Only the largest of villas and penthouses have dining rooms we could call spacious. The rest of us have rooms—or spaces carved out of rooms—where we eat elbow-to-elbow. The trick is not to worry about the square footage, but to make the dining experience comfortable and special. Here's how:
If possible, bring the table to the window. Most rooms benefit from at least one window, but a doorway or pass-though to another room can suffice. Small tables let you tuck up close to the view and the fresh air. For dining rooms with large tables, it's enough to play up the window as a focal point in the room, using curtains or Roman shades to dress it with color and pattern. If the view of your neighbor's fire escape is less than stellar, screen the glass, but still bask in the daylight—or moonlight—that a glimpse of the outside world allows.
To bring people to the table, you literally have to mark it, as if on a map. The most common way to do this is with a chandelier. These fixtures provide important illumination, but they serve also as visual cues that this area (and, by extension, this group of people) is special and worthy of the spotlight. If you can't install a chandelier, an eye-catching centerpiece can perform the same task. Arrange a vase of flowers, fill a bowl with fruit or vegetables, or get creative with ornaments or collectibles and create a pretty display in the middle of the table.
Often, a dining area is part of a larger room, such as a living room or kitchen. To make it feel special, unfurl an area rug under the table and chairs, place artwork on the wall above, or hang special lighting, such as a candelabra, to set it apart.
The furniture in your dining area can be a powerful tool to help make a small space feel larger. Tables that expand with extensions or drop leaves are an obvious way to maintain a small footprint for daily use, while letting you add place settings on special occasions. The types of seats you make available are key, too. Armless chairs fit closer together. Benches, built-in banquettes, and even small sofas or love seats are a cozy way to squeeze in a crowd. And a couple table-height stools can be pulled into quick service, too.