The Return of the Eat In Kitchen

By Kate Riley October 15, 2013

It seems everything comes full circle in design, and another place we’re seeing it happening is in the heart of the kitchen. Decades ago, the eat in kitchen with the dining table set in the middle of the space was commonplace, but over time and with our desire for more storage, it was replaced in many kitchens by an island.

In kitchen design we’re gravitating toward a more open feel, evidenced by the replacement of upper cabinets with bistro style shelving in many a remodel. Now it seems the weightier island is getting some serious competition from the lighter leggier table.

eat in kitchen styleathome

style at home

We rented a small furnished house while we renovated our home seven years ago and while we lived there we enjoyed its eat in kitchen. It had a pedestal table partnered with a trio of chairs (plus a high chair at the time!). It was small but it was perfect for us, we only needed to take a few steps to place the meal to the table instead of the back and forth into a separate dining space. It was cozy, casual, and it worked.

While we rented, we used the adjacent room which was “supposed to be” a formal dining room as a home office/playroom instead. We kept the toys and the laptop in that same spot away from the kitchen and the setup worked perfectly for how we were living with tiny tots.

mod breakfast nook bhg

better homes & gardens


How true is it that when we entertain everyone ends up in the kitchen? It’s the hub and where all the action is happening, so placing a dining table in the center of the space invites everyone to “come on in”. Benches and a rustic table lend a casual air where food and conversation take priority over formality.

elle decor eat in kitchen

elle decor

Acknowledging that the kitchen truly is a gathering space is much of the rationale behind the dine in kitchen. Kids can pull out their homework while a parent preps the meal, or guests can sit and relax or help chop vegetables while they visit with the cook. The chairs are comfortable, the table multitasks.

eat in kitchen jute interiors

jute interiors


My memories of good conversation come from a gathering of friends or family members around casual food in the kitchen. We had an impromptu party with a few friends on Saturday and I had not gone grocery shopping in preparation. It didn’t matter, a few pantry staples and a some vegetables from the fridge were pulled out, a store bought cheese pizza became the foundation for a more gourmet version enhanced with garden tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and a quick snip of basil from a pot in the window. Wines were opened, conversation was shared, and all the pleasantness took place right there in the kitchen.

eat in kitchen lonny

dining table in kitchen bhg

lonny  / better homes & gardens

What’s happened over the past few decades in many American subdivisions is that kitchens are designed in a predictable U or L shape with barstools that fit up under an island or peninsula. Not that there is anything wrong with that approach, in fact it’s a formula that makes perfect sense and provides what many believe is the best of both worlds, a surface that serves as one for prep, serve, and snack. Because let’s face it, people simply love being near the food!

The eat in kitchen is common abroad and in city living where apartments are smaller. Tucking a small dining space inside or just off the kitchen fits the floor plan and also suits the lifestyle of the dwellers.

 elle decor  / skona hem


But the eat in kitchen is not just a “small space” option, rather designers are opting to place a table instead of an island in the center of the kitchen to keep the focus on the dining experience rather than the extras storage while the amount of prep surface remains the same. Which is interesting…

eat in kitchen ad


blue and white eat in kitchen elle decor


wood table and chairs eat in kitchen

architectural digest / elle decor / via trendnet

… because as aesthetically pleasing as it is, there’s that “rule” that kitchen designers cite time and again, and it’s the necessity of a “work triangle” – that shape that aims for maximum efficiency by the sink, stovetop, and refrigerator being connected in an invisible triangle. In some spaces with a table in the middle, the work triangle might be interrupted. Should we ignore it in exchange for the pleasures of casual dining in the kitchen? Is it better that efficiency takes a backseat to comfort?

scandinavian style kitchen


There’s also the concern of all the chairs, if and when they don’t get pushed back in. In a kitchen space without a lot of clearance around the table, do multiple chairs get in the way. Also in a dine in kitchen you’re sitting right next to what could be a sink full of pots and pans (unless you’re the “clean as you go” type – my husband is, I am not!). Can you relax and enjoy the space in those circumstances?

In our current kitchen, we have an island that houses an oven and extra storage all while providing a work surface, and I do like having a separate prep surface for only cooking. Off the island is a small peninsula with seating which allows friends or the kids to have a meal in the kitchen but away from the island, and that set up works best for how we live right now, but I’m open to the idea of switching that up in a future home.

celia welch dine in kitchen island

celia welch

Ultimately for all of us it comes down to what we can afford and the way we prefer to live. Budget and square footage permitting, what would be your choice? 

