When I show prospective tenants a home with a dining room, I typically call this separate, closed-off space a "bonus room," thinking no one wants a formal or separate dining room anymore. I'm always amazed by the number of people who do plan to use the space as a formal dining room -- I hear them discussing whether their dining table will fit.
But I'm not convinced dining rooms are still a thing. The question remains: Do buyers want a separate dining room, or are they happy with just an eat-in kitchen or breakfast nook?
It depends on the renter/buyer
A formal or separate dining room is likely a generational thing. Older generations tend to like them more than millennials. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), 43% of millennials prefer an open layout, where the family room/living room and dining room are all one big room that can be set up however the homeowner wants. This is compared with 40% of Generation Xers who prefer that design, 37% of boomers, and only 29% of Seniors who want that kind of completely open layout.
The breakfast nook
A dining room-kitchen combination, with the eating area often called a breakfast nook, has gained popularity with many buyers and renters. Half of all millennials and Gen Xers surveyed by the NAHB prefer an open kitchen and dining room to a separate dining room. Almost half of boomers (48%) prefer this setup as well. Seniors still like their separate dining room, as only 42% would prefer an open kitchen and dining room layout.
There's something to be said for tradition
As Tevye explains in the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof: "And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!"
Even though Tevye admits he doesn't know where all these traditions he follows started, they are traditions nonetheless. And that might be the reason, according to a 2019 survey by Del Webb (a subsidiary of PulteGroup (NYSE: PHM)) that 48% of boomers and a whopping 60% of Gen Xers say they want a dedicated dining room -- knowing they probably won't use it much.
How often is a dining room really used?
Of those who prefer a dining room, most use it only occasionally, according to Elyson by Pulte Homes. This builder points to research conducted by UCLA, which studied living patterns by observing 32 families. Not surprisingly, the kitchen is the most-used room, followed by the family room. The dining room is rarely used.
Anyone who's lived in a home where the dining room was used only for holiday meals can relate. You need a dedicated space to entertain for those important occasions. But what about the rest of the year, when the room sits unused?
How can existing dining rooms be repurposed/remarketed?
Clearly, lots of people no longer want or use a separate dining room, but if you own a house you plan to sell or rent with one, you don't need to knock down walls to accomplish an open layout. For one, lots of people still want a separate dining room, even if they don't use it much. So for those folks, your separate dining room fits their needs.
For the rest, one idea is to market the space as a "bonus room" or office, as I typically do. Home offices have always been popular, and after the coronavirus got people working from home (whether they wanted to or not), many discovered they liked it. Take that separate dining room, outfit it with French doors and built-in bookcases, and you have created a home office. Or if you add cabinets and a work desk area, you have created a craft/hobby room.
Other ideas include:
- An exercise/yoga/meditation room.
- A game room.
- A wine room/bar area.
- A music room.
A new trend?
Interior design site Modsy predicted in January that 2020 would be the year of the dining room. Why? Modsy has been increasingly busy designing dining rooms for customers, seeing a 156% increase since 2018. And with people spending more time at home lately because of COVID-19, people are rethinking the dining room as they dine in more and entertain small groups at home.
The bottom line
Having a formal or separate dining room is probably not as big a deal as it once was. But that doesn't mean dining rooms have gone the way of the icebox, root cellar, or phone niche -- there is still a market for them.
If you're trying to sell or rent a home with a separate dining room, don't despair. You can stage the home as a dining room or a kind of room you think those in your market would prefer. People will figure out something to do with the extra space. And that's always a bonus.