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Illustration by Lauren O’Connell

Designing Not Just a Home, but a Family

In an effort to fill the empty space in my dining room on a budget, I ended up walking away with so much more than I had ever bargained for.

After months of Google searches, weekends spent at the furniture stores, and scrolling through interior design blogs every moment in between, there it was—our perfect dining set. Every piece of research boiled down to this find. The table, which I had gone back-and-forth on for quite a few weeks, is admittedly a lot more modern than what I had originally envisioned for the empty space in our soon-to-be dining room. At a price of $270, however, I started to see all the ways in which it could work. The chairs are a sleek set of modern farmhouse style chairs with bold lines, covered in a black matted finish. They quickly became the perfect compliment to the ultra modern table I had queued up in my cart. Not to mention they were listed at $98 per set, a price found few and far between with most design-forward chairs on the market today.

Many interior designers will tell you, “The best items for your home will come over time, not all at once”—a sentiment I can fully back, as I’ve been on the hunt for various parts of our home for a little over a year now. Searching for that perfect piece becomes a tricky balance of form, function, and timing.

While the designer in me could have easily spent more time looking for the perfect set to fill this space, the homeowner part saw all the factors seamlessly coming together. Everything from aesthetic, to size measurements, to cost — we were ready to pull the trigger so our TV dinner habits could soon become a tale of the past.

A photograph of the assembled table and chairs adorned with a patterned runner, a candle and a vase full of greenery as its centerpiece.

The dining room—or perhaps more along the lines of a small breakfast nook—sits right off the kitchen in its own little corner, adjacent to our open living room. Having previously lived in various shared apartments throughout Brooklyn over the past nine years, we found ourselves doughy-eyed and dumbstruck in our newly owned, 2200-square foot cooperative apartment. Nestled in a red brick building on a tree-lined block in the heart of Long Island suburbia, we have more space than we’ve grown accustomed to this past decade. To make matters even more mind-blowing, we now have a place to eat that’s not on the couch. The determination was strong to prioritize this part of our home, and what a world of a difference this space created in how we started to treat dinner time again.

In making home decisions for the future, one’s mind can’t help but reflect on the home of the past. Growing up in a family hit by divorce, our dinner routines gradually shifted away from the table over the years. This was not to any fault of my mother, as she has always been a big proponent of the sit-down family dinner. Over time, however, my brother and I began dragging our feet to the table more and more, making every possible argument in favor of keeping ourselves planted in front of the TV. It soon became two-against-one for arguments of this sort, and despite my mother’s strength and resilience, she was also just very tired at the end of the day. To avoid constant conflict, dinner started to happen wherever it needed to happen—as long as it was happening. I look back at these habits I created for myself with regret and disappointment in missing out on those early face-to-face family moments at home. I wonder about all the ways in which we could have benefited from sharing time as a family at day’s end. If my brother and I had embraced those small but powerful moments earlier in life, my mind can’t help but think of all the ways we could have learned to communicate the stresses of our days and how we could have used that time to celebrate each other.

As my husband and I now expect a child of our own, I find myself yearning for connection and communication more than ever in a world where our smartphones are leaving us blind to the present moment. I see now how shared conversation over a meal can be such a valuable device for children growing up in this age of technology. After a busy day of work or school, a sit-down dinner can open up doors of reflection for all parties involved. It can knock down boundaries of doubt or confusion in our everyday lives, and it can teach children to voice their emotions and opinions with the people they love.

A photograph of the dining space all set up for Lauren’s first official family dinner.

Sure, a time will come when my kids will defy and resist in the same manner my brother and I did with my mother all those years ago. There will also be some nights where our on-the-go lifestyle won’t be very forgiving. Still, my excitement right now in developing these beneficial habits and creating new traditions within our soon-to-be family of three leaves me hopeful for all that’s to come.

Recently, we had our first home-cooked family meal together in what feels like years. The whole gang was present; my father, mother, brother, husband, and me with our baby-to-be. I paused for a moment to look around as all of us were talking, laughing and connecting across the table. It was one of those moments I freeze-framed in my mind and stored in my most precious archive of memories. Amidst the laughter and joyous celebration of just simply existing together, there we sat, at a handsome dining set arranged exquisitely in our intimate dining nook. Every design detail of our newly beloved space has paid off from day one, as it was all carefully curated with a sense of hope and optimism for a more present-focused future.

Lauren O’Connell is a designer, motion designer and art director currently on the Vox Creative team and has been with Vox Media for 5 years.