furniture are very interesting and I agree that it is only a matter of time until it is "back in fashion!" I have always thought that a couple of dark wood items of furniture in a room help anchor the room, especially if the floors are light in colour. Emma x

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  24. Thanks Heidi for a terrific blog. Can you please suggest where I could get a similar table to yours..? I love it and it would be perfect for our family.

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    1. Hi Spencerx4 - the table was from Coco Republic. I know they still make them as a friend recently bought one but am not sure what the table is actually called! Definitely a good family dining table - it has hidden childish graffiti, scratches and hot plate marks.

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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