Nicola here! When I was a small child we lived in an ultra-modern house in a town in the North of England. It was the 1960s and 70s and open plan was the height of fashion. Both sets of grandparents however lived in bungalows and my step-grandparents lived in a Victorian two-up tow-down house. All three of these buildings had one thing in common; they had a room that was “for best.” The door was almost always closed and when I was allowed in I didn’t like it. It was always cold (there was no heating on because it wasn’t used very often) and it smelled of that closed up mustiness that rooms sometimes have. In all cases there was a cactus or an aspidistra (or both!) on a wooden plant stand. It was the dining-room.
Dining-rooms are curious things. They go in and out of fashion. At some stages they are the ultimate in aspiration and at others ignored. The Ancient Greeks are usually given the credit for inventing the concept of the dining-room. There were very specific requirements for it: no more than 11 wood or stone benches around the walls. It was a place where men gathered to eat honey cakes and chestnuts, washed down with wine. Yes, it was men only! The Romans, refining the concept, created the triclinium where both men and women dined reclining on sofas, which can’t have been great for the digestion. The Roman triclinium was a very high status room built to have a view and to provide refreshing breezes as one ate. Many were outside and had murals on the wall and fountains in the tables, according to archaeology done at Pompeii.