Would you rather have a table-for-12 museum tableau to dust during the many months between holidays while you grab a bite to eat at the kitchen table or the breakfast bar? Or a bedroom for the new baby? No contest. The dining room is an artifact in a space-challenged world. In cities where upgrading to another bedroom means a move to the suburbs, in two-kid/two-income families, where peanut-butter-and-jelly nights in the family room are the new normal or anywhere that the cost of real estate makes expansion impractical, that dining room is too rich a prize to ignore. Flip yours into a bedroom for the kids, for out-of-town guests, or for a second income from overnight rentals or permanent roommates.
A real bedroom needs a door that closes it off from the rest of the house. You could fudge things with a clever curtain, but even a school-age kid will get tired of that. Find a way to keep the dining room out of the traffic pattern in and out of the kitchen, and add a temporary pressurized wall and a sliding or hinged door to define it. Sell the dining table on Craigslist, and add light-controlling curtains, a wardrobe or hanging bar, a bed, and a noise-baffling carpet. Now it's a bedroom. A nursery needs a changing table -- maybe the top of a dresser -- and a rocking chair. A child's room needs shelves for books and toys. A teen needs a mirror and probably more closet space and noise reduction. But the basic transformation is separation and furniture. The rest is details.
Maximize the Multipurpose
Your mandate is a guest room for the visiting grandparents or your many drop-in friends. But you work from home now, and the technology spread all over the dining table will fare no better in the master suite. So double up. Install a custom wall system with a Murphy bed, add a plain modern desk and chair that work for visitors as a bedroom table and a seat for putting on shoes. Stack the shelves with your supplies, neatly camouflaged in boxes or baskets, and slide in a small cupboard to hide your printer and charging stations when the home office becomes the hotel du jour. A dining room that hosted Styrofoam takeout containers amid the client proposals and the billing files is now a sleek answer to your career and company traffic. Win-win.
Is It Legal?
If your dining "room" is really an alcove with a fold-down table and two skinny chairs, you might not have a good conversion candidate. Legal housing requirements may mandate that an occupied bedroom have at least one window and provide minimum square footage. In New York City, for example, that's an 8-foot-wide room, not a closet. You can tuck the newborn's crib into your closet -- hopefully with the door removed -- for a short term space-saving solution. But an actual nursery, extra bedroom or claim to a bedroom conversion for a real estate transaction has to meet housing codes. Check yours before buying the new bed. And measure every bit of furniture you plan to put in that room before you begin conversion, especially if the space is only 8 feet wide.
Dining rooms are square footage, and square footage has the potential to be anything you need. A second or spare bedroom, of course, but also a family room or den, a dance or yoga studio, a music room or recording studio, an art gallery, a rec room and bar, a media room and movie theater, even an expansive walk-in closet for the dedicated fashionista. Book-lovers might be happier with a library -- walls lined with bespoke shelves and cupboards, a carpeted floor, writing table, comfortable reading chairs and a docking station for the eReader. You can always park overnighters in the library on an inflatable air bed that tucks neatly into a cupboard when the guests depart.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .