Today’s kitchen dining areas are well-adapted, inviting spaces suitable for a range of activities. This is where we drink our morning coffee, eat on the go, do homework, gather with family, entertain and more. Interior designers have answered the need for versatility in this command central zone with fully furnished style and comfort. The greatest challenge is to keep it charming when kitchen appliances and slick surfaces are the background. From barstools surrounding an island to table-and-chair combinations that might trump a formal dining room altogether, there are many solutions to this 21st-century dining dilemma. The options can be overwhelming, but we discovered that the freshest looks typically share one or more of the following characteristics.

1. New and old are merged into one transitional style.

Unexpected combinations of traditional and modern elements are present in almost all of the kitchen seating we spotted. Take a look at these first few groupings to see how this new/old concept works.

Birmingham interior designer Marianne Strong’s client wanted this formal dining room to become their everyday eating area. To keep a more casual feel, she used a wood and metal table with matching custom-made benches. They also added an iron window when the adjoining kitchen was remodeled to open up the space to the kitchen. Upholstered host and hostess chairs keep the space comfortable, while the gilded chandelier, pewter collection and portraits add traditional elements.

A casual dining area by Birmingham interior designer Marianne Strong

A casual dining area by Birmingham interior designer Marianne Strong | Photo credit: Jean Allsopp

This eating space is also from Marianne Strong Interiors. This area is part of a gorgeous lake house and had to be both pretty and functional for a family with four children. The casual table and chairs can take the abuse of everyday life, rough-hewn beams add traditional interest, while minimal color and natural light streaming through sheer curtains accentuate a modern, open floor plan.

Lakehouse dining, created by Marianne Strong Interiors of Birmingham

Lakehouse dining, created by Marianne Strong Interiors of Birmingham |Photo credit: Beth Hontzas

This next space was created by Rhea Crenshaw Interiors of Memphis. It includes an eclectic, updated combination in which artifacts and unusual found objects—an aged farm table and traditional end chairs—share a dramatically simple dining space.

A dramatically simple dining space from Rhea Crenshaw Interiors

A dramatically simple dining space from Rhea Crenshaw Interiors of Memphis | Photo credit: Julie Wage Ross

In this casual dining area byMemphis interior designer Lisa Mallory, a traditional antique French dining table from France is juxtaposed with contemporary furniture and an ultra-modern light fixture. Subtle pops of color and pattern, one of Lisa’s trademarks, also spark visual interest.

A contemporary light fixture and traditional furniture are part of this transitional-style dining area by Lisa Mallory.

A contemporary light fixture and traditional furniture are part of this transitional-style dining area by Memphis interior designer Lisa Mallory. | Photo credit: Julie Wage Ross | See the entire home: An Incredible East Memphis Home

2. Just add white. If not white, keep it light.

All of the interior designers we interviewed were in agreement: Their clients want light, open, airy spaces in their homes, typically with versatile, command central dining spaces in or next to an enlarged kitchen. To achieve this look, a color palette should emphasize shades of white.  

This R. Higgins Interiors Nashville kitchen, complete with modern bar seating, opens to a family room. A neutral color palette throughout is an ideal background for the homeowners’ colorful art collection. In the kitchen, the backsplash tile is Calacatta Gold marble with Lagos Azul limestone for a subtle mosaic pattern, the countertops are white quartz and cabinet doors are full overlay slab style for a contemporary feel. Hermitage Kitchen and Bath supplied cabinetry and Steve Durden was the architect.

A family-friendly kitchen with modern bar seating, part of a sophisticated home by R. Higgins Interiors of Nashville

A family-friendly kitchen with modern bar seating, part of a sophisticated home by R. Higgins Interiors of Nashville | Photo credit: Quinn Ballard

Simple kitchen stools, a large island table, assorted basic utensils and understated decorative accessories have modern appeal when placed against a white background; designed by Rhea Crenshaw Interiors of Memphis.

Modern appeal against a white background; created by Rhea Crenshaw Interiors

Modern appeal against a white background. Rhea Crenshaw Interiors of Memphis | Photo credit: Julie Wage Ross

This Hillsboro-West End kitchen from Trace Ventures of Nashville with interior design work by Melanie Leader features a built-in, Shaker-style wooden banquette with flip seat storage underneath. The combination of a dark wood table and chairs and light-colored surroudings creates visual depth and movement.

In this kitchen by Trace Ventures of Nashville, the dining nook features a built-in, Shaker-style wooden banquette with flip seat storage underneath.

In this kitchen from Trace Ventures of Nashville with interior design work by Melanie Leader, the dining nook features a built-in, Shaker-style wooden banquette with flip seat storage underneath. | Photo credit: Neely Tabor

In this kitchen remodel by Cantley & Company in Birmingham, Cyndy Cantley worked with the homeowner to convert a previously owned farm table into an island. They had a top made to match the countertops on the cabinets and added to the legs to make the table taller. It is now an island and an eating area with a rustic, fresh mood.

A rustic, fresh mood created with a light, airy palette in a fully equipped kitchen by Cantley & Company of Birmingham

A rustic, fresh mood created with a light, airy palette in a fully equipped kitchen by Cantley & Company of Birmingham

In this breakfast nook, part of a recent design project completed by Memphis interior designer Andrea Stratton, shades of white are dominant, even in the choice of furnishings. Andrea selected traditional chairs in modern white at Blu D’or; the white, round-top table was a Jolie Maison find; and Andrea spotted the banquette at Chestnut Hall. The painting is by Southern contemporary artist Maysey Craddock, who is represented by the David Lusk Gallery.

In this breakfast area by Memphis interior designer Andrea Stratton, shades of white are dominant, even in the furnishings.

In this breakfast area by Memphis interior designer Andrea Stratton, shades of white are dominant, even in the furnishings. | Photo credit: Beth Moore

3. Modern elements are incorporated into the design.

A well-functioning kitchen is equipped with the most up-to-date equipment, so it is natural to extend that modern appeal into dining areas nearby.

This casual, modern dining area from Trace Ventures with interior design by Beckwith Interiors demonstrates the power of symmetry in a thoroughly modern mix. Assorted objects are one in this dramatically linear space.

A casual, modern dining area by Trace Ventures of Nashville

A casual, modern dining area by Trace Ventures of Nashville | Photo credit: Chip Pankey

This Nashville kitchen from Trace Ventures with interior design by Diane Haston Gray, shows stainless-steel bar stools with leather seats to complement reflective, sleek materials throughout the kitchen. Spontaneous bursts of color add a distinctive, modern finish.

Spontaneous bursts of color add modern appeal in a kitchen and seating area by Trace Ventures

Spontaneous bursts of color add modern appeal in a kitchen and seating area by Trace Ventures of Nashville | Photo credit: Chip Pankey

Chestnut Hall interior designers Stacy McSpadden and Lana Zepponi created this breakfast room with furnishings selected from Chestnut Hall’s vast inventory in their Germantown, Tennessee, store. A fresh use of color and a light fixture that is modern in scale and style complete this updated look. Clean white textures are complemented by a dynamic, contemporary Don Estes painting from the David Lusk Gallery.

A bold use of color and modern elements in a breakfast area by Chestnut Hall interior designers Stacy McSpadden and Lana Zepponi

A bold use of color and modern elements in a breakfast area by Chestnut Hall interior designers Stacy McSpadden and Lana Zepponi | Photo credit: Sophorn Kuoy | See this entire home: Both Formal and Casual, a Home by Chestnut Hall

Modern elements in this kitchen seating area by Lisa Mallory include a subtle pattern on the bar stools and a contemporary painting by Maysey Craddock from the David Lusk Gallery. Custom cabinetry was created by Bob Westmoreland.

A subtle use of modern pattern on kitchen bar stools in a home designed by Lisa Mallory of Memphis

A subtle use of modern pattern on kitchen bar stools in a home designed by Lisa Mallory of Memphis | Photo credit: Julie Wage Ross | See the entire home: An Incredible East Memphis Home

This casual dining area next to a corner kitchen is part of a beachside condominium by Memphis designer Lee Pruitt. It features a painted Italian table, painted French side chairs and woven rattan armchairs. The modern Italian Venini glass chandelier is a stunning centerpiece to this open room.

A modern Italian Venini glass chandelier is a stunning centerpiece to this open room in a home by Memphis-based interior designer Lee Pruitt.

A modern Italian Venini glass chandelier is a stunning centerpiece to this open room in a home by Memphis-based interior designer Lee Pruitt. | Photo credit: Julie Wage Ross | See the entire home: Gracious Living Perfected in a Rosemary Beach Vacation Home

A self-described minimalist, Louisville artist Amanda Hofmann likes things clean, neat and functional. Stark elements of black and white in her kitchen are softened by a large 10-seat wooden farm table in the center. Also in the kitchen is a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard, where Amanda does ongoing chalkboard art. Currently showing is a birthday creation for her son on his first birthday.

