In the years since I started setting up my own households, I have always wanted a dining room. Living in Manhattan, the way we lived in Manhattan, made that an impossibility. What I did have for most of my years in the city were fireplaces, which I actually wanted and enjoyed more than I would have a dining room because they were exotic and luxurious. I learned early in entertaining as long as the food was good, the people fun, the alcohol abundant that people will stand, sit on the floor or even dance while eating. It could be uncomfortable to find hors d’oeuvres plates in your bedroom, but ca va.
We had a massive eat-in kitchen in the City when we were having all our babies, which is rarer than a dining room. We bought an inexpensive moderately taste-free table and chair set. Our first suburban rental house, did have a dining room, that was mostly open to the living room. It held our cheap kitchenette table and chairs, which did accommodate six in the most elemental way: side tables, trips to the kitchen for anything other than what each person was served. It was mostly the five of us so it was fine, but it really wasn’t a dining room.
When we bought our house there were only two non negotiables: fireplace and two bathrooms. It came with many other benefits: river views hid behind neglected evergreens; sour cherry, ornamental cherry, magnolia and magnificent oak trees; lilac and rhododendron bushes of many characters. No dining room. Built the same year I was born, our mid-century ranch had a dining area, with two steps down to a large, beautifully lit living room.
After scraping floors, removing unwanted flora, painting; we were able to move on to furniture. After having used the moldy furniture that had been left in the basement by the sellers — an entire other entry — my mum paid for a sofa and chair, and as things do, the house filled up. I started adding colors to the linen white walls,
The same kitchenette set sat in the dining area. It fit well, the normal oblong dining table I had wanted would not. I began to pine for a round dining room table. We could go to 52″ no more without sacrificing one of the children to an occasional backward plunge into the living room. Yes, round was the way to go. But there were so many other ways the money had to go: new heating and cooling system, new range, renovate the basement. As with most things, if this had been that important to me, it would have happened. My original kitchen was functional until it came to the cabinets, which required spelunking skills to find the rarely used pan.
However, that kitchenette set started to undo me with its damned longevity. If the cheesy piece of pressed wood would fall apart, then, well yes! Things would happen. No, it just got grimy and I would take it out onto the porch to do my best to make it look respectable to anyone who hadn’t lived with it for decades. But I hated it: its style; that I saw its twin in every furniture catalogue that I allowed myself to pursue; that its top could not really be sanded, but scrubbed mercilessly with baking soda. Even as I nearly always topped with a table cloth, there were those awful chairs, which were falling apart along with my patience.
Several other things happened that made that ugly set of furniture completely insignificant. When we sold the house, and I found my beautiful rental. I finally abandon it. My apartment again had an eat-in-kitchen, surely no oddity in Westchester, and I brought with me a booth from a diner that had closed years ago in Irvington. It had sat downstairs in the family room since we got it and it is adorable. What it is not is comfortable. But I was happy to have three bedrooms so my younger two could each have their space when not in school.
After M moved to the city I was left without a bed in her bedroom, or much else aside from the things you think you want to keep when you’ve just graduated (read text books.) Shortly afterwards a dear friend was clearing out his house, including a dining room set. A real one with leaves and six substantial chairs! He graciously gave it to me, along with massive sofa to M whose furniture until then consisted of her massive bed. Into the former bedroom went the living room furniture, providing me with the smallest, but completely lovely, living room in Westchester. The larger living room is now outfitted with the china cabinet, which was always there, a trestle table that holds many plants and my new beautiful table and chairs. A couple of weeks ago to mark the death of the last of my dad’s siblings I moved his mother’s buffet table from the storage room and into the Dining Room!
I like to think it isn’t odd that I get such pleasure from this, having wanted it for so long. After all, I live alone and eat alone much of the time. But I set the table for myself (and my kids or anyone else who is here with me) and eat the dinner that I nearly always prepare and I look at the river, look at my kids’ art and the plants, or read. I love that Grandma’s buffet, which spent my entire life in one of two basements, shares my space with me. In the chair that I have chosen as my own it sits behind me and I feel as if she literally has my back.