Traditional dining room ideas – 10 ways to create a timeless scheme

Inspiration for timeless interiors which perfectly balance comfort with classic elegance

Traditional dining room ideas – a scheme in Farrow & Ball's Yeabridge Green
(Image credit: Birdier Fortescue)

Are you looking for traditional dining room ideas? Traditional dining rooms are timeless spaces that balance classic elegance with comfort. Taking inspiration from interiors across the centuries, traditional dining rooms bring together elements from the past together with modern touches to create characterful entertaining spaces which are inspiring and stylish yet welcoming and practical. 

Whether you’re looking to create an authentic dining room in keeping with your period home or nod to the past with a stylish interior that blends old with new, there are plenty of traditional dining room ideas to help create the perfect space no matter the size.

From walls, floors and window treatments, to tables, chairs, storage and lighting –not forgetting the all important finishing touches – there are multiple elements to consider when it comes to traditional dining room ideas and each can play a part in creating the perfectly balanced, harmonious scheme.

With a wealth of design history to draw from, searching for traditional dining room ideas can be daunting, so we've rounded up some beautiful schemes and tips from interiors experts to help get you inspired.

Traditional dining room ideas – 10 looks that will stand the test of time

Traditional dining rooms are beautiful spaces which stay looking stylish and functional throughout the years, so to ensure your scheme has enduring appeal it’s important to design a space which perfectly suits your needs and personal taste.

Whether it's for formal entertaining, spending quality time in with the family, working from home, or getting creative doing some arts and crafts, today's dining rooms are multi-functional spaces used for all sorts of activities, so before embarking on a design, consider what you need from your space. 

‘Key factors to consider when designing a traditional dining room are ensuring the correct balance between function and form,’ says Sarah Vanrenen of Vanrenen GW Designs. ‘When starting the design process, consider what the rooms main function is. Do you want to create a smart and formal space, or one that doubles up as a desk and workspace? These decisions will dictate the furniture, colors and layout.'

'These days, especially with the bustle of working from home and home schooling, to be able to retreat from the busy kitchen into a civilized and considered space such as the dining room is a welcome end to the day,' she adds. 'As with any room in your home, the dining room should be one full of color, pattern and personality filled with the things you love.'

Dining room lighting ideas is just as important and needs to be considered throughout the seasons. Avoid strong downlights and instead, look for plenty of light sources. Add lights around the room at eye level in the form of lamps or sconces.'

If your dining room is an occasional space reserved for entertaining guests, then it can be the perfect opportunity to decorate a little differently and be more daring with color and print.

‘Dining rooms should make a statement and have that wow-factor, being the perfect setting for a celebration for special meals,’ says Emma Deterding, founder of Kelling Designs. ‘Use a warm bold color that cocoons you and makes you feel cozy and safe in the space, especially in winter as that’s when most of us use our dining rooms.’ Burgundy, blue and green are ideal hues and remember that lacquering paint will give a reflective quality, bouncing more light into the space.

1. Channel classic elegance with a neutral scheme

Traditional dining room with a round table

(Image credit: Future)

For a scheme that will stand the test of time you can’t go wrong by decorating in neutral tones and investing in an high quality, wooden dining table and chairs. 

‘There are two key questions when choosing the shape of a table, says Cassie Rowland, head of product at Neptune. ‘Firstly, where your table sits, and secondly, how you plan to use it.’ 

As well as bringing elegance with their soft curves, tables with rounded tops are a great small dining room idea as they make moving around the space far easier, plus a pedestal design with a single support allows extra room for tucking chairs out of the way. ‘However, you can’t beat the impact and scale of a large rectangular table,’ adds Cassie Rowland. If you’re unsure what shape to choose take your lead from the architecture of the room.

2. Decorate in timeless greens

Dining room in Yeabridge Green by Farrow & Ball

(Image credit: Birdie Fortescue)

If you’re looking for dining room color ideas then consider taking a cue from nature and opting for a serene green shade. Calm yet uplifting, mid-greens such as Farrow & Ball’s Yeabridge Green are also a fantastic backdrop for displaying colorful artwork, patterned table linen and tableware as this scheme by Birdie Fortescue proves – bring color pops and warm up the look with contrasting pink and red accessories.

‘Greens are the universal color choice in decorating – or so thought JW von Goethe in 1810.  His reasoning was that because it was made from two primary colors it rendered balance and harmony and was popular with most people. I agree with him in many ways; used in its wide range of hues, green is incredibly versatile and can add drama or calm to a room,' says Edward Bulmer of Edward Bulmer Natural Paints.

'I also believe that because of its make-up, it forms a very reliable background for a whole range of other natural materials like wood, stone and terracotta.  For this reason, it is often a very good choice for hanging pictures on.'

