Recipe for a Dining Room: How to decorate a room from inspiration to (almost) finished

I have some better pictures from the dining room shown in my last post.  Unfortunately, my professional photographer (aka my partner's twin's girlfriend) wasn't able to come with me to the client's home today, but I did manage to find a decent camera.

For those who are interested in the design process, I thought I'd share the steps taken on this room for it to come together.

1.  Inspiration/brainstorming/fact finding.  This dining is room is in new construction, and I started working with the client early in the process, which made a lot of things easier.  One first consideration is that the client prefers a very simple, clean look, natural materials, a monochromatic colour scheme, and dark hardware.  That meant that the dining room would have to have the same dark stained concrete floors and neutral wall color (Manchester Tan from Benjamin Moore) as the rest of the open floor plan ground floor.  These preferences also gave direction to the choices of rug, upholstery fabric, and window treatment.  She also knew that she wanted slipcovered side chairs in a light fabric (two young boys meant that she couldn't have the light sofa she prefered, so she wanted the cream somewhere), contrasting host/hostess chairs, and a natural wood table.

2.  Find a starting point.  These great Chinese chairs in a dark teal blue were our very first purchases for the room.  I don't know if they are actually vintage or are reproductions, but they have a great patina and distressed character.  And, quite frankly, they're not that comfortable.  But the client loved them, kept turning back to them despite hesitations, and finally broke down and bought them.  I think they make the room.  In fact, the colour is so beautiful that we pulled the wall color for the nearby powder room from them.

3.  Fill in the other major players.  In a dining room, it's usually the chairs and table that are the pieces that really set the tone of the room.  Once we had such striking host chairs, I knew we needed to keep the side chairs simple, so I found some inexpensive leather parson's chairs (I prefer for slipcovered chairs to be upholstered in complementary fabric so the room looks good even when they are being laundered...you never know who might drop by on wash day) and had them slipcovered in a simple washed natural cotton.  I kept the skirts short because it's not a big room--it's rather narrow, and I wanted the eye to pass through the legs and not be stopped short by floor length skirts. 

The table was more of a problem:  we wanted a farm table, but since this is the "formal" dining room, the client didn't want it too rustic.  We also had to find a narrow table--the standard 48" would be too wide for the room, especially after adding a buffet which the client (let's call her "Babs"...I'm sick of typing "the client") needed for storage.  Babs is also a fiend for beautiful natural wood and hated all of the veneering that is commonly available.  Therefore, we had the table custom made (by Wilkerson Row on Magazine St. for anyone local who needs some beautiful custom furniture) out of cypress with a natural finish.   I made sure the wood colour co-ordinated with the wood exposed by the distressed Asian chairs' finish. We were able to pick our own dimension, a lithe 96X40, graceful cabriolet legs, and minimum detailing.  Babs was thrilled by the beautiful planks selected for the top.
  At that point,  we selected very simple window treatments (creamy linen panel) and a plain rug (sisal), to let the beautiful grain pattern of the table stand out. 

4.  Pull it together.  At this point, the major elements were in place:  flooring, wall colour, rug, window treatments, dining table and chairs.  Time to tackle the back wall.  All along, we planned on a buffet and art for that wall.  A buffet  because the client needed storage and dislikes china cabinets, and art because, while I love a monochromatic palette with a soothing lack of pattern, you need something with movement, live, and a mix of colours. 

The art actually came first.  I painted the two canvases as a housewarming present, and used the soft blues, greys, greens, and tobacco browns that the client loves.  The colours in the art pull from the accent colours used (sparingly) in the adjoining spaces. 

The buffet was a more difficult task.  It needed to include storage, so an open console was out.  It had to be on the shallow side (no more than 18"), it needed to be quite long (around 90"), it couldn't be too high (the ceilings are 10", so a too-high piece would have killed the spacious look of the light filled space, it couldn't be too heavy in feeling (it's not a large room and the client hates overdone, over-carved pieces), it had to play second fiddle to the heavily grained table, and it had to be in a finish that co-ordinated with the natural cyrpess and the Asian chairs.  We found a close contender at Restoration Hardware, but the finish wasn't right, and the homeowner hesitated at painting a brand new relatively expensive piece of furniture (not to mention the cost a good decorative finish would add).  Again, a custom piece by Wilkerson Rowe was the answer.  Again we could choose our own, difficult to find dimensions, we could choose our finish colour, and we knew it would be beautifully crafted locally of solid wood. 

In the comments section of the last post, Marlo asked about the hardware.  I found it on-line at House of Antique Hardware.  I chose this particular hardware for a couple of reasons.  1.  My client likes simplicity and clean lines; therefore, I knew the buffet would have little detailing, but it needed SOME interest.  I thought prominent hardware would add some punch, but since it's actually useful, Babs wouldn't consider it unnecessary.  I also like the matt black finish because it co-ordinates with the oil-rubbed bronze finishes throughout the house.  I don't mind mixing finishes, but when you're going for a simple look, co-ordinating them does add polish.  And a dark finish always looks striking when the paint colours used for walls, trim, and doors is light.  2. Because I wanted a vintage feel reminiscent of the beautiful bookcases by BoBo intriguing objects, I thought using traditional H-L hinges and latches instead of pulls would give that feeling of age.   3.  I liked the hardware, and I'm the decorator, and what I say goes (sometimes...actually not that often, but sometimes).  The details didn't photograph, but are really nice in person..the backing of the cabinets is beadboard, the sides are planked, and we specificed thin, thin, thin layers of paint so that you can still make out the graining.

5.  Finish up.  Actually....that I haven't done yet.  We need something permanent for the table, candle sconce to flank the art and something for the side wall.  But, this has been a project I've loved working on, and I couldn't wait to share it.


Marlo said...

Thank you so much for answering my hardware question and the "whys" of how you pulled the room together - I really appreciate it and I find all the information very helpful. I love hearing the details.

You also answered questions I didn't ask but that I thought about (didn't want to bombard you with too many questions) and it's great that you figured out what I was thinking and answered them anyway. You are good! :)

What about the chandelier? Why that one and not, for example, a rectangular style with glass pillars?

When you write the next post, when the dining room is completed, I hope you can talk about scale and balance and whether you ever use The Divine Proportion.

You must feel so proud of the room - and you
should. :)

Design Optimist said...


1. I didn't mention the chandelier, because, quite frankly, I don't love it. We picked out really early because the client's had a building contract with a certain lighting allowance, and the contractor wanted the lighting ordered before the house was finished. It was also early in my working relationship with my client who is naturally conservative, and I couldn't talk her into a more interesting fixture. I don't hate it, and it's the right scale and the right degree of formal/rustic, but I don't love it.
2. As far as the divine proportion, what I use as a rule of thumb is the idea of thirds---one third compared to two thirds seems to be the most pleasing proportion, compared to one to two. And, it's been my personal experience that overscaled (larger than it really should be) is always better than two small. Compare your art and accessories to diamonds...when in doubt, size up.

Marlo said...

I took your advice on sizing up and remeasured for a piece of art. I was going to get a 36"x48" but now it looks like a 40"x60" or 48"x60" would look much better and more in scale with the size of the wall and the furniture around the room.

Thank you! :)

pve design said...

I could see a "drum shade" light fixture rather than the chandelier, but I really love the eclectic mix!
For the table, what about small votives!

Margaret said...

I'm still stuck on, "..my partner's twin girlfriend." It will take some time for me to figure this one out.

h. m. settoon said...

margaret...i left out an important apostrophe and an "s." It should read "my partner's twin's girlfriend." i.e., my partner is a twin, and his twin brother has a girlfriend.