Monday, January 26, 2009

A More Youthful Dining Room

Not too long ago I was given a beautiful dining room table, 16 chairs, and a sideboard. Fortunately the inheritance was not through a death in the family, but rather through my mother-in-law downsizing to a smaller house and a more casual lifestyle. Are they what I would have picked for myself? No. However, they are beautifully made by Baker in the 1980s (pre Kohler acquisition), of the highest quality, and I am very grateful to have them.

I have seen a recurrent theme in many blogs this year of working with what you have. And, in that spirit, this is what I am doing with my dining room set. Because of the 'new' dining room furniture, my current dining room style is quite formal, traditional, and a bit heavy: the chairs are chippendale style, the sideboard Sheraton, and the table a double pedestal. I recently painted the dark walls in Farrow & Ball clunch (a nice light neutral) and replaced the 80s brass chandelier. This helps, but further measures need to be taken to make the dining room look like a thirty-something lives here, not an eighty-something. As always, I went to my inspiration files for ideas.

This dining room is from an Atlanta real estate listing. I found it to be very striking! A wall of contemporary wall sculptures by Carrie McGee hang on wires from the ceiling. The chippendale style chairs have gauzy slipcovers, which enable the beautiful shape of the chairs to be seen. From this picture, I can see that contemporary art and sheer slipcovers help update the space.


This dining room has a lot of traditional elements, but the sisal rug and slipcovers on the seat of the chairs freshen up the space. A light color on the walls helps, as well as a chandelier that has character. Image via Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles, interior by Suzanne Kasler.


This is the updated dining room in the vice president residence in Washington, DC. Years ago, then VP Dick Cheney and his wife brought in designer Frank Babb Randolph to freshen up the interiors. He brought in a neutral palette and used a lot of contemporary art to modernize the spaces. In this room, with a very traditional dining room table (on loan from the State Department), chairs (custom made for the Quayles), and sideboard, Randolph used a large dramatic piece of contemporary art and billowing silk curtains, as well as a light color scheme. The contemporary art instantly updates the space. Image via the Washington Post.


This dining room is one of my favorites, although looking at the details it is still very traditional. The neutral rug and the fresh color combination makes it very lively, and more youthful.

When I was thinking about painting my dining room, fellow blogger Cote de Texas said that she instantly thought of this image. The chandelier, sconces, and dining set are very traditional. However, the slipcovers for the chairs brings in a fresh pattern, the bare floors make the room clean and uncluttered, and the color palette is current.

Another option is to use a trendy chandelier to update the look of a dining room. I am not a trendy person, though. If I am going to get a chandelier, it will be a chandelier for the long haul.


Another way to update the look of old furniture is to paint the chairs. Image via Sarah Richardson Design.

Here are two chairs that Eddie Ross found at a flea market. The finish was originally a typical brown mahogany, but he stripped the old finish off, and painted the chairs this lovely color of aqua. As much as painting my chairs tempts me, I know that I could never make such a dramatic change to them. Besides that, I think my mother-in-law would kill me!

So here are my conclusions: a neutral rug (preferably sisal), contemporary art, slipcovers to update the chairs. Painting the chairs would really update the look, but is out of my comfort zone. A really trendy chandelier would update the look too. Any other ideas? If so, please post them in the comments!


  1. Mix the chairs....perhaps using 2 upholstered chairs,one on each end and the chairs you were given on the sides.
    Also, don't overlook what a wonderful current wallpaper can do for a dining room.

  2. Great idea about mixing the chairs, anon.

    I know what you mean about the wallpaper. I have seen some beautiful images of wallpaper in dining rooms. I have such a love-hate relationship with wallpaper though; just last week I had a crew of painters spend three full days taking down the wallpaper in my kitchen.

  3. Love the idea to mix the chairs... Also love the slipcpvers, sisal rug & modern art paired with antiques.

    For the chandelier, maybe instead of going for trendy, just start thinking overscale. Sometimes when you take a more traditional chandlier (like a gorgeous crystal one) & supersize it, you get a really fresh & fun look.

    Or go with a traditional shape in an unexpected material. (Circa lighting has a beautiful glass chandelier that's in the shape of a typical brass chandelier: http://www.circalighting.com/details.aspx?pid=1332&cid=4 )

  4. I'm curious to see what the current table and chairs look like! I like the suggestion about the 2 upholstered chairs - I'm in love with Darryl Carter's wing chair. Did you see Maison 21's use of gorgeous wallpaper as framed panels? - if you tire of them they can also be used someplace else or repapered.

  5. Pick one carefully selected and dramatic complimentary OR contradictory element for your room.

  6. contemporary art and ceiling fixtures can off set the traditional style of the furniture. I agree with wallpaper as well...It has to make a statement...contemporary... the slipped chairs with a very sheer fabric is great and the 2 upholstered end chairs. If you don't want to do a sisal rug try a wool neutral Berber...custom fit of course...good luck and keep us posted... Fay

  7. My current table and chairs look almost exactly like the ones in the Suzanne Kasler picture from Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles...very traditional, and the table is very large!