3. Choose a relaxed country look

Country dining room by Sims Hilditch

(Image credit: Sims Hilditch)

Set the tone for a relaxed country scheme with a large dining table made from solid wood teamed with upholstered benches. A brilliant rustic dining room idea, natural wood furniture has a beautiful patina which perfectly complements the weathered stone and surfaces of period homes. Add to the rural theme with a pared-back iron chandelier with a simple leaf design.

‘A statement chandelier light fixture in a dining room brings a certain elegance and gravitas to the space, making it ideal for hosting more formal gatherings,’ says Louise Wicksteed, design director for Sims Hilditch interior design.

‘However, when paired with rectangular, wooden furniture and bench seating, as we did in our 16th Century Manor project, the aesthetic is tempered somewhat to create an inviting and relaxed atmosphere.'

'When selecting furniture for our interiors, we opt for natural materials wherever possible,' adds Louise Wicksteed. 'This can be elevated using high quality patterned fabric for the window treatments, and by displaying characterful family portrays or artwork on the walls and above the fireplace,' 

4. Turn heads with a decorative wallpaper

Dining room with Pierre Frey wallpaper

(Image credit: Future / Anna Stathaki)

As spaces where we entertain guests and come together to celebrate, dining rooms make brilliant rooms for using bold decorative wallpapers. For this room Katharine Paravicini chose this striking Pierre Frey design. ‘The client wanted a statement, and it did just that,’ she says.

From authentic reprints of historic designs to beautiful designs based on contemporary original artwork, there's a huge array of statement wallpapers available.

5. Celebrate nature with chinoiserie papers

Little Greene's Massingberd Blossom wallpaper

(Image credit: Little Greene's Massingberd Blossom wallpaper)

If you’re looking for elegant dining room wallpaper ideas for a traditional scheme then you can’t go wrong with a trailing floral repeat design inspired by archive patterns. With a distinct nod to chinoiserie designs, this Massingberd Blossom paper from Little Greene is a refreshed version of a print found in the historic Gunby Hall in Lincolnshire, UK and features birds amid blossom – classic motifs of the popular 18th century chinoiserie style. 

'Incorporating Chinoiserie inspired wallpaper designs is a simple way of adding a touch of timeless exoticism into your interior,' advises Ruth Mottershead, creative director of Little Greene. 'Featuring trailing florals and exotic birds, these rich and decorative designs were popular in the 18th century and work beautifully in period homes as well as contemporary schemes.'

For a contemporary twist pair the ornate paper with streamlined Mid-century-furniture. 

6. Showcase decorative fabrics and ceramics

Penny Morrison dining room

(Image credit: Penny Morrison / Mike Garlick)

Wall-to-wall prints are a bold choice – for a more pared-back approach to decorating with pattern consider covering dining chairs with slip covers in decorative fabrics. Simple block-printed or embroidered motifs on natural linen will bring a touch of pattern without overpowering a scheme as this design from Penny Morrison proves.

When it comes to choosing fabrics for dining chairs ‘fabrics that are hard-wearing and stain-resistant’ are preferable advises Roger Jones, director at Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler. ‘Leather and horsehair are traditional, but there are plenty of modern fabrics that are equally practical. In the summer, simple linen slip covers on the dining chairs can transform the look of the room – and can easily be put in the washing machine if they become marked.’

7. Create an elegant table display

Ben Pentreath dining room

(Image credit: Ben Pentreath)

Make a focal point of a dining table when it's not in use by creating a display of beautiful objects and floral arrangements. Ben Pentreath demonstrates how to create the perfect resting display in his design for this Chelsea flat which features a curated collection of candlesticks and statement bouquet of electric viburnum arranged symmetrically for classic elegance. 

The bottle green French velvet that covers the white gesso framed Louis XVI chairs is picked up by the collection of glass candlesticks and resin lamp bases on the table and the dresser behind.

8. Make the most of original features

Traditional Georgian dining room with pale pink walls

(Image credit: Dining room in Farrow & Ball's Peignoir)

When choosing colors for a period home or a traditional scheme, ‘think about the style of the room and the architectural interest that you might want to play with and accentuate,' advises Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador at Farrow & Ball. If you're lucky enough to have beautiful features choose a shade and treatment which will make them really shine. 

'Beautiful architectural features are what give period homes their unique character so should be persevered and highlighted within interior design wherever possible,' says Melanie Griffiths, editor of Period Living magazine.

A chic pastel pink with undertones of gray, Peignor by Farrow & Ball brings softness and elegance to this Georgian dining room while also highlighting the beautiful decorative plasterwork.

