Many of us think of the dining room as a formal space, unused except for special occasions. The key to opening up this space is not simply to force the issue: It should be a natural space to congregate.
The dining room is a dual-use space -- sometimes formal, sometimes casual. By decorating with both types of gatherings in mind, you can make your family and guests more comfortable without spending a dime. Making coasters or placemats from family art is as easy as buying inexpensive laminate or contact paper to cover them for everyday use. A large dining table is perfect for puzzles, crafts and games, and can be easily transitioned to a more formal look with a simple change of linens.
The dining room shouldn't be an untouchable showpiece or a secret -- it's a place to gather and enjoy one another. That means making everyone feel included and comfortable in the space, rather than like an unwelcome visitor. There's no need to keep the place in expensive settings and tablecloths year-round. By taking it down a notch, you give the space air and life, making it all the more special for those unique occasions when it is transformed.