Some of the old books I’ve collected over the years have rightfully been culled, or “weeded” from libraries because their subjects are not immune to the whims of fashion and time. I pick them up because they are a hoot. But more seriously, because skimming through them, reading how certain the writers were that this will never go out of style, seeing them try to justify calling cowhide upholstery ‘beautiful’, reminds me that things do often change for the better.
What follows is a blog post I wrote in 2016. All of the images and un-cited quotes about dining rooms are from Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975). Note the holes in the image. The book is a five-ring binder, making it easy for the homemaker (lovely word) to remove a page and take it to her local furniture, rug, or paint store.
An article by Jennifer Graham at Acculturated made the rounds over the weekend. Titled, “Why Millennial Home Buyers Want Play Rooms Not Dining Rooms,” the article looks at the “decline of old-fashioned adulthood.” It was an interesting article with the obligatory troll who said,
What a load of crap. The concept of a “dining room” did not even exist for 99% of humanity until the late 19th Century. For most of human history people lived in 1-room shelters, if they were lucky enough to have that.
[2022 NOTE: the site doesn’t exist anymore; the Wayback machine has the original article which is all in favor of dining rooms]
Now, I have sworn off the habit of commenting online. But you see what’s wrong here, right? If I’m not mistaken it’s the genetic fallacy: the value of X is based on the history or origin of X. Just because 99% of humans didn’t have a dining room means you shouldn’t have one either.
So I said,
And speaking of crap, as in a place to do so without freezing your tushy off, neither did bathrooms, hot water heaters, furnaces, K-cup coffee and many other things I’ll bet you have in your crappy little apartment.
Dining rooms represent the height of civilization. They are spaces where friends and families linger long after they’ve finished eating. To have this sort of leisure at the end of the day– in your own home– is the very essence of what humans have worked and sacrificed for for thousands of years.
If you don’t understand that, I feel sorry for you.
Anyway… . As we all know, old stuff is good. Rooms in which families and friends dine are among the best of the best old stuff. I appreciate that kids put a real chink in having a nice dining room where one can display one’s shiny things. I understand circumstances may be such that you cannot have a dining room at this time. But making a home with a dining room is a worthy goal for a young family.
And to that end, I give you several inviting dining areas– spaces “outfitted with all the accouterments that make [them] warm and inviting environment[s] conducive to good discussion and good digestion.”
OT: I have a book in the (early) works, An American Four-Square, where a young work from home wife and home-schooling mother wants to convert the dining room of their home, built in 1909, into an office. It’s up to the (talking) walls of the Dining Room to convince her otherwise by telling the stories of the other families who’ve lived in the home.
5 thoughts on “The Room in which We Dine | Old Decorating Books”
One of the best parts of my job is that I get to go into the very grand homes of the elites and admire their adventurous and very luxurious decorating schemes. They all have formal dining rooms, which is often the grandest room of the home, as they do lots of entertaining. In fact most design their kitchen and butler pantry with efficiency of servicing the dining room in mind.
I think dining rooms have gone out of fashion with the middle class for several reasons. We rarely entertain, the convenience of food delivery services, the popularity of informal eat in kitchens, and simply that most Americans no longer cook.
That must be very cool! I would like a butler with his own pantry.
We cook! And from time to time we will dine at the table. But country mice that we are, we have to serve ourselves.
I hadn’t thought of this young generation not wanting a dining room. As your article suggests, it’s a place to linger and talk. Not something youngsters do much of. I remember having company for dinner. The adults smoking and talking after the meal. The kids “seen and not heard” trying to keep up with the conversation until someone runs us off “to play”. My mother had sets as in dinette, dining room, living room, bedroom. Me. Not so much. I have what catches my eye and I’ll fit in.
I’m not exactly sure why dining rooms have gone out of favor. Maybe part of it is that people socialize outside of the home. Have no family nearby. ? Speaking of smoking after dinner, I don’t know what they’re called but I have a set of what look like very small vases. Each vase has a matching saucer. Took me years to figure out that they would be part of a place setting. The vases would have 2-3 cigarettes for each guest, and the saucer is the ashtray.
Me thinks today people eat in front of TV. Younger set eat in front of gaming devices. And, just about everyone has eyes on phone. Ah yes. When smoking and all the paraphernalia was socially acceptable. Kinda like pot and the accouterments that go with it nowadays. We have mearly exchanged one vice for another.
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