Large, separate dining rooms are rare finds in apartments. Usually, the dining area is a small room or part of the great room. Some apartments (especially loft-style apartments and studios) don’t have a designated dining area at all. As a result, the dining room is often overlooked or used to hold clutter. (Sure, there may be a table under there somewhere, but when was the last time you saw it – let alone ate at it?) Stop having dinner at the coffee table (or at the breakfast bar)! Make your dining room beautiful and useful – no matter how small or undefined it may be.
First, define your space. If your apartment dining room isn’t obvious, there are ways to create a separation between the living and dining area. A throw rug, for example, is a great way to set the dining space apart. Find one that will fit beneath your dinette set and extend out on all sides. A hanging accent light over the table will also define the space – if you don't have one, hang one. If you want even more definition, add a privacy screen between the dining and living area, or stand a backless bookcase perpendicular to the wall between the living and dining area. If you are allowed to paint, adding some color to just one wall in the dining area will help create a separation between the spaces.
Determine your seating needs. If you never use the dining room because it is only large enough to fit a small dinette and you have a large family, try using a bench or booth along one side instead of chairs. A long bench against the wall can accommodate several diners, while the chairs can be used on the opposite side. If, on the other hand, you live alone, a bistro set with two stools may be enough for you. If your dining space is in a corner, use that to your advantage – situate two benches along the adjacent walls and you'll gain an extra seat where the two benches meet in the corner. Try using a round table instead of a square or oblong one – a round table can accommodate more people and takes up less space.
Clear the clutter. If you are using your dining table as a dropping-off place for papers, books, and other items you bring into your apartment, you may need more storage space. Create some in the dining room by adding high shelves along the walls (these can also help define the space if you add a few decorative items -- such as colorful teapots and plates – to the shelves). If you can find (or make) bench seats with storage, that will provide a great place to store lesser-used and seasonal items. A bookcase, antique pie safe, or curio cabinet in the corner of the dining area will provide additional storage.
Give your space some character! If you love the space, you are more likely to use it (and keep it clutter-free). Add some personality and flair to your dining room by using mismatched chairs, decorating with your collection of antique egg cups, hanging your favorite prints on the wall, or putting a grouping of brightly-colored candlesticks in the middle of the table. If your dining room has a window, even better – create a window seat by putting an old wooden toy chest, an antique trunk, or a storage bench directly under the window. Make (or buy) a cushion to fit the top of the lid, and then put a few throw pillows against the back of the bench. Add curtains that complement the seat cushion (you can flank the bench with bookcases on either side of the window for a "built-in" look).
Give your dining room double-duty usefulness. Even with the clutter gone and the dining room looking beautiful, you may find that you prefer eating at the breakfast bar or at the coffee table day-to-day, saving your dining room for more formal occasions. So, give your dining room another purpose. It can double as an office (a bookcase near the dining table can hold books, your laptop, and other supplies) or as a craft space (put supplies in baskets and keep them stored on nearby shelves).
Finally, look for items that fit your dining space and don't worry if it isn't "traditional" dining room furniture and accessories. For example, if you find a great little wrought-iron garden set, go ahead and use it in your tiny dining space! If you find an old desk, get some mismatched chairs and a bench and use it as your dining table (those drawers are perfect for holding extra silverware, cutlery, napkins, tablecloths, etc.). You may not think a file cabinet is suitable for your dining room, but painted a bright color and used to hold candlesticks and chargers, it will be perfect.