Dear Giant Dining Rooms…we’re just not that into you.
This keeps coming up…buyers looking at old and historic homes in the Fan, Church Hill and Museum District wondering how to make it work. In older homes, the dining room is usually the largest and grandest room in the house. It was the place to showcase a family’s finest objects and where the lady of the house demonstrated her excellent (and expensive) taste. It’s not unusual for these grand rooms to be between 220-300+ square feet. Multiple generations lived under one roof, so the dining room had to accommodate large groups for dinner every night of the week, unlike today where homeowners might host large gatherings only a few times a year.
Homes built in the 1980’s and 1990’s typically have dining rooms half the size of their earlier counterparts. In grand homes built today, even ones that top 4000 total square feet, dining rooms are typically no larger than 175 square feet.
To make matters even trickier, we all want the kitchen to be the center of family life. Everyone likes to gather and visit and party in the kitchen. But, when older homes were built, the kitchen was the lowliest place in the house. There was no attention to detail, no pretty finishes, no molding, cheap brick on the outside, little heat and ugly floors. The lady and gentleman of the house hardly went there. And certainly no guest ever visited the kitchen.
So, if you’re interested in purchasing and old and historic home, what do you do with such a huge chunk of real estate in your house?
Buyers have to use their imagination. You have to look at the space as just space. You have to decide how your family is going to live in the house, and make it work for you.
I have seen fantastic renovations in the Fan that include converting the large dining room area into a beautiful, eat-in kitchen. Often, that room opens up to other casual living areas like the family room (i.e. Great Room). There is the challenge of working around existing chimneys and multiple windows. Find someone who specializes in kitchen design in older homes. What you get is not a cookie-cutter kitchen, but hopefully one that enhances the existing architecture. You can certainly take advantage of the high ceilings to install LOTS of vertical storage. Can you say ‘custom cabinetry’??
Since they are ‘inside’ rooms, the dining room is usually darker than front and back rooms of a typical Fan townhouse and make great media rooms. Homeowners can install shelves to house books and media equipment. The rooms are large enough to easily accommodate large comfy sectional sofas and multiple seating areas. These dark and cozy spaces can easily become the most lived-in spaces in the house.
If you like to host large dinner parties, then an old and historic dining room is just the thing for you. They are located close the kitchen and if you’re lucky the original Butler’s Pantry will still be in place. These wonderful, small nooks are perfect for installing a wet bar and for storing all your favorite china and glassware. All you need is a HUGE dining room table, lots of chairs, a fabulous light fixture and lots of friends and family.