Do you opt for the storage and prep surface provided by an island or peninsula with bar stools?  Do you prefer a separate breakfast nook off to the side? Would you or do you live with an eat in kitchen with a dining table centered inside the cook’s prep space?  



  1. Hmmm, iPad typing issues there, sorry. Anyway we added a banquette and we love it. I’m not sure id love a table in the middle of the room though. It’s difficult to work at without sitting down and it would be a complete pain to walk around. So while I love eat-in kitchens, I prefer the eating area to be a bit removed from the work area.

  2. I love eat in kitchens and would kill for one. However, as much as I like to look at photos of glamorous kitchens with a big table where the island would typically go, I think those are unrealistic for most people’s lives. People who actually cook their own meals. The chairs, the table, the lack of a triangle as you mentioned. Nope. No bueno.

    However the ones with a eat in area to the side? Perfection. With a built in bench/banquette? Blamo!

    I live in a narrow victorian and we have a small breakfast bar and a seperate dining room…I’m dreading the day that I can’t keep my toddler in his high chair and perch next to him on stools…

  3. I’m a pretty serious cook and baker so I have some comments on the efficiency argument. Part of me loves this set-up because it means I have a whole dining table to spread out on and sit down at, which seems great for things like recipe development (multiple cookbooks and a laptop, which then doesn’t get flour all over it) and cake/cookie decorating. However, I don’t see how people would ever prepare anything in some of these kitchens. Walk all the way around a table to get from the stove to the fridge to the sink? No, thanks! That said, I think you can have both, as evidenced by some of these layouts. In some cases, they seem to have replaced an island with a table and I think that works just fine. It’s mostly that first Architectural Digest one that had me shaking my head. But several of the others would be a welcome addition to our house!

  4. My favorite aunt and uncle have a small home without a separate dining room. They have always had a big table in the center of the kitchen. It does get in the way of flow, no doubt. But what it also does is keep everyone gathered together. It is the favorite space for most of our extended family!

  5. Lovely to look at. Impractical to live with (even if your kitchen is the size of my whole house). The only practical set-ups are the second picture with the banquette to the side and the tiny 2-seater “tea table” under the shelf at the window. Otherwise, they’re not practical to work in, and I don’t know how many of us are blessed to have a kitchen large enough to set up a table and chairs in the middle of the room anyway. I certainly don’t. I don’t even have room for a permanent island so I have a rolling/foldable cart that I can roll in when I need the extra surface and roll into the laundry room (or fold for storage) when I don’t – and the eat-in portion in the so-called breakfast nook is a small table w/2 chairs in front of the sliding patio doors. Lucky for me I not big on cooking for large groups who want to sit around and chat with me while I cook.

  6. My favorite of all the houses my husband and I have had was the one with the dining area at the open end of a U-shaped kitchen. We didn’t have a formal DR, and of all the rooms I’d be willing to give up in any house, that one tops the list. Our present house has a breakfast room adjacent to the kitchen. We use it for most meals. In fact I’m sitting at the table right now while eating my breakfast. It’s one of my favorite places because of the huge window with a view down the hill to the road.

  7. I have always grown up in an eat-in kitchen house and love it so much. I always planned to have one in my future home but now I can do it in an ever chicer way! Thanks for sharing.

    xo, Lily

  8. This is an interesting trend. We have a galley kitchen, so this wouldn’t work for us, but there’s a dining nook at the far end that we plan to use as our main eating space. So it’s an eat-in kitchen, just a long one! I do like the set-up, it separates our eating space from our cooking space while keeping them connected and near each other.

  9. My husband and I are finalizing the design on our kitchen remodel and we’re not going to have an eat-in-kitchen exactly, but we are removing the wall between our kitchen and dining room and making it a more multi-purpose space. I don’t know if I would ever kick out an island for a table, but I could see how that would work for others.

  10. We have a small home and the u-shaped kitchen has a small eat in area slightly off the center of the kitchen. The house is clearly designed for four people so with six, we had to move the table to the front living area. There was no way we could fit all the chairs in there! We had the exact problem you mention–if one person left their chair out, you were tripping to get through the space! We’re now looking at placing banquette seating and a small table back in that space. Its just unreasonable to ask the kids to take their snacks, quick breakfasts, etc. to the other room. I would love a slightly larger kitchen that could accomodate a standard sized table.

