Slide over, supper club: A-list designers have crowned a new queen of the WFH setup, and it’s cushioning the blow of all those cancelled Friday-night dinner parties amid the pandemic lockdown. Creatives seeking natural light, an out-of-the-way spot for calls, and space to spread out are landing in their dining rooms, turning antique European tables into dynamite work desks and marveling at the opportunity to work in such a deeply personal space.
“I have always liked working in the dining room,” says Anthony Baratta, who is sheltering in his home in Southampton. “I’m always doing a few things at once: drawing, making phone calls, writing and cooking. I like to leave my stuff all over the table so I can come back and change decorating schemes around.” Here, a look at how he and six other designers are finding a little breathing room for their grandest ideas.
“I feel just as inspired here as I do at my studio,” says Charleston, South Carolina, designer Angie Hranowsky, who is sheltering in place in a home she built and designed recently just across the river from downtown. “I started out on my kitchen island, but then I realized my dining area puts me in front of the sliding doors, which I’ve had open every day for our gorgeous spring weather.”
A Zettel 5 chandelier by Ingo Maurer floats vellum photos, poems, and other memorabilia above her vintage Eero Saarinen table. “The chandelier has thin wires that you place to create a custom light fixture. I can make it as full as I want, and I’m constantly adding photos, quotes that I find inspiring, and notes from friends,” she says, adding that the set of six dining chairs are by Charlotte Perriand, found through a dealer in Paris.
“I have loved seeing my children each day. It’s challenging at times, but they are old enough to be self-sufficient, so now we can take a break in the middle of the day and go for a walk or ride bikes,” she says. “It’s nice that these little things that are now part of my workday.”
Setting up shop in the breakfast room is “like sitting in the garden,” says designer Matthew Carter, who says the quiet of recent weeks has brought a new sense of focus and concentration. And it’s no wonder: With spring also in full swing in his home city of Lexington, Kentucky, “it is so beautiful right now, so this is definitely a prime spot. This room gets the most light throughout the day and overlooks our boxwood knot garden as well as another garden beyond that.”
His “desk” in the sunny, semicircular space — designed by his partner, architect Brent Bruner — is French, a contemporary piece he bought from a dealer in Louisville years ago. “I bought the chairs from 1stDibs and had them painted and upholstered in that wonderful pea-green Larsen fabric. The backs are a tomato red and ivory cotton print,” he says. The stenciled geometric floor pattern was added by decorative painter Zembrod House when he and Bruner renovated the kitchen and breakfast room.
“Quarantine has made me appreciate my own house even more than I did before,” says New York–based designer Ashley Whittaker, who rediscovered the abundant light in her Millbrook dining room when setting up for a Zoom call one afternoon. “Normally, if I am at home on a weekday, I camp out at the big farmhouse table in the kitchen, but I realized this was super sunny and a great out-of-the-way spot. And with our kitchen being the center of daily activity with big dinners every night, I am happy I got out of the way when I did!”
A teal garden stool she found at the Antiques and Garden Show of Nashville serves as a colorful, mini-credenza to her Cuban mahogany dining table, purchased at auction.
Lighting up Whittaker’s clawfoot console table (Fritz Porter) are fresh poppies from a nearby farm. “We have a sustainable flower grower, Bear Creek Farm, near Millbrook, and hundreds of their gorgeous poppies were going to waste every day due to the virus and the closure of the New York flower market,” says Whittaker. “The owner generously offered her local friends a share in the crop for the next several weeks. It has been a luxury to have fresh flowers in the house, and there is no doubt that flowers bring happiness and lift the spirits.”
“When I started working at home I thought, ‘Wow, I can work all day in my pajamas, but that got old fast,'” says Anthony Baratta. “Plus, I have found that working from home is a bit like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood: There is always somebody showing up, expected or unexpected. So now I get dressed like I normally would. I need that kind of regimen.”
For him, the brilliance of the dining room as a workspace isn’t a COVID-19 revelation—but working exclusively from home has been a new experience. “It has been a journey of self-awareness, educating myself, and faith,” he says. “I have had a lifetime of people doing things for me. That was nice, but I realize I was missing out. When we come out of this—and we will—I want to be a better person because of it.”
Baratta’s table is vintage McGuire and the chairs are Thonet No.17, crafted of bentwood and cane in the 1980s. The neoclassic prints in twig frames are finds from Maine.
“It might be difficult getting me out of here when life resumes,” says interior, restaurant, and bar designer Marissa Zajack, whose work includes the posh downtown Los Angeles eatery Red Herring. “The light in the dining room is magical, and because a lot of my day is dedicated to designing a new wallpaper and textile line, it’s great being in there all day to see how the changing light affects the designs.”
She and her family (which includes cockapoo Bunny) live in The Talmadge, a Renaissance Revival building in Los Angeles built in 1924 for silent film actress Norma Talmage by her husband, Joseph Schenk. “We moved in recently, and because of our crazy schedules, we weren’t eating too many meals in the dining room,” says the designer, who furnished the space with a table from H.D. Buttercup and Wegner Wishbone chairs. “After adding all of my materials, research, and now some of my designs on the walls, the room feels more inspiring, more alive.”
Married design duo Brooke and Steve Giannetti have been working from home since they moved into their Ojai, California, home seven years ago and designed their soaring, garden-adjacent dining room to sub in for a standard office. “It seemed crazy to have a dedicated space that was only used on special occasions, so we put our dining table in the great room where it could be used for different purposes,” says Brooke. “The room is filled with natural light, which makes fabric and paint selections much easier, and we can hear the soothing sound of water from the fountain in the garden.”
Extra dining chairs are used for stacking fabrics and supplies “as well as our pups!” says Brooke, of shih tzus Sophie and Sera, who have no complaints about the pair sheltering in place, she adds. And they’re not the only ones reaping a few positive side benefits. “We have discovered that Zoom meetings are incredibly productive — sharing screens actually works better than having clients try to look at drawings over our shoulders,” say the WFH veterans. “We will continue doing meetings this way because they work so well.”
Surrounding them are a rich mix of antiques. The table is a Belgian oak work table they found at Garden Variety in Nashville, the chairs are French with leather upholstery (Lucca Antiques), and the mantel is also a French piece, crafted of limestone (Exquisite Surfaces).
Jeff Lincoln‘s big dining room window overlooks the street in the charming village of Southampton. “I’ve always preferred to work in here,” he says, noting that his desk is an antique Swedish gate leg table and the Josef Albers framed art is an heirloom from his mother. “My mom was a gallerist, and everyone in my family loves Albers so they are treasured possessions,” he notes. “They often spark arguments when my brothers visit. Why do you have more Albers than we do? ‘Mom liked me the most’ is the common answer.”
Personal stories like these are more likely to come up now during conversations with clients, he says, which has been one of the unexpected rewards of working from home. “I have enjoyed Zooming with clients and letting them see my personal environment.” And there’s a renewed concentration that comes with fewer distractions. “I love to take intermittent breaks and peruse through design books and magazines to open up my mind and spark thoughts and ideas,” he says. “I have always advised young people in my office that reading these materials once is not enough. I’ll read the same issue of a magazine many times, discovering something different or useful nearly every time.”