The Nigella Effect

by : Tracy Kellett

If you thought that Nigella Lawson's influence on consumer behaviour had reached its height last Christmas with bare-knuckle fights in supermarket isles for the last jar of goose fat, then think again. She may also be responsible for a notable new home-buying trend. The domestic goddess has so affected our psyches that many home hunters are now demanding a dining room.

After spending hours creating beautiful food, people don't want to bring their guests into a steamy kitchen to be surrounded by dirty pots and pans. Elaborate dinner parties with many courses are in and of course a gorgeous dining room provides the icing on the cake.

It's about time too. For too long dining rooms were under-used and unloved and I think this is a positive new trend in the way people are using and enjoying their houses. I run a property search agency and it was whilst viewing properties with clients that I noticed the increasing number of requests for properties - especially period properties - with a dining room. We've dubbed this the Nigella Effect.

Period homes are particularly suitable for buyers who are keen to secure a large and well-proportioned dining space. Properties from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras all benefit from high ceilings and large windows, which are a great selling point for any room.

Windows were a status symbol in Georgian times - the grander the property, the deeper the window. Large Victorian and Edwardian properties also frequently feature big bay windows, which lend dining rooms a light and airy feel. Fireplaces are a common focal point of period dining rooms and if they're original - and in good working order - they too have great appeal.

Through conversations with the Geffrye Museum, I have discovered that the dining room first appeared in middle class homes around the 1660s. They were more opulent in design than parlours and contrary to popular belief, were frequently heavily adorned with tapestries and gilt hangings. Eleanor John, keeper at the Geffrye, explained that until recently, it was commonly misunderstood that Georgian dining rooms were kept free from decorative textiles - in case they became tainted by food smells.

In a typical four storey Georgian town house, you would find the kitchen on the ground floor or in the basement and the dining room on the first floor. By the start of the Victorian period, the dining room has moved downstairs, and often to the front of the house, with the parlour occupying the garden room at the back.

The Victorian dining room generally features darker colours - dark green was very popular for walls - and has been described as taking on a more masculine feel. This was to accommodate the Victorian trend for the postprandial departure of the women for the more feminine drawing room, leaving the dining room to the men.

But back in the present day, I have home buyers who are desperate to secure their own piece of period dining. Even if you don't have one of your rooms set up for formal dining, a buyer should be able to see the potential in your house to create one. Period properties tend to be large enough to feature several individual downstairs rooms, so your music room or library could easily become a buyer's dream dining room.

In general, period properties are the ones that my buyers fall in love with. But unfortunately for them, it's a sellers' market because, especially at the upper end, demand outstrips availability. Home hunters hire a search agent for many reasons: they're too busy to look for a property themselves; they're looking to relocate and need help to familiarise themselves with the market in a new area; they want help to negotiate with estate agents. But many buyers come to us when they're hoping to buy a period property because they know that these most desirable homes can sell fast and fetch a top price - dining room or no dining room - so they want a professional on their side.

How to turn your dining room into a real selling point:

Ã?â‚??A fireplace always makes a great focal point and is an essential feature in the period dining room. Buyers love them.

Ã?â‚??The use of dramatic colours can really set off this special room. Red is a good colour for a room where food is going to be enjoyed as it is said to stimulate the appetite. For a Georgian room, go for a browny red; a dark, deep red is preferable for a Victorian.

Ã?â‚??Restore or replace architraves, corbels and ceiling roses in Victorian and Edwardian dining rooms. Dado rails became popular in Victorian dining rooms to protect wallpaper and paintwork from chair backs.

Ã?â‚??Uplighters will create a warm, mellow ambiance and show your room off to its best.

Ã?â‚??If your dining room is lucky enough to benefit from the deep bay windows often found in Victorian and Edwardian houses, don't clutter them up with heavy furniture.

Ã?â‚??Decorative screens, fans and Oriental lacquer work will give your dining room authentic Georgian appeal. To keep in period, hang pictures in formal groups around the fireplace.