  11. I like it, when the space calls for it! In our house, it simply wouldn’t work. Our wall between the kitchen and “formal dining room” was blown out, so if we opted for a table versus an island, it would look like two tables side by side. Instead our dining room is much less formal and is simply where our table resides and an island next in between the spaces offers prep space and casual seating for entertaining, reading emails, sipping coffee, etc. But I know that there are spaces, especially where the formal dining spot is not so conveniently accessed that this would make sense. Love all the inspiration pictures!! Thanks for posting :)

  12. I have a u-shaped kitchen, with an area that houses a round table and chairs. Directly off of that is the dining room, with yet another table. Wasted space as far as I’m concerned, because we always gather in the kitchen. My compromise was to set up my dining room with table and chairs and a storage bench, which houses many of my craft supplies and sewing supplies. The table easily converts to a worktop by removing the tablecloth. It works for my small family.

  13. I’ve ALWAYS dreamed of having an eat in kitchen. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I think a natural wood table in the middle of a white kitchen is beautiful. One of my all-time faves is the kitchen from the movie Bridges of Madison County. Swoon.

  14. We are renting a farmhouse. The only space for a table is right in the kitchen. I am not a big fan of it though. If i have people for dinner I don’t want dishes in my sink and if I am cleaning up I feel in the way of people getting seconds and I would rather not be bending over the dishwasher as they are visiting at the table afterwards. I would love a breakfast nook off the kitchen someday though for breakfasts/lunches on a normal day.

  15. When we bought our house, a place to sit down in the kitchen was definitly an absolute must be. We now have a small round table at one side of our L-shaped kitchen, with a cozy bench, next to the garden door. And I love it very much.I love to cook with my hub sitting beside me, chatting away. Or talking to him, while he cooks. We use it also as a small breakfast table. The room next to our kitchen is our dining room, with a big table, perfect for guests. I am very, very happy for finding a house with a kitchen, big enough for a table.

  16. I guess I am the only person in the world who does not like to have guests in the kitchen when I cook. If I’m entertaining, I aim for having as much as possible ready to go before guests arrive. Sure, there are last minute things, but that would never justify having seats in my kitchen. To me, food prep and clean up are a different ball game from dining. Since my children are grown, I can opt for that kind of kitchen.

    If I were a builder of spec homes, I would find a way to tuck in a small eating are off the work triangle. It seems that’s the layout that would work for most demographics.

    So, you won’t find me putting a dining table in the kitchen. Illogical and impractical, but very pretty! Thanks for this roundup of thoughts and pics.

  17. My in-laws have an old-fashioned eat in kitchen…although it is a super nice one. I love it at holidays because the “older folks” sit around the table, sip wine, do some light cooking help (prepping), while my mother-in-law and I do the heavy cooking. It is comfortable and relaxing. Her kitchen is set out so one side is the cooking side and the table is at the other end. I like it at holidays but wouldn’t like it the rest of the year because the kitchen is closed off from the rest of the house.

  18. An eat-in kitchen is all I know and that is how I grew up. We never had a dining room and although I have one now I can count how many times on one hand that we’ve used it for dining. I much prefer the cozy and intimate dining. I sure did love looking at these pictures and in many of them I pictured my husband and kids in those pictures along with some of our family and friends. :)

  19. I would love to have an eat-in kitchen, but our current square footage just doesn’t allow it, so we have a narrow island (with no seating) instead. We do desperately need the counter space of the island, but I’d love to be able to have built in a banquette table off to the side like the first image!

  20. We have an L shaped eat in kitchen that fits our big table which we love. We’ve also had a big island in our previous rental kitchen which we found wonderful for buffet entertaining. But for us having the table close/in the kitchen is what we love the most. Somewhere for people to gather.

  21. When I designed our kitchen 2 years ago, I decided to go with an island but, one that wasn’t fixed as I wanted to have the option of an eat-in kitchen down the road if our needs changed. I like the idea of the dining room being a home office/craft/play space for the kids. Right now, a separate dining room works for us. My kitchen is L-shaped so having a kitchen table in the middle of the kitchen would not take away from the work triangle.

    Hmmm…I may just do such a swithceroo for the winter and see how it works out.

