Ideas and Sets for Formal vs. Casual Dining Rooms

Casual vs. Formal Dining Room Sets: Which is Best for Your Home?

The dining room is more than just a place to eat. It’s where you spend time with the people you love, throw big, lavish parties and host small, intimate gatherings. The decor you choose makes a statement about your personality and your flair for hospitality. Depending on how you prefer to dine, you might need to choose between a casual vs. a formal dining set or consider if you have room for both.

Glass top tables and bright chairs in a silver finish lend a formal aesthetic to this modern dining room.
Glass top tables and bright chairs in a silver finish lend a formal aesthetic to this modern dining room.

The Difference Between Formal Dining Rooms and Casual Dining Rooms

One difference between elegant and more relaxed dining is the overall atmosphere. How you furnish your space sets the scene for guests. Furniture at odds with the room and the occasion can seem odd for the same reason going to a job interview in sweats would feel wrong or dressing in a black-tie ensemble for a football game would be awkward. Style always has context.

You’ll probably notice a difference in dining styles when you use formal vs. casual sets for alternate purposes. The formality of your dining room furniture should fit how you plan to use it. Your choice of dining set reflects how you entertain or serve meals at home. If you have the space, you can also opt for a formal dining room as well as a casual breakfast nook or dine-in kitchen.

Pub tables and stools usually have a casual feel. However, for certain festivities, you can also transform a less formal set into a refined place to gather with exclusive guests.
Pub tables and stools usually have a casual feel. However, for certain festivities, you can also transform a less formal set into a refined place to gather with exclusive guests.

Types of Dining Rooms: Elegant, Informal and In Between

From space restraints to tight budgets, there are plenty of reasons why you might need to choose between casual or formal dining sets. However, with a little creativity, many people have room for both. The key is seeing empty corners in a new light. Different types of dining rooms in kitchen nooks and open floor plans make elegant soirees and laidback meals possible in homes as well as apartments.

The Formal Dining Room

People who host regular social functions, such as fundraisers or receptions, will get the most use from a formal dining room set. Made with beautiful china and fine cuisine in mind, these collections feature luxury elements like rich hardwood, marble tops and gold leaf details. These materials require care and attention to stay in peak condition.

Dark cherry wood, a long table and a mirrored curio combine to create an air of elegance and sophistication.
Dark cherry wood, a long table and a mirrored curio combine to create an air of elegance and sophistication.

Traditionally, formal dining rooms are somewhat closed-off and separate from the rest of the house to create a quiet, dignified setting. If you have a classic dining area, its furnishings are the most common focal point, so this is the place to put a formal dining table and chairs. Some options include:

  • Dark Wood Tables: Gorgeous dark wood tables are an instant classic in formal dining rooms. Rich cherry and walnut finishes add depth and lend a sophisticated vibe to dining rooms. These surfaces also highlight shiny silverware and colorful place settings or table runners.
  • Brilliant Glass Tops: If you prefer modern elegance, a glass table with smooth beveled edges brings refinement to your formal dining room. A clear top makes smaller rooms seem bigger, and decorative bases in materials like metal, acrylic and wood lend an extra layer of texture to your decor.
  • Banquet-Style Lengths: Long rectangular tables are ideal in formal dining rooms intended for banquets, family celebrations and dinner parties. Consider an extendible or removable drop-leaf table if you want to adjust the length according to the event.
  • Traditional Dining Chairs: Beautiful silhouettes and padded upholstered seats in warm or neutral colors make traditional dining chairs a luxurious and timeless addition to your formal dining area. For a classic look, put an armchair at either end of the table for your guests of honor.

If your home has an open floor plan, you can still make a formal dining set work. Installing French doors in a room with cased openings gives your dining area a little more privacy. Stylish room dividers offer a similar effect without the expense of remodeling.

Casual Dining Room Ideas

On the other hand, if you’re interested in a multi-purpose spot for meals, homework and craft projects, a casual dining room set may be more practical. Simple, laid-back tables and chairs are a natural fit for family dinners or chill get-togethers. Casual tables and seating typically withstand daily wear better than their formal counterparts, which is ideal for families with children or pets.

Counter-height round tables with cushioned seats make cozy, chic seating for family meals and casual dining.
Counter-height round tables with cushioned seats make cozy, chic seating for family meals and casual dining.

