Formal Dining Room Design Ideas

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Design Approach

If you are lucky enough to have space for a formal dining room, embrace the opportunity to create a luxurious atmosphere for your friends, family, and visitors. Believe it or not, you can design a formal dining room without a massive budget. You don't need to be a billionaire to create a room that's elegant and uniquely you.

You may want to consider making a substantial financial investment; however, you can spend what you want - find items on a budget, or buy them in excellent secondhand condition. Even if your room is small, you can still design it in a way that looks elegant. Just do your best not to cram more furniture than the room can handle. Avoid buying something because you think that you should have it. By overdoing it, you can easily transform a design approach from classy to clutter.

In general, a formal dining room is not a space that you use on a daily basis to hang out or eat. It's usually an area that is reserved for special occasions only, where you can host holiday dinners or social gatherings. From an aesthetic perspective, a formal dining room helps to put your home's best face forward. Some people follow a flashy, elegant, and ornate decorating approach, while others incorporate simplistic designs that are equally classy. A formal dining room is one space where you can devote as much attention as you would like to décor.

Stylistic Details & Color

Historically, some formal dining rooms doubled as drawing rooms. These spaces were extremely elegant with ornate wallpaper and Victorian themes.

Imagine: large windows, red velvet draping curtains, a grandfather clock, 18thcentury portraits, fireplaces, and beautiful Persian rugs. They were large dining spaces that could fit as much elaborate décor as possible.

Of course, if you want an elaborate Victorian theme, you should go for it. If you have the money to spend, invest in décor that will reflect the elegant design themes of the 18thcentury. Allow your room to reflect the flamboyant style of byzantine era, or tone it down a bit for a room that is as simplistic and classy as it is elegant.

Formal Dining Room Formal Dining Room

In general, today's formal dining rooms incorporate more modern themes such as bold colors and minimalism. While an over-the-top modern theme may not work well, you can still consider incorporating splashes of bright colors and rectangular shapes. There's no cookie-cutter approach to designing a formal dining room, and you can experiment with different colors, trends, styles, and approaches to achieve your desired effects. Rely on contrasting shades, or blend colors to orient and streamline your formal dining room's look. Choose a color or pattern to direct the dominant focus of your theme.

Neutral shades and pastel colors are great options to consider if you're unsure where to begin or how to choose a unifying decorative theme. Cream, olive green, beige, mango, yellow, pastel pink, and faded burgundy are all options worth considering.

Keep in mind that symmetry is a major stylistic principle of most dining rooms. Think about it: your plates and silverware are arranged symmetrically as are chairs. Keep symmetry in mind when you are selecting décor, lighting, mirrors, and other design elements.


Many formal dining rooms use wood as the defining characteristic for elegance. Choose cherry wood tables and chairs in a deep mahogany or brown, or select elegant oak instead - it depends on your preferences. Keep in mind that you should probably choose a high quality and durable wood. Usually, pine is not ideal for formal dining room furniture because of its light color and less than ideal build quality. Use wood that will impress your visitors.

Formal Dining Room Formal Dining Room

Everything about a formal dining room should be elegant, especially your dinnerware. Put your crystal glasses and hand-painted dishes on display in a large curio cabinet with glass windows. If you have something that's beautiful, make the most of it and keep it on display.


The lighting in a formal dining area should create a relaxing ambiance. Overall, the light should be dim with focus directed to the prepared meal. An overhead light over your dining room table is the best way to accomplish this objective. Consider installing a chandelier or hanging overhead light to emphasize the dining room's elegant look and feel.

Formal Dining Room Lighting Formal Dining Room Lighting Formal Dining Room Lighting

Also pay attention to the different effects that different types of light create. Compact fluorescent bulbs create a whitish hue while LED lights have a bluish tint. Halogen bulbs produce a warm and golden effect.

Additional options for lighting in formal dining rooms include recessed light, tall floor lamps, and sconces.

A formal dining room that maximizes its natural light looks especially elegant. A skylight may not be ideal for this type of space, but a large bay window may match with the room's architecture. If you feel that your space is too bright, install drapes or curtains to help the room appear dimmer. Translucent curtains will filter light while adding color to it. Curtains with a pattern will add decorative style to your dining area with an artistic look and feel.


Personalize your formal dining area. If you love art and sculptures, put some on display - just make sure to arrange them so that the room appears symmetric. If you have one painting on one side of the room, hand another panting on that same wall or across the room to create symmetry.

Formal Dining Room Formal Dining Room

Personalize your dining room's style even further by decorating the space with family portraits and photography. Nothing says elegance like family, so put yours on display. If you have wallpaper, be careful not to over clutter your walls with photographs. Your guests will love your art if you incorporate an element of personality, so have fun expressing yourself with a style that's completely yours.


Paint and wallpaper are both ideal options for walls in a formal dining room. Choose neutral shades, ornate patterns, or experiment with pastel or bold colors - what you select depends on the aesthetic affect that you'd like to achieve. Some people will also incorporate metallic elements such as a gold or copper color in the form of either wallpaper or paint.

If you're worried about overwhelming your formal dining room with a particular color, choose to incorporate accent trims or accent walls to add a splash of detail, design, and color.

Some formal dining rooms have walls that are made from oak wood panels. See if this is an option that you would enjoy for your room, especially if you want to give your dining area an earthier and natural aesthetic.

Last Updated: January 18, 2012
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About Ritika Puri Based in California, Ritika Puri has worn a number of professional hats ranging from blogger to quantitative researcher, martial arts instructor, and cartographer. No matter what she does, she loves to write and specializes in topics related to home improvement, personal finance, and business. She writes regularly for's Financial Edge section, and her work has appeared on SF Gate, Yahoo! Finance, and The Chicago Sun Times Online. She holds a B.A. from Claremont McKenna College and an M.A. in Demographic and Social Analysis from the University of California at Irvine.  

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