  22. We have a pretty large kitchen with an island in the middle and a breakfast table off to the side. I would hate having anyone sitting in the middle of the kitchen as I am trying to work – or looking at dishes as we try to eat. Yuck! The island is great for prep – but – we also end up circling around it as we move from the sink to the stove to the refrigerator. It’s in the way. The best bet is no island and no table! Loved these pictures though – they’re gorgeous. Maybe this would work if we had a live-in maid and cook???? haha

  23. I love this idea! I actually tried to talk my husband into it for our renovation solely for budget purposes. While I was reading this post I started to kick myself for not doing it but then realized how much storage I would lose because we only have three upper cabinets (we will eventually build open shelves).

    You asked for this link a LONG time ago but here are a few rough pictures of our marble laminate countertops. I kept waiting for things to improve aesthetically but I’m slowly learning these things take time…

    Always look forward to reading your blog.


  24. I have an island for the first time in my kitchen, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The storage and prep space is so needed in our tiny kitchen. Plus, I like having the separate dining room where we can eat that’s a little ways away from the kitchen. We’re fortunate that our house is a pretty open plan, so the living room is basically part of the kitchen, so whoever is cooking is never cut off from the rest of the gathering. The one thing I’m not doing is bar stools or seating at the island. I don’t like eating at a bar when I go out, so I don’t want that in my kitchen either. That’s perhaps an easier call for me to make as we don’t have children that need a convenient place to do homework. However, when the nephews were visiting over the weekend, we discovered math homework on the living room coffee table worked out pretty well.

  25. I have a long kitchen with a very long trestle table at the end where my large family eats. We have a dining room off the kitchen, the same length as the kitchen, but we use it as the Lego/Playmobil room, office, kids’ library. The eating table does not interfere with the kitchen work space, but we use the table for extra food prep. My daughter will sometimes be rolling out a pie crust at one end, while my husband is working at the other, and no flour strays onto his papers. All the chairs did bug me, so we built a long banquette against one wall and use a move-able bench which slides under the table on the other side. So only two chairs, one at each end. I wouldn’t want a table in the middle of the kitchen unless my kitchen was a VERY large farmhouse type room. I have a feeling most of the kitchens you featured don’t see a lot of daily, heavy activity and eating in the kitchen is a sort of novelty for the homeowners and any guests.

  26. I’m not a confident cook, therefore I prefer not to have anyone in the kitchen while I’m getting it ready. Also I couldn’t possibly sit and enjoy a meal in a kitchen full of pots and pans and a sink full of stuff, so I’d rather have the dining room. BUT I definitely need a table outdoors where I can sit and enjoy coffee, tea and as many meals as the the weather will allow. I’m Canadian eh!

  27. There is no dining room in my home. It would have been nice to know what the original kitchen looked like before the POs rehab. From small child to teens we always had one. Now I have a round table with flip down sides against the 3rd wall without storage. And I only have 2 or 3 sit down dinners a year with family. They are very gracious, because in reality the oven is hot and little room to move around. Small and cozy sounds so nice and I love the Holiday Kitchen. But eat in takes a huge kitchen for family dinners.

    Mindy, I read your comment and went to your site. Left a message about the GofMC, plus a link to an article about the house being arsoned and which may not be able to be rebuilt.

  28. Great post! I’m always designing my dream kitchen in my mind (not that it’s looking like it’s going to happen anytime soon :-) and this is something that I’ve thought more about lately. I’m not a huge cook so I’d gladly give up some storage and prep space to have a family-centered kitchen where we all hang out. Thanks for the inspiration!

  29. So true…
    We live in an apartment and we rent. But we do have an eat in kitchen. I couldn’t imagine my life without it. Every time we have parties the guests all gather up in the kitchen.
    I enjoyed looking at these gorgeous photos.

  30. What lovely pictures. Interesting that it’s so easy to pick out the ones organized by people who just don’t cook much. :)

    I have a large, square kitchen, with a dining area separated by a peninsula. It’s not big enough for dining, so the peninsula kind of acts as a buffet and/or prep area.
    I love it, and love my beautiful farm table, which happens to be teak, with a top from a single section of the trunk. I can look at it, sit at it, and look out my beautiful back view, all the while not missing the timers, boiling pots, or anything else I might need to keep an eye on.

    I grew up with this configuration. I guess we often go with what we or our memories know.