Grabbing a quick bite without the ceremony of a sophisticated table setting may call for a dine-in area or breakfast nook in the kitchen. Casual dining tables come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and finishes and are suitable for various uses. Depending on how you and your family have meals together, these casual dining room ideas could serve you better:

  • Kitchen Islands: A few barstools around a kitchen island save space and allow you to enjoy your dinner or breakfast while it’s piping hot. Kitchen island dining areas also create a more relaxed vibe between the cook and anybody in their kitchen.
  • High-Top Tables and Chairs: With their pub-like feel, counter-height dining sets are popular choices for casual kitchens. The taller surface height and seating provides a fun and informal dining experience, but this setup may be uncomfortable for kids and older family members.
  • Bistro Style Dining: A small three-piece dining set is the perfect place for quick meals and afternoon snacks. Bistro sets are also ideal for small apartments or intimate date nights at home.
  • Round Tables: A round table set with chairs to seat your friends and family makes intimate conversations and gatherings feel more personal. Comfortable dining should include those you can connect with, and a table that brings you closer together makes that possible.
  • Comfy Seating: Cozy seats are a must-have in casual dining, which is why many diners and restaurants have plush, well-cushioned booths. Opt for fabric or leather upholstered seats or benches with generous padding. Or, pick a high-quality acrylic or resin dining chair that’s easy to clean and contoured for optimal back support.

Casual dining is common for busy people who have little time for sit-down meals. Your dining area should complement your lifestyle and make it easier to go about your everyday life. If that means your living room coffee table often serves as your dining table, so be it. Alternative dining room ideas can help you transform these formal spaces into something more useful.

Open-Concept Eating

Open-concept floor plans combine living areas rather than giving different rooms their own roles. As a result, you’ll need to decide how to divide up your space. Corners are the perfect nook for a round table, while long walls work well with rectangular or oval tables. Meanwhile, a large rug and a statement light fixture can help distinguish your dining space from the rest of your floor plan.

Similar color palettes and finishes help unify the look in open or adjacent rooms.
Similar color palettes and finishes help unify the look in open or adjacent rooms.

Depending on your decor, your open plan layout could feel refined or more laid-back. A banquet table placed off the side of the living room works for parties as well as quiet evenings at home. It allows conversation to flow between the table and family room seating, too. You can also choose whether you want guests in the formal dining area or if you prefer to keep things casual in the living room.

If your kitchen opens into your dining area without a wall to divide them, let the larger space serve as your elegant dining room. Then, set up a casual kitchen bar in an optimal spot while allowing for open footpaths and meal prep. The kitchen is perfect for informal dining when you want formal gatherings elsewhere. For a cohesive design, keep furniture styles and formality similar in nearby spaces.

Bar stools on the edge of a kitchen counter or island are a stylish, convenient spot to enjoy a casual breakfast before school or work.
Bar stools on the edge of a kitchen counter or island are a stylish, convenient spot to enjoy a casual breakfast before school or work.

Blending Casual and Formal Dining with Transitional Style

Only have room for one dining table at home? Strike the right chord for any event with a blend of formal and casual dining decor. Transitional style combines classic and contemporary elements, lending your dining room the perfect balance of relaxed and elegant dining. Most people’s lives consist of some formal dinners as well as everyday meals, so a table set that works for both is a worthy investment.

A wood table is an instant classic that blends in easily with most color palettes. Meanwhile, side chairs with padded seats are cozy and supportive, keeping the mood relaxed and casual. Opt for a dining bench if you want more flexible seating options. Transitional dining room sets work well in all settings, including open-concept floor plans, enclosed rooms and kitchen nooks.

A long wood table and upholstered side chairs lend a calm, casual feel to this transitional dining room.
A long wood table and upholstered side chairs lend a calm, casual feel to this transitional dining room.

Casual vs. Formal Dining Room Decor

Your decor can promote a dignified or relaxed mood, too. In addition to your table and chairs, other furniture and accessories can enhance your style and make entertaining your guests easier. These accents help you set just the right atmosphere in elegant and informal dining rooms:

  • Rugs: A vibrant jewel-toned carpet like a ruby red rug underneath a traditional dining set gives a formal suite warmth and energy. On the other hand, a round rug with a tribal or vintage pattern has a more casual vibe and adds a bit of character to the room.
  • Light Fixtures: Beautiful and brilliant, a traditional chandelier above a dining room table brings a touch of class to your collection. Choose a rustic candelabra chandelier for a laidback country-style dining set, or consider modern pendant lights for a chic formal dining room.
  • Servers and Cabinets: Complete your room with a traditional curio to display fine china and elevate the refined tone of a classic dining room set. Alternatively, a rustic server with a weathered finish offers a simple, homespun touch to laid-back farmhouse dining room furnishings.
  • Tabletop Decor: A pair of metal candlesticks, a delicate lace tablecloth and decorative metal charger plates dress up your dining room set with a little whimsical fanfare. Create a simpler, homey look with a vase of wildflowers and woven seagrass placemats.
  • Wall Decor: Hanging a large mirror above your buffet helps make small dining rooms appear bigger by reflecting the window or wall on the opposite side. For family dining rooms, wall art such as photos and framed kids’ drawings capture a casual, lived-in look.
A cool blue vase, shell-wrapped candle holder and sea bird wall art hone the easy, breezy vibe of a casual dining room.
A cool blue vase, shell-wrapped candle holder and sea bird wall art hone the easy, breezy vibe of a casual dining room.