The dining room has had its chips. Pressure on space, more childrens' toys, a room for the computer and growing informality has put paid to the room which was rarely used and almost always chilly. Rosalind Russell examines the causes of its demise.

If you do have to entertain the boss for dinner, the easy option is to book a table at a restaurant. Developers, ever sensitive to buyer demand, are now tending to produce properties with kitchen diners, rather than sacrificing space for formality.

"It's now very rare to see a formal dining room which, quite honestly, can lie fallow for weeks at a time," says Peter Rollings, of estate agent Foxtons. "We are currently selling a pounds 725,000 three-bedroom apartment in Chelsea which has had the reception rooms knocked together into one and the kitchen extended to make it a kitchen dining room.

"When I bought my own house it had a dining room which we made into a playroom. It seems people are much more prepared, even at a smart level, to sit and have dinner in the kitchen. The amount of formal dining rooms I see in a month I could count on one hand... and I see up to 10 properties a day."

Even famous dinner party throwers have become more informal.

The Oxfordshire house recently sold through Knight Frank by Shakira and Michael Caine had a long, sociable table in a huge kitchen diner, as Mr Caine likes to chat to friends while he's cooking.

"The dining room is dead, long live the kitchen," says Richard Addington of Knight Frank. "Few buyers today specify the need for a dining room, the demand has all but died. Almost everyone is looking for a large eat- in family kitchen. People spend more money doing up their kitchen than on any other room in the house."

And anyone who has spent pounds 20,000-plus on a designer kitchen sure as hell doesn't want visitors to miss seeing it. Mr Addington also foresees the re-emergence of the good old-fashioned scullery.

"Some home owners are reinventing it for washing the leeks and storing dirty pans," he says. "Then everybody gets to see the designer bowl of pasta but not the grungy pan it was cooked in."

There's scarcely a house of any quality in Fulham, south-west London, where the kitchen hasn't been extended by a conservatory to make a large kitchen dining room, reports Lindsay Cuthill, of Savills. "Cooks don't want to be cut off from the action and stand behind the kitchen sink in a separate room during a dinner party."

Foxtons is currently selling a three-bedroom terraced house in Chiswick, London W4, with a 12ft kitchen opening to a 21ft family room/play area, for pounds 330,000.

In London's Hampstead village - surely at the cutting edge of chattering classes' dinner parties - Goldschmidt and Howland offers a six-bedroom, Grade II listed, five-storey house with a 23ft hand-made kitchen diner where guests have lots of room to admire the Rosiers cooking range, American- style fridge freezer and stripped wood floor. It is for sale at pounds 1.195m.

Kitchen dining is not just fashionable at the lobster thermidor end of the market. Everyone's doing it. A three-bedroom thatched cottage near Saffron Walden in Essex had a 33ft kitchen/diner/conservatory added at the rear. Windmill Cottage is for sale through Trembath Welch for pounds 150,000.

What next then, in informal living? Berkshire-based house building company Trencherwood Homes claims busy people in the 1990s don't have time to soak in the bath. It is offering new buyers the option of having a double shower cubicle instead.

Knight Frank 0171 629 8171; Foxtons 0181 996 6000; Goldschmidt & Howland 0171 435 4404; Trembath Welch 01371 872117; Trencherwood Homes 01635521200.