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Advice & More February 2016

Health, Wellness & the Good Life

Double-duty Dining Rooms

By Lynn Pribus

Furniture is always the key to a dining room with a split personality. Some furniture pieces can be opened to make substantial dining tables, then folded up again to take up very little room.

When people downsize, their new dwelling may have considerably less space, so it makes good sense to have a multi-purpose room. Depending on the floor plan, the dining room is frequently a prime candidate.

Often the dining area is fairly open with archways rather than doors. This lends it to being an extension of an adjacent area, often the living room, but perhaps with a more casual feel. For example, some wall storage units including space for a TV can create an entertainment center while bookshelves and comfortable chairs can turn the space into a library or den.

With a protective covering, a dining table can become a sewing or craft center. Supplies can be stored in wall units or on a pegboard concealed behind a large piece of artwork or a mirror.

A widower created a game room with a six-foot pool table which visiting grandchildren use for hours at a time. Two sheets of plywood fastened together with a piano hinge for compact storage quickly transform the pool table to a dining table at meal times.


The Basics

Furniture is always the key to a dining room with a split personality. Some furniture pieces can be opened to make substantial dining tables, then folded up again to take up very little room. One couple, for instance, found a drop-leaf table that’s seven feet long, but a mere 12 inches wide when the leaves are down. When guests are coming, they move the table from its place under the window, raise the leaves and can seat 12.

Another style is a table that opens out from a chest that stores the supports and leaves. When closed, it measures about three feet wide by two feet in depth, but when expanded it can comfortably seat 4-12 people depending on how many leaves are deployed.



If you create a home office in your dining area, be sure it can easily switch roles by choosing furniture that looks classy rather than industrial. For example, select a desk that can be closed to serve as a buffet while concealing your computer. Choose storage cabinets that can double as side tables. Since few dining rooms have closets, use an armoire or shelving with doors to hide business materials. Another option is to choose a drop-leaf desk and file units on casters so they can be easily moved and stored out of the way behind a screen or formal draperies of some sort.

Good lighting is essential in an office, so make provisions for that. And since the office may be seen from other rooms, it’s extra important to corral that mare’s-nest of wires under the desk


Guest Room

One grandmother recalls a family reunion when the dining table was moved to the garage and the floor was covered with air-mattresses for a flock of granddaughters, but that doesn’t work for most company.

It’s more likely that creating an additional bedroom will require some remodeling to add a door, although depending on the dining room’s relationship to other rooms (and your relationship to your guests) a folding screen could provide sufficient privacy.

Creating a guest room does not eliminate the possibility of the room still serving for dining. These days, fold-into-the-wall units still known as Murphy beds come in a remarkable array of styles and are both easy and safe to lower for use.

Some appear as a flat panel when closed, others as part of a wall storage unit. Designs may include shelving or space for artwork. Others are concealed by bookshelves that slide apart when the bed is to be pulled down. There are even bunk-bed styles which have their sides to the wall and hence take up less space.

A folding luggage stand can be provided for each guest and in the absence of a closet or armoire, a clothes tree can be put into service. You can find interesting ones in antique shops or a handy person could build one, perhaps in a style to complement the decor.

So use your imagination to create a double-duty dining room that increases your home’s usability.


In the days when Lynn Pribus taught guitar and banjo lessons, the dining room served as her music studio. Now, in her retirement home with her husband, the dining area doubles as a greenhouse with many growing plants.

Meet Lynn