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Solutions for Dinners in Small Dining Areas

Americans are casual diners, so not everyone has a formal dining room for dinner parties. Whether you just have a small dining room or you are planning a meal for a dozen guests and you don’t have space, let alone a big-enough tablecloth, don’t panic! Consider the following suggestions:

  • Bring into play a couple of sawhorses and a 4-x-6-foot sheet of sturdy 3/4-inch plywood as a table for 10 or more guests. Pad the plywood with a thick blanket and cover it with a cloth (king-sized sheets work well) to hide the legs. Add a generous centerpiece, and you and the table are all set.

  • Try a wash-and-wear flat sheet as an impromptu tablecloth. Usually even an expensive sheet is much less expensive than a similarly sized tablecloth, so consider buying designer sheets at discount stores for this very purpose. (Does it matter that they’re often irregulars? Not a bit.) And napkins can be in coordinating solids, which makes buying them on sale easier.

  • Find charming, patterned, standard pillowcases to make instant slipcovers for ladder-back or folding side chairs. Gather the top corners and tie each corner with a grosgrain ribbon. Fold hems inside and scrunch under the bottom of the pillowcase where it bunches at the seat.

  • Knot a big tablecloth’s corners for a casual meal at a smaller table. For a fancy table, tie a beautiful ribbon around each corner, gathering them up until the cloth fits.

  • Use one or more round, glass-topped, or mesh outdoor tables for indoor dining. Disguise them by padding the top with a blanket or quilt and adding a round tablecloth that drops to the floor. Use a king-sized sheet and tuck the corners underneath so that the cloth looks round, if you don’t have time or want to cut and hem it. The tablecoverings don’t have to be identical. Make each quite different from the other and then offer guests their choice. It’s fun for everyone.

  • Create a candelabra by grouping your candlesticks on top of a raised cake stand. If you’re placing the candlesticks on untempered glass, protect the glass from the candle heat with a coaster or other heat-absorbing surface.

Don’t crowd a formal dining room. If your dining room is too small for a china cabinet, table and chairs, and adequate room to walk around the room, you can compensate beautifully with a narrow, wall-hung shelf (which doubles as a buffet) with a large mirror above.

Take a look at the following furniture strategies for small dining rooms:

  • Build in your buffet: Custom furniture can be smaller than readymade pieces, so it can conserve space in a smaller room.

  • Place your china cabinet in a nearby space accessible from the dining room: Most furniture is designed for flexibility, so it works in more than one room. Putting the cabinet in a hallway or living room nearby where ample room is available can prevent you from having to crowd a small space.

  • Select chairs with see-through backs: These chairs seem to take up less space than chairs with solid backs.

  • Substitute smaller pieces for a standard china cabinet: A 10-x-48-inch glass shelf on gold or silver standards above a narrow buffet, a serving piece, or a 30-inch-high bookcase all work wonders. Store and display china at the same time by using small easels on glass shelves.

  • Use no high furniture; stick to pieces with a low profile: The lower the furniture is, the more open the view and the more airy and spacious the room will look.

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