  31. Interesting ideas! I’m a sucker for storage space and higher working areas, so the idea of a table taking the place of an island isn’t appealing to me. We are currently remodeling our 42 year old house and removed the walls between the kitchen, dining and family living areas. We will have one huge space about 60 feet by 18 feet that will start with a kitchen on one end, then dining, then living room. I’m not sure how it will all feel when it is finished, but our hope was to fit more people in one space with a casual flair.

  32. What a great topic and such beautiful kitchens! When we renovated our last house we took out the space for a table and added an island. I loved the idea of everyone sitting at the island for casual meals. How wrong I was! I hated eating at the island – who could have predicted! We recently renovated our current home and my priority was to have a table that can seat our family. With six people in our family and friends over all the time our table is the hub where many great conversations are carried on (not to mention homework, arts and crafts, etc). We do have a dining room but it rarely gets used. We are fortunate as we have a large kitchen to work with but I would never have a kitchen without a table again.

  33. Kate! I have been seeing this trend as well. I think there are ways to have the function and the form work together. I don’t think there has to be an exact triangle as long as there is good proximity to everything. I can see how the design could get “messy” but some of the pics you show look like they would work great. In my own home it wouldn’t work because of size but I would do it in a heartbeat if I were able to.

  34. Great pics, love eat in kitchens, have lived with them and without them, prefer having a casual, small table and chairs to counter or bar wih stools because little kids and elders don’t do well on stools. Love having company in the kitchen while I’m cooking or morning coffee and catching up on the news and an afternoon snack in a cozy kitchen.

  35. I’ve had both, and when we redid our kitchen, I decided to have more of a U shape with the eat-in section at the end. Cooking is like a dance for me, and I need surfaces, and room to carry hot pans of water etc. I just can’t have people weaving around in the line of march. Christine said above, that it’s easy to see designed kitchens as opposed to active cooking kitchens. I think that’s right.

  36. I’m so glad I’m not the only “crazy” person out there who has converted their dining room to a more usable space! We are just not formal diners. We have a island in the middle of our kitchen with barstools and our everyday kitchen table for four (can seat six) off to the side of the island. So with the barstools and table, we can accommodate up to 12 in the kitchen if needed and I love it that way. I don’t have to miss all the conversation by being separated. Our kitchen table is the hub of family life, so I feel like we do have an “eat-in” kitchen that also has an island. Best of both worlds.

    Our formal dining room is a playroom/home office which works so well for the little ones to play and not have to be upstairs away from us or have their things all over the living room.

  37. Just a gal from small town Canada… anyway we have both a eat in kitchen and a large d/room. Never have had the problem that many have spoke about that the table would be in the way as ours is at the other end of the kitchen beside the pantry cupboards. We do not have an island to work at or to have to move around either. There are always things okay many things that I would love to change like new cabinets and countertops….. but one has to wait. Still love the fact that we do not have to look at the dirty pots and pans as we eat in the other room.
    Thank you for the gorgeous kitchens to drool over.

  38. I have a table in one end of our U shaped kitchen which is too narrow for an island. I hate the thought of kids that outgrow the high chair using a stool on an island. My son is an active 3 year old and has fell our of his chair more that I would like. My grandma had a large table in her kitchen and I miss her meals.

  39. Eat in kitchens are so much easier for family dining: easier to set and clear the table and easier to grab something like an extra serving spoon.

  40. My fondest memories are of family meals at my grandmother’s table in her kitchen. I love the feeling of an eat-in kitchen. In every party or gathering we’ve ever had, most folks end up in the kitchen anyway. The configuration of my present kitchen is a bit awkward but I do have a vintage table instead of an island. I often sit there to do meal prep. One of these days we will guy the kitchen and start over and there are plans for a long farm table for the family to gather around.

  41. Can I just say, I’ve never gotten the big deal about a work triangle. Is there any way the place three things (stove, sink, refrigerator) and NOT have it be a triangle, unless, of course, they are all along the same wall? But even then, they still call it work triangle. There is just no way to place them in the same room without them forming a triangle. This is just some term they came up with in the ’40s that was just incredibly obvious. We need to let go of that triangle idea, and throw it out, since it really doesn’t mean anything.

    Okay… off my soapbox.

    We have an eat-in kitchen. Some days I love it, and other days I hate it. We have a small house, so it is the only place to put the table. However, it does make our kitchen very cramped. Some people have suggested getting a smaller table, but I absolutely LOVE my table, so I don’t want to get rid of it. So I guess that means it is worth it lose a little kitchen convenience to have a real table. At least for us it is.

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