9. Choose antique furniture

Traditional dining room with antique furniture from Lesley Blackford Antiques

(Image credit: Future / Malcolm Menzies)

Whether it's a dining table and chairs, a small sideboard or drinks cabinet, antique furniture is guaranteed to bring a character to a traditional dining room. With elegant curves and ornate detailing, Gustavian-style pieces, such as this table and chairs from Lesley Blackford Antiques, are the perfect choice for an elegant and glamorous scheme. For a playful pop of color consider reupholstering the seats of the chairs as has been done here with a velvet striped fabric from Designers Guild.

10. Choose statement lighting 

Dining room by Sims Hilditch

(Image credit: Sims Hilditch)

If you have a room with tall ceilings they can be great spaces to hang statement, pendant lights, creating a focal point above the table. ‘We often advise clients to be brave with scale, especially in rooms with high ceilings,’ says interior designer Emma Sims Hilditch. ‘This fills the space and adds an element of drama.’

How can I decorate my traditional dining room?

How you choose to decorate a traditional dining room will depend on how you plan to use the space and your personal style. Before you embark on a design, examine your lifestyle to ascertain what you need from the space. 

'Updating the walls with a lick of paint will bring instant personality and a new look to your space, but before you decide on a color there are some factors you need to consider,' advises Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador at Farrow & Ball

‘Dining rooms are often more formal and used at night and for celebratory occasions – if this is the case, make sure to look at your paint colors in the evening light. If you use the room during the day – think about the light aspect for example, if the room is north-facing (little natural light) it can benefit from warmer toned colors with a red or yellow base or alternatively exploring the limitations and going dark.’

'We are all familiar with the classic red dining room, so ubiquitous through the 1980s and 1990s but don’t rule this palette out, especially towards the deep brick red tones of the appropriately named Eating Room Red – it offers a rich warmth and will positively glow under candlelight. Mushroom-tinged pinks such as Dead Salmon offer a more modern interpretation of the red dining room, whereas greens will work a treat, especially at the darker end of the family. Calke Green will make a perfect bedfellow to traditional brown furniture.'

As an occasional space where we welcome guests the dining room is also a brilliant space to express our personality and decorate with our favorite prints. Turn heads with a large scale prints, alternatively, for a pared-back look more likely to endure consider ditsy designs and elegant trailing florals. 

Roger Jones, director, Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler suggests using ‘prints that aren’t too busy or distracting: the food on the table and the company around it should be the focus of attention, not what’s on the walls or at the windows,’ he adds. ‘Large-scale patterns can often work well if they are in harmonious rather than startling colors.’

When it comes to window treatments these 'will depend entirely on the shape and style of the window,' adds Roger Jones. However 'simple curtains with gathered headings hanging from a pole are the most versatile,' he adds. 'If you are lucky enough to live in an old house with internal window shutters you might consider not having curtains at all.'

Curtains are guaranteed to bring a traditional feel to a dining room – if you're considering dining room curtain ideas then consider full length drapes advises Lee Clarke, director at Warner House.

'At Warner House, “more is more” and in almost every instance we would advise curtains should be full length: puddled for a traditional feel, or flush to the floor for a modern finish.'

'Add character with headings and trims,' he adds. 'We love the pinch pleat heading: triple pinch for a heritage look, double pinch for a sleeker finish. Try adding a luxurious brush fringe or smart animal print tape to the leading edge for a polished effect.'

What furniture do you put in a traditional dining room?

When thinking about furniture for a traditional dining room the key is to choose well-made, high quality pieces which will stand the test of time. A dining table and chairs made from solid wood will endure across the years. When deciding what shape table to choose take a queue from your architecture and the shape of your space – circular tables are great small dining room ideas for apartments while rectangular designs would be a perfect fit for grand Georgian rooms. 

‘Sideboards in the dining room can be a useful place to keep tableware and glasses as well as the obvious extra space when serving,’ adds Sarah Vanrenen of Vanrenen GW Designs.

To ensure the space continues to meet your needs over the years consider flexible furniture options such as extending dining tables, plus, what traditional dining room would be complete without a large display cabinet or dresser to store and display a prized dinner service. 

Popular in the glamorous Art Deco era, the bar trolley is currently making a come back and is perfect for entertaining offering a space to all the essentials you need to rustle up cocktails for dinner guests.

Pippa Blenkinsop

Pippa is a contributor to Homes & Gardens. A graduate of Art History and formerly Style Editor at Period Living, she is passionate about architecture, creating decorating content, interior styling and writing about craft and historic homes. She enjoys searching out beautiful images and the latest trends to share with the Homes & Gardens audience. A keen gardener, when she’s not writing you’ll find her growing flowers on her village allotment for styling projects.