10 Dining Room Decor Ideas For Entertaining

For a well prepared host, being guest-ready goes beyond the table setting.

Southerners are not known for being short on conversation and that extends to mealtime around the table, where dinner becomes dessert, which more often than not seamlessly flows into after-dinner drinks and more laughter. Though the kitchen will always be the heart of a Southern home, when it comes to hospitality, the dining room is a close second. Whether you have a formal dining room or not, chances are if you’re hosting a dinner party, the table is where you’ll be spending the most time with your guests. 

In the South, hosting has been ingrained in us from a young age. Knowing how to greet guests at the door, always having a beverage to offer, or how to set the table were part of our education, but how to decorate the dining room was likely not on the curriculum. It’s a room that comes in many forms and plays host to elaborate dinner parties and weeknight family dinners alike, so we have a few design tips that go beyond paint colors and dining room style inspiration to help the gathering space work for any occasion. From tables to seating, here are our best decor ideas for an entertaining-ready dining room.

Nashville Showcase House


Always Have Extra Seating

“Sprinkle extra dining chairs around the house—in a hallway, the powder room, or even as a desk chair—that can be easily used when you have a big crowd,” advises Mary Celeste Beall, Proprietor of Blackberry Farm. While a matching set might be ideal, they don’t all have to be the same; having a seat for each guest is far more important. If you have a sideboard, flank it with a pair of matching chairs for easy-to-reach additional seat. Bonus: It’s a decorative touch that fills an otherwise empty space. If you don’t have room around the house, consider keeping a few extras tucked away. “Depending on the style of chair, they can also be stored by hanging them on heavy duty, plastic-coated hooks in a garage or basement,” says Beall.

Have Multiple Light Sources

The feeling of a room goes beyond paint, furniture, and fabrics; lighting can also make a huge impact, especially when it comes to entertaining. Set the ambiance by installing a dimmer to adjust the lighting based on your needs, from elegantly moody candlelit dinners to welcoming, light-and-bright dinner parties. Various lighting options, from chandeliers to table lamps dispersed throughout the space, also help control the amount of light so you don’t have to choose between sitting in bright lights or the dark.

Dining room with oriental rug
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Barbara Schmidt

Consider Nearby Storage

From built-ins and hidden cabinetry to antiques and sideboards, keep your favorite linens, silver, and other company-worthy tableware in or near the dining room. Doing so will keep you from scrambling around the house when it comes time to set the table. “If you don’t have a sideboard or want a more versatile piece of furniture, a chest of drawers in a dining room works well for storage and doubles as a surface for serving,” says Beall.

Choose Your Fabrics Wisely

While bespoke fabrics look beautiful and make a statement, think carefully about where you put them. For hardworking spaces like the dining room, look for treated and coated fabrics to ward off stains of messy guests and little ones. Use textiles, especially on seating, that can hold up to thorough cleaning. This goes beyond furniture too. To make clean-up manageable, avoid hand-wash-only tablecloths and napkins.

Shaun Smith New Orleans Ranch Dining Room
Laurey W. Glenn

Bring The Outdoors In

There are few things guests notice more quickly (aside from good or bad smells) when they enter your home than fresh flowers on the table. While it’s not always feasible to display a beautiful arrangement every time company comes, having a plant or flowers in every room makes a home feel especially inviting. Here, tall plant stands have a permanent home in the dining room, but you can also use indoor or outdoor plants to style a space for celebrations, like Hilton Carter does here.

Extend The Table

When designing your dining room, consider investing in a table with a leaf that can be added or removed depending on your number of guests. This will give you the flexibility to host a big dinner party without having a large table impeding your everyday movement through the room. Now, if you’re entertaining a crowd bigger than your table can seat, don’t be afraid of getting creative. As one who often hosts beyond her table’s capacity, Beall says a simple, plastic folding table with a generous tablecloth to cover the legs is a great option.

Allison Allen Atlanta Home Dining Room

Brian Woodcock; Styling: Page Mullins

Make Passed-Down Furniture Work For You

If you've inherited pieces of furniture from your grandparents or parents, but you're not sure what to do with them, follow designer Allison Allen's lead. In this dining room, she left as-is the table and sideboard inherited from the homeowners’ grandparents, but opted to recover the tired upholstery. The easy-to-clean green faux leather and fresh coat of white paint on the dining chairs help to balance the beloved pieces with the rest of the young family's home.

Don’t Forget About The Sideboard

If you’re not using it as a serving station for desserts or drinks, don’t let it sit empty and forgotten. Turn it into a curated mini cocktail bar, add dried or faux florals in a large vase, or house a special collection of items—like bud vases, silver goblets, and candle holders—that often make their way into your tablescapes.

Christina Lynch dining room

Amy Neunsinger

Nothing Too Precious

There’s an art to striking a balance between practical and pretty. Minimize the stress of choosing the perfect table and select one that’s worn in and can stand up to anything—candle wax drips, water marks, and oily food stains included. For Cristina Lynch, her dining room is often used, which meant not choosing any furniture that felt too fancy or fussy for her kids to comfortably sit, eat, and inevitably make a mess. You can also get creative when it comes to the table top. “A cotton shower curtain with an interesting print can work well as a table topper or tablecloth depending on the size of your table,” says Beall.

Open Up Small Spaces

In almost any room of your home, a mirror can work like magic in opening up the area—especially when it can reflect natural light flowing in through the windows. For small spaces, a mirror is an easy way to keep it from feeling stuffy, while helping it live larger. Try hanging one above your sideboard or on an empty wall in your dining room. 

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