A self-described minimalist, artist Amanda Hofmann of Louisville, KY, likes things clean, neat and functional.

A self-described minimalist, artist Amanda Hofmann of Louisville, KY, likes things clean, neat and functional. | Photo credit: Adele Reding | See the entire home: A Family Home, Redesigned

Memphis designer Selena McAdams of Spruce accommodated this homeowner’s prized moose head in a casual dining area next to the kitchen, but she flipped the switch on his straightforward, masculine style with a variety of seating options, from ultra-modern to traditional, around the table.

Memphis designer Selena McAdams of Spruce flipped the switch on her client's straightforward, masculine style with a variety of seating options, from ultra-modern to traditional, around a casual dining table.

Memphis designer Selena McAdams of Spruce flipped the switch on her client’s straightforward, masculine style with a variety of seating options, from ultra-modern to traditional, around a casual dining table. | Photo credit: Julie Wage Ross | See the entire home: Modern Meets Rustic

4. The space includes a variety of textures and materials.

Like the juxtaposition of new and old, a variety of textures in one room is engaging. Artistic combinations of different materials sharing the same space add visual movement and interest. Casual dining nooks and open kitchens are fun places to experiment with this important design concept.

From the vantage point of kitchen open bar seating, Memphis interior designer Sissy Nickels‘ presents a seamless combination of textures and materials using bleached wood, iron, metal, marble, glass and added foilage from the live plants.

From the vantage point of kitchen open bar seating, Memphis interior designer Sissy Nickels' presents a seamless combination of textures and materials.

Memphis interior designer Sissy Nickels‘ presents a seamless combination of textures and materials. | Photo credit: Julie Wage Ross

When interior designer Marianne Strong redesigned this kitchen, she was given the opportunity to use all of her favorite elements: unexpected color on the cabinetry, brass in the lighting, shelving and hardware, and a combination of marble and thick wood countertops. Even a steel window was added to the mix. The mixture is timeless and interesting.

Birmingham interior designer Marianne Strong redesigned this kitchen with a creative blending of varied materials.

Birmingham interior designer Marianne Strong redesigned this kitchen with a creative blending of varied materials. | Photo credit: Beth Hontzas

Memphis interior designer Greg Baudoin of Ray & Baudoin is known for his ability to create interesting, subtle shifts in texture and pattern. This breakfast table and bar seating area are in keeping with his reputation. Upholstered furnishings share an inviting space with a variety of woods including a wormy chestnut ceiling, antique beams and rustic antique oak flooring.

Subtle shifts in texture throughout an inviting kitchen area, created by Greg Baudoin of Memphis

Subtle shifts in texture throughout an inviting kitchen area, created by Greg Baudoin of Memphis | Photo credit: Julie Wage Ross

Natural light has a unifying, modern effect in a kitchen seating and dining area by Rhea Crenshaw where cottage-style rough-hewn beams, dark wood furnishings and traditional textiles are used to create a relaxed setting.

Relaxed dining with cottage-style charm by Memphis interior designer Rhea Crenshaw

Relaxed dining with cottage-style charm by Memphis interior designer Rhea Crenshaw | Photo credit: Julie Wage Ross

In a sophisticated interpretation of modern kitchen seating, Andrea Stratton has used understated changes in materials and patterns in an arrangement that accommodates a range of casual activities. Shades of white are, again, foundational to the success of this updated look.

A sophisticated interpretation of modern kitchen seating by Memphis interior designer Andrea Stratton

A sophisticated interpretation of modern kitchen seating by Memphis interior designer Andrea Stratton | Photo credit: Beth Moore

A painting by LA-based artist Mark Acitelli, “Isolation,” adds to the serene mood of this casual dining area in the home of interior designer Sean Anderson. A handsome, impromptu combination of table-top textures, modern light fixtures, an old-world farm table and upholstered seating demonstrates the appeal of textural variety.

A handsome, impromptu combination of textures in a casual dining area, designed by Memphis interior designerSean Anderson

A handsome, impromptu combination of textures in a casual dining area, created by Memphis interior designer Sean Anderson | Photo credit: Julie Wage Ross | See the entire home: The Flip Side of Tradition

These four current design trends are popular throughout the home, but they work especially well in a kitchen dining space. Whether you are completely renovating of simply updating, use this checklist to make the most efficient choices for your all-in-one, up-to-date casual seating arrangement.

Recap of the four trends of note:

  1. New and old are merged into one transitional style.
  2. Just add white. If not white, keep it light.
  3. Modern elements are incorporated into the design.
  4. The space includes a variety of textures and materials.

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