Why a dining room is so yesterday in today's Hong Kong flat
Changes in lifestyle in Asia and around the world mean an end to what should happen where in the home, with meals becoming informal and people eating where they cook
Interior designers are beginning to see an interesting phenomenon when taking on new projects these days: owners of even sizeable homes are asking that space intended for dining areas be put to other uses instead.
"It used to be that people would request a traditional dining room, plus a breakfast room or nook for informal family dining," said William Hirsch, a US-based architect and author of Designing Your Perfect House. "But now, many people have come to the realisation that they rarely used their formal dining room. It seems like a waste of space."
In Hong Kong, where space has always been at a premium, the dining room appears to have dipped to last place in terms of priorities, so much so that Nirender Lehar, a director of design firm Leehar Home, says that 90 per cent of the residential projects he has completed in the past three years have no dedicated room for meals.
So where are people eating, if not gathered around a traditional table?
For the most part, say Lehar and other designers, they are eating where they cook: a kitchen island has become not just another place to dine - it has become the only place in the house to do so.
"Due to apartments getting smaller and more expensive, there is a large [trend] towards open kitchen and combo dining areas," said Lehar. "Also, the Hong Kong lifestyle with work, work, work, there is less time for formal dining as members arrive home from work at different times."
In a 1,200 square foot flat in Happy Valley, Lehar did away with the dining space and created a sleek breakfast bar area, which incorporates bookshelves, a wine refrigerator and extra storage.
Kitchen walls are being knocked down to create large cooking-living-dining spaces, which can lend themselves to family dinners and entertaining. A host can prepare dinner while guests are gathered around the kitchen island with a glass of wine, and eat right in the kitchen or at a small table set up in the living room.
Indeed, design experts say, it is not so much the idea of dining rooms that is being obliterated, but the idea of the formality around dining.
The notion of a long table designed for sit-down dinners is becoming antiquated as lifestyles change, and families are not always able to gather around a table every night.
Furthermore, as residential spaces become much more multipurpose, rules about what should happen where are disappearing: people work on a laptop in bed, have flat-screen televisions in the bathroom, cook on a small grill on a balcony, and have dinner at a kitchen counter.
From a design perspective, that adds challenges. Where before people could go for a completely different look between living and dining rooms, now there are more multipurpose spaces, and designers have to create a colour palette that will work for everything.
"We have to create a look that is very cohesive," said Los Angeles-based designer Annette English. "There has to be a relationship between what's going on in the kitchen if the cooking and dining are taking place there. It all has to work together."
The kitchen, then, is being reengineered to become a central part of the house, the island being a place where a child can do homework while a parent cooks and another sibling watches television.
"I mainly work on open kitchens as I like the kitchen to be an integral part of the home," said Hong Kong designer Peggy Bels. "It also makes the whole flat more spacious. I usually use the island counter as the dining room for everyday dinners as I think they are more friendly, and family-oriented."
Still, Bels says, if there is space and a family is willing, she keeps a dining table on hand - although she advocates against the use of a separate dining room.
Some people are taking a slightly different approach. Not everyone wants to knock down the walls of a room intended to hold a formal dining table - but they do not want to waste a room that may only be used a few times a year. In that case, they may try to deformalise the room: buy a round table with comfortable chairs that can be used for games nights or cards instead of a traditional long table with high-backed chairs. Others are turning that room into a multi-purpose family space - adding a corner desk, bookshelves and a reading nook, or as a workout room.
"The dining table can take on an even more important role as the actual centre of family life," says Hirsch. "Games are played there, projects get done there. It becomes a versatile space."