Monday, May 2nd, 2011...7:24 am

#156: Downsize Your Dining Room

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During one of my random tours of Twitter the other day (how are you supposed to use that thing?), I happened to notice that @EpsteinLiterary, aka literary agent Kate Epstein, claimed she’d sold her house in less than a day using the advice in a book she’d represented,

Okay, excuse the dangling sentence there, but I couldn’t remember the name of the book, so I wasted some time trying to track my order on Amazon before finally hauling my lazy ass up to the bedroom to check on the title, but then I had to make the bed and carry my husband’s dirty cups downstairs to the kitchen, where I felt compelled to repolish the countertops I oiled last night, and then when I got back to my computer I’d forgotten the name of the book again.


But now I have it. It’s Home Staging That Sells, by Starr C. Osborne. And yes, this is an Old Person Style Reminiscence, but I don’t go on like this very much anymore, at least not in print, so you’re just going to have to put up with it.

Though before I lose your attention completely, here’s a visual aid:

So anyway, I got this book, thinking ahead to the day in the not-so-distant future when we were going to be forced to dump unload sell our beautiful home, which absolutely does not need to have the entire foundation repointed or the front porch rebuilt, in hopes of discovering some simple, eye-catching things we might do to get enough money to put our last kid through college and rent a little shack down by the railroad tracks.

One of the really smart things this book talks about is the tastes of different generations of home buyers.  You have to realize you’re going to be selling your house to someone a generation or two younger than you, the book says, and stage it accordingly.  And one thing that people in their 30s and early 40s don’t care about, according to the book, is a formal dining room.

Brilliant, I thought, and absolutely true.  Young (well, young in their minds, but young-ish in fact) couples who’ve been living in the urban youth ghetto and are now transporting their newly child-encumbered lives to the suburbs have done without a dining room since….well, since they lived with mom and dad.  They don’t entertain by throwing formal dinner parties in dining rooms; when they have friends over, everyone sits around the living room or stands around the kitchen or heads outside.  Dining rooms are old as — old as Richard Nixon.

This puts me in mind of the A. R. Gurney play The Dining Room, one of my favorite plays ever.  (Forget that going to the theatre to see a play called The Dining Room makes you doubly-old.)  The play is about a changing cast of WASP-y characters over the years dealing with love, divorce, life, death, and changing mores, all in the dining room.   In 1982, when I saw The Dining Room with my brand-new husband, I only aspired to having a dining room of my own.  And now, thinking of dismantling the dining room of my life, searching for a video to post on this site, I found every scene from the play, no matter how badly shot or poorly acted, moved me to tears.  Here’s what I mean:

So yeah, if you want not to act old and to sell your house to a 37-year-old who makes five times as much money as you, downsize your dining room. Just don’t expect it to be easy.

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  • Actually, being a recent homebuyer and an extremely young 41, one of the things I longed for was a dining room where we could all sit together and eat – not just get zombified in front of the television. And that’s what we do now: we eat every meal at the table in a room where there is no television. We do, however, have a bird-feeder outside the dining room window, and that provides all the conversation starters we need.

    I would have loved to find a house we could afford that also had a “breakfast nook” or a “breakfast bar” in the kitchen for less formal meals when it’s just me and the kids, for instance. But a dining room is just lovely and there’s no way we would have settled for just an eating space.

    It’s true that we haven’t been able to get all the furniture for it yet, and we don’t have china or crystal or ceramic tchotchkes to display in a glass cabinet. It will be future build-up for more distant future dismantling, I suppose.

  • I think it’s pathetic how so few people give dinner parties anymore. There are few things as satisfying in life as hosting a great dinner party with your favorite friends. That’s why, despite living in Manhattan, I have a dining area with a table that seats 10 (with both leaves in). And when I buy a house, I’m not buying one without a dining room. Sitting on a couch while balancing a plate on your lap is for grad students. A real dining table is one of the pleasures of being a grown up.

  • So trying to act younger (plates on laps) is actually older. And the place you rent by the tracks will shake the dishes in the china cupboard.
    When I move to another planet, I’m not taking my dead mother in law’s fake Imari.

  • Pamela Redmond Satran
    May 2nd, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Oh, right, Judy, the Planet Without Guilt, Obligation, or Regrettable Pasts. I want to move there with you.

