The Dining Library

Do you have a formal dining room? (formal as in a separate room with at least 3 walls, not as in stylistically formal)

Do you use it often enough for its intended purpose to justify dedicating the square footage it claims in your home? Ever wish you could use the space more effectively, but don’t want to sacrifice your dining furniture and the flexibility to occasionally host larger gatherings? 

There’s no denying that people live and use space differently in their homes today than in decades past. Often an informal dining area within or adjacent to the kitchen sees daily use, while a formal dining room, if present, sees its use on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Families and friends tend to gather now more informally, and in Florida, we also tend to dine outdoors as often as possible. Unless the home is very large, a room used just twice a year is not what as an interior designer I would call an effective use of space.

So what does this mean for the formal dining room? Some homeowners repurpose what their original floor plan called the “Dining Room” for use as an office, a den, or a playroom for the kids instead. At my parents’ house it’s a cozy media room where the big screen TV and surround sound system can live, so the great room can be a TV-free gathering spot. Some new home builders now omit the separate dining room concept altogether. However, for those who prefer to keep their formal dining room but also capture more effective use of the space, here is one possible solution.

A library dining room can offer the best of both worlds to homeowners with books and collectible pieces to display (not just china!), who also want to maintain the flexibility to entertain a large party in a dedicated space. Done well, the dining-library combo can also make a unique and personal style statement, which I love. Formal dining rooms also tend to offer a lot of potential blank wall space for built-in bookcases vs. window space (which incidentally is another reason many Floridians prefer to dine mostly in our informal eat-in kitchens, where we can enjoy a better view of the year-round vibrant backyard, pool, ocean, pond, golf course, etc. with more windows). The blank walls of a standard formal dining room can be perfect real estate for a large collection of books.

If my next house has a formal dining room, this is what I will do with it. Pablo and I have a lot of books. I mean a lot. I couldn’t tell you how many, but I can tell you it would make for a showstopping dining library. Here are my tips for how to pull this off:

1.  Built-ins or bookcases should be of quality and make an architectural statement (whether that be classical, industrial, etc.)

Home of dress designers Mark Badgley + James Mischka featured in Elle Decor. source

2.  Don’t be afraid to apply color, even if on the inside back panels


3. If free-standing bookcases are used in lieu of custom built-ins, make them as tall as possible


4. Lighting is crucial! Over the table, go for a fixture with visual contrast. So against a relatively matte backdrop of wood built-ins, look for a chandelier or pendant with shine (glass, crystal, or polished metal) and against all the straight geometry of books and bookcases, go for a fixture with a round, curved, or irregular shape. For an added layer of detail and a more dramatic look in the evening, consider warm LED lighting concealed under the shelves, or a series of sconces mounted to the outside of the bookcase frame.

Perhaps a pair of these mercury glass lanterns by Visual Comfort hung over a rectangular wood table below
At only 2.5″ wide and available in several finishes, a series of these Huntley sconces by Urban Electric Co. would look fabulous on 3″+ wide vertical trim between built-ins
Concealed bookcase lighting creates a warm glow. source

Wishing you inspiration,


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