Lessons of a Dining Room

If you’ve been around me at all in the past two months, then you’ve probably heard me talk about my new dining set.

A few friends graciously gave us their old dining table and chairs. Previously, we only had two patio chairs that were too low for the table and made us more inclined to eat on the couch (read more of that post here).

They unloaded the set on a sunny Thursday in late August. The wooden table and chair frames were burnt orange, and the cushions – with hardly any cushion at all – were wrapped in floral fabric, circa 1976. They needed a little love, and it was going to be my project.

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Now I love the idea of DIY. But sometimes I’d rather buy stuff than get grumpy over shoddy end products that make me want to pout.

In this case, though, I was determined to revamp this set and finally give ourselves a dining room. Too many times, I had wanted to cook for people but always talked myself out of it over lack of seating and a table to gather around. So we picked up two cans of paint, and I waited until JoAnn’s had a nice sale to get the fabric I’d been eyeing. I did a little Googling, a little sanding, painting, cutting and stapling.

I made progress because I was desperate to finish something and be proud of it.

I was tired of screwing up another loaf of bread, I still hadn’t put together a wedding album from last year, and the stalks of my basil plant were becoming twig-like, a sure sign of horticulture failure. This dining set was my hope of homemaking redemption.

But I like to think the upgrade wasn’t entirely in vain.

It felt so slow. I’d work on a couple cushions one night. Sand, then paint a coat, wait. Paint another coat, wait.

I saw the potential, the movement, but I yearned for the satisfaction of completion. And that’s not dissimilar from how I approach the learning process in other scenarios, too. Whether I want to be more diligent in prayer or be a better cook or curate an inviting home, I thirst for results, for the finished product.

I want to be inspired every time I speak to God. I want those pancakes to be as tall as Joy the Baker’s. I just want to find an area rug that doesn’t cost me a month’s rent and have a steady supply of fall-scented candles and patterned dish towels.

What I forget is that – like those chairs – progress and what we perceive as improvements are not always immediate, tactile, buy-them-at-TJ Maxx things.

They could be. For example, I could make a day trip and load up a cart with throw pillows, placemats, glass vases and bowls. New, little sentiment. My home might be pretty, but it may feel forced by perfection’s pressure. And my heart just might take on that same shape, as well.

My parents’ home intrigues me because it features new paintings next to old clocks. A modern red couch, lit by the same lamp that was there when I was ten. It is warm, decorated for the seasons and a complete evolution from their 35+ years of marriage.

I believe making a home or uncovering what we’re good at, what we’re crazy for – is all about developing our character.

It’s about a life of curation, not instant gratification. A collection of lessons and learnings in process, not necessarily end products.

Because a dining room is not about the furniture; it’s about giving people a place. Time in prayer is not about getting all the answers; it’s about being re-connected to the source of who we are. Baking awesome bread is not about having luck once; it’s about knowing the dough from kneading it again and again.

I have to think that magic happens when we give ourselves permission to be imperfect, in progress. 

And I’m not very good at this, but you know, I’m working on it.

So go ahead. Curate your home, make your art, bake your cake, and enjoy the results. But don’t neglect to see value in the slow. To notice the points along the way that ground you, teach you, and bring you joy.

5 thoughts on “Lessons of a Dining Room

  1. Mallory,
    I love your quote about a dining room not being about the furniture, but “giving people a place.” I have always been intrigued by table for that very reason. You said it so well.
    Bobbi McPeak


  2. Like so many things in life (even my tennis!), it’s about enjoying and seeing value in the process as much as the end result. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate that, especially when you’re in the middle of it all!


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