  • I’m actually only 34 and would love to have a dining room. Maybe not a formal dining room, but a room with a table where we could sit down and eat and where the table is not directly in the traffic pattern of the entire house.

  • I sold my (staged) bungalow in less than two weeks…with china on the dining table. Only one small (period appropriate) china cabinet. A nice veterinarian (age 46) bought it. Formal dinning room, retro kitchen with checkerboard ceramic tile, white cabinets, dark granite counter tops (since the price of granite in this town has plummeted).

    ‘Downsizing’ to appeal to a younger generation doesn’t jive with what I’ve observed in my Gen-Y friends. They all seem to long for a place where they can entertain friends and maybe even get the mother-in-law to come to Thanksgiving dinner once the baby arrives.

    I think that the ordinary things you hear on every staging show (depersonalize, no family photos, no diplomas, no religious art), de-clutter (pack the museum collections away) and clean (wash windows, fresh paint, etc.) are sufficient to appeal to a wide range of buyers.

    No, really, wash the windows.

  • I’ve been reading your blog and laughing for a long time, and I just want to put it on the record that one of my goals in life is to have awesome dinner parties on a regular basis. I’ve transplanted to a place where that didn’t happen and aspire that my next home be somewhere I can fill with my closest friends, sit around a REALLY BIG dining room table, and laugh and talk and eat together. The dream is still alive. :)

  • I’m 35 and throughout my twenties I said I’d know I’m old when I buy a dining room table for a dining room. I now have both, i think I’m old…. :(

  • I remember my parents having elegant dinner parties when my mother made dishes like Beef Stroganoff. It was all very Mad Men.

    My dining room table has 3 extensions, but I’ve never used them. (Craig’s List anyone?)

    Best laughing and chatting now is while everyone sits at the kitchen bar stools watching the cook. Oh, and there might be some wine involved, too.

  • Our dining room has turned into a storage room. I haven’t objected because the table is to big for the room and the chairs are uncomfortable. We tend to do the “throw stuff on the bar-b and ice down the beer.” I’d like a dining room that works. Love your site by the way. Your book is on my reading list.

  • I actually like having a large, open living room/dining room area. It makes mingling easier when I have people over as opposed to having a group of people in the dining room and another in the living room. And it doesn’t feel as stuffy since we’re not dining in an area enclosed from the rest of the house.

  • Ah! This brings back fond memories of the spring of 1992 when my daughter and my chairs appeared in “The Dining Room” at her high school.

  • im 36 and throughout my twenties I said I’d know I’m old when I buy a dining room table for a dining room. I now have both, i think I’m oldd

  • My dining room is currently undergoing transformation to a library … we’ll keep the small round table and put two big comfy chairs in there for homework and reading. We have always had a separate formal dining room but I don’t like china or china cabinets, so it’s been most often used as a crafting area if used at all. I’m trying to downsize my life and only have things that I love and really use the things that I have … on the other side, my youngest daughter (13) is dying to have a big formal dining room complete with silver, china and formal linens. I think it’s becoming less a matter of age and more a matter of taste. I’m inherently transient and she wants to get married, raise children and die in the same house.

  • Say, Ms Satran, what about nooks? We have a perfectly darling little breakfast nook. The great-grandchildren love to sit in it and smoke, which I discourage because of their age. The solid wood table is rather heavily scarred with cigarette burns, as my wife and I are heavy smokers ourselves and have taken our cigarettes and coffee in the morning there for more than fifty years. I just think that when we sell, it would be an f-ing shame to tear out our nook. Love your blog.

  • Pamela Redmond Satran
    June 27th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I grew up with a nook, Mr. 18b! My parents would trap us on the inside of the benches and then they would sit on the outside and smoke. And smoke and smoke. I am really jealous that you and your wife have gotten to smoke for 50 years; I loved smoking and even 18 years after quitting, I still miss it. If I live to be 85, I’m planning to start again.

    Meanwhile, do not f-ing tear out your nook! It sounds like a family shrine. Glad you love my blog. I love your comment. xx

  • No dining room in this old house, circa 1976, just a dining area in the kitchen. However, my youngish friends have always liked the set up–you can sit at the table and be in the kitchen at the same time–so maybe it wouldn’t be too hard to sell the place. Of course, getting the price we want is another matter. The house cost $72k in 1980. It’s paid for and comfortable, and since we could probably only get about that same price, due to the horrible, terrible, real estate market, we will stay put.

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