Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2017

When Was the Last Time You Used the Dining Room?

Do you have a separate dining room in your home or apartment? If yes, when was the last time you used it to entertain other than family? Is your current dining room smaller than the one you remember as a child?

The March, 5, 2017 “Sally Forth” Sunday comic strip by Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefer, provides a contemporary insight into the declining importance of the dining room. The panel features Ted and Sally looking at their dining room table and their conversation that follows:

Sally asks: “Ted, when was the last time we used this dining room?”

Ted responds: “No one uses a dining room, Sal. It’s just there to make you feel like an adult. Like a tie for the house.” Sally answers: “But, if we’re not using it, then why don’t we turn it into something else?

“Like what?” “I don’t know. How about an arts and craft room? That would be nice.”

“Say that… Really wait. We do use the dining room. Well the table at least when we have company over for holiday dinner.” “Oh, Right.”

The couple stares in silence at the dining room table and chairs.

“By now you would have thought Skype would have made guests unnecessary.” Sally has the last word: “I say we change this room anyway and let the size of the living room coffee table dictate just how much food we put out for parties.”

Linda and I have a separate dining room, albeit an extension off the living (family) area, at our home in Kentwood, Michigan. I can count on one hand the number of meals we ate in the dining room since moving to Kentwood in January 2011. At the moment, its primary use is a conference room for meetings of the Villas of Bailey’s Grove Condominium Board of which I am president. We eat our meals in a dinette area in front of the kitchen counter.

Linda loves to entertain and enjoys setting an elegant table. The dining room in our apartment located in the former Vera Cruz [PA] Elementary School was large enough to entertain groups of ten to twelve. The dining room table had three leaves allowing the accommodation of these large numbers. Although the same table resides in our dining room in Kentwood, the size of the Kentwood dining room is smaller. Adding one leaf crowds the space. If we entertain, space is limited to four individuals (two couples) in addition to Linda and myself. Linda cannot think in terms of six. Her minimum number entertainment number is eight. Further, we live 665 miles from the closest child and family. Family holiday gatherings are not feasible from a travel, housing, and entertainment perspective.

Brie Dyas’s “Why Dining Rooms Are Becoming Extinct” appeared on the “Huffington Post” on January 18, 2015. The article begins: “If the pristine rooms in the homes of my friends are any indication, the dining room is perhaps used for two to three dinners a year. Thanksgiving. Maybe the holidays. But that’s about it. After those instances pass, it reverts to its role as a museum for china and glassware, or perhaps a life-size diorama of how families used to eat.”

[Author’s Aside: I am tempted to stop my column at this point. Nothing more needs to be argued. I continue in response to the “not in my house” readers who remain convinced a dining room is an integral part of family life.”

Growing up on Depot Street in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, my family ate its meals in a nook attached to the kitchen. The kitchen table’s replacement of the dining room table as the main source for family meals was well established before World War II. The track homes of the post-World War II era featured a dinette area as part of the kitchen. More often than not, there was no formal dining room. The arrival of kitchen counter dining coupled with a busier life style further eroded the importance of the dining room.

The dining room persists. Dyas notes: “as far as building trends go, the dining room has become more of a fixture in modern day homes. According to a U.S. Census survey that focused on the evolution of new American homes by decade, 46.9 percent of homes constructed before 1960 had dining rooms, compared to 50.6 percent of homes constructed between 2005 and 2009. Pam Kueber, of the blog “Retro Renovation,” chalks up these numbers to the fantasy that often is involved with decorating and designing a new home. I interpret these numbers somewhat differently. If correct, this means that over half of the American population have no or few dining room memories. No memory, no collectability for objects associated with the dining room.

[To read the full Dyas article, see: www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/16/dining-rooms-becoming-extinct_n_6418526.html]

During Rinker Enterprises’ 30-year run (1981-2010), I tracked the size of dining rooms in newly built houses. My assumption was the larger the dining room, the more interest in acquiring past objects associated with the dining room. I failed to notice the growing number of homes with no dining room. Personal memories often cloud one’s perspective.

“My children and/or grandchildren do not want my grandmother’s china” is a growing lament heard throughout the antiques and collectibles trade. It is symbolic of a much larger concern. Current generations have little to no interest in anything associated with 20th century formal dining rooms—furniture, dinnerware, flatware, stemware, and decorative accessories. Talk to any auctioneer or estate sale person. Their common response is: “we cannot give it away.”

Furnishing a modern dining room with a matching table, set of eight chairs, sideboard, and china cabinet (storage unit) is expensive if one goes to a middle to high-end furniture store. Just for fun, I decided to see if it was possible using Ikea. It came as no surprise that most “dining” table and chair sets were for four people. I found a few dining table and chair sets that sat six. Forget about any extensions. There were no matching sideboards and china cabinets. Storage is available through close but not exact cabinets, sideboards, and shelving. Mix and match is the order of the day. Unity of design is a thing of the past. Period rooms have a very different meaning in the 21st century.

What does all this mean relative to the immediate and future secondary market value of surviving 19th and 20th century dining room furniture, dinnerware, flatware, stemware, and accessories? The answer is not good. Values will decline to the point where individuals are willing to buy dining room items as reusable goods if they are cheap and functional. Many dining room antiques and collectibles already have reached the cheaper than new threshold. The tragedy is that many dining room objects have lost their purpose and are no longer functional.

Breakage and replacement is not a concern. Replacement with an identical or similar items is inexpensive. The difficulty is the dishwasher. If objects are not dishwasher safe, their usability is negated. Modern generations worship expediency. They have no extra time to provide the loving care antique and collectible objects require.

Discarding memories is difficult and uncomfortable. Most are carried to the grave. Equally true is the impossibility to transfer the intensity of one’s memories to subsequent generations. Children and grandchildren were not present when the memory was created. Old memories are not cool. Each generation wants is own identity.

“Respect your elders,” a phrase that haunted my youth and early adulthood because I recognized its negative side, cannot be extended to “respect and treasure” my things. The older I become, the more I realize that each generation fights a losing battle to preserve admiration for the lifestyle of its youth.

Several times during our time in Kentwood, I suggested to Linda that we eat our meals in the dining room and use our best dinnerware, flatware, and stemware. Each time my plea has fallen on deaf ears. It is easier to clean up from the dinette area. Our everyday dishes, glasses, and utensils are dishwasher safe. This is a battle not worth fighting. I am typical rather than atypical.

If we ever buy another house, something I have sworn not to do based on the premise that “I have made my last move” it will not have a formal dining room. In this instance, I have decided to join the current generations and adopt their “if I am not going to use it, why do I need it” mantra.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Selected letters will be answered in this column.  Harry cannot provide personal answers.  Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned.  Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI  49512.  You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.

You can listen and participate in WHATCHA GOT?, Harry’s antiques and collectibles radio call-in show, on Sunday mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM Eastern Time.  If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT? streams live on the Internet at www.gcnlive.com.


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