  8. Your mother-in-law might not like it but its not permanent-Change out the wood table top for a honed white marble one, oval shape is cool. You can leave the chairs as is. I have framed my kids art in identical wood frames and hung them 4 across 3 down not unlike the art in the photo you showed. It looks modern and clean and its cheap!

  9. Thank you for the suggestions, everyone! I am really enjoying reading them. There are a lot of creative minds out there.

  10. Sounds like you hit the jackpot! What a generous gift!

    I personally would not alter the pieces in any permanent way--basically, like you said. I love the Kassler look. The short slipcovers are so fresh and young, while the room remains formal and elegant.

    Also, thanks for your kind message on my blog. I have had a wonderful time sharing beautiful images with the blog world. I hope that it offers some hope and fun daydreams in our uncertain times.

  11. I think it's the art that sets the tone. You need a giant contemporary piece that is still soft enough to make the room feel gentle. I have noticed you like gentle, quiet spaces!

    I love the slipcovers for the chairs, but don't like a top slipcover - it just looks too fussy and it would be a wrinkled mess, I suspect. I don't mind the bottom slip cover (on the seat), but honestly, I find them a bit farmhouse in a slick, sophisticated room. I would just reupholster the seats in a shade that works with the walls. A subtle pattern on the seats would be nice, like a damask. I have the same problem, as I have a Queen Anne dining set and need to reupholster my seats. I am going with a natural linen I think, as I am not quite as elegant as you. : )

    I would do a silk drape and a traditional chandelier. You have lovely taste in chandeliers and anything you choose will be gorgeous, but it will totally set the tone of the room, like the art. I am in need of a new chandelier and even though my tastes are practically identical to yours, I am going to use something traditional but simple (small room, not a fancy house).

    It is a lot to pull together, and I think it is a real art to update a traditional space, but I am finding that by using lovely ivories and creams and nothing too fancily detailed that it looks more 30-something than Grandma. You will know when you see it all.

    The only thing I don't like is the sisal rug. I just don't like them at all - too itchy and scratchy (maybe more expensive ones are softer). I think a dining room should be more soft and inviting and sisal just seems so coarse to me and I wonder if you will tire of it. But what do I know - all the cognoscenti seem to love sisal. : )

    Good luck Sarah - I can't wait to see what you achieve. Are you actually thinking of using a colour (like Joni's picture) on the walls? No, I think you said you just used Clunch. That will be a great foundation!

  12. I would use the VP house in Washington as a go-by. I love that room! I would have used a slate blue silk drape if I had the cash. : )

  13. Terri, thanks for the comment! I think you might know my taste better than I do! We do have very similar taste.

    I actually love the look of sisal, but I must admit that I prefer a really soft color rug with very little pattern, or maybe tone on tone, in a formal dining room. I love the look of oushak rugs.

  14. We too have some inherited pieces that I must use in our dining room (hubby's deceased parents and he is attached to the pieces). So I have had to work around this too. I think the wall color and light fixture and flooring will set the tone. I have found that once I got the chairs, drapes, art, chandelier right...I barely notice the piece I don't love. You chose beautiful examples here. I love the one Joni sent you.


  15. I think your paint, fabric and art ideas will definitely freshen up the space; adding a fresh tablescape would help too in covering up the heaviness of the tabletop. I completely understand your dilema-we have some inherited pieces, one in particular is a huge grandfather clock that is sitting in our entryway.

  16. Great post, if you want the colour in that contemporary dining room it's Benjamin moore's CC-500 Ranchwood. I can't wait to see your new dining room with your new furniture! So exciting! A designer friend of mine once said, 'Every room needs a piece of bling, it upgrades everything else in the space'.
    Sounds like you have that now!

  17. I forgot to add - you've probably seen this home on House and Home, but Sloan Mauran's home is gorgeous! Her website doesn't show her entire dining room, but you can at least see the fresh greenery on her table.

  18. I love the idea of the slips and the seagrass. those two elements really will bring the room down a notch, formal-wise. grammar??? haha

    I can't wait to see what you have planned!!!!

  19. I had this same issue and I painted the table beige and the chairs grey....I'm a rebel~

    However if everything is in great shape then I would simple pick a modern pattern for the seat cushions and paint the ceiling a blush.

    A painted ceiling is nice with neutral walls and a pale dusty salmon color will make the room (and the people in it) glow.

    Hoping your molding and trim is painted white? That will modernize the space as well.

    If you have wood floors think about NOT having an area rug. It sounds crazy but it is SO much more functional under an entertainment space and frees you up from making an expensive purchase.

  20. I can't wait to see what you do. I was in a similar situation with my husband's beloved mahogany Chippendale chairs and double ped table and sideboard. *Yawn*

    Sorry, not really my taste but I had to make it work as Tim Gunn would say. I finally found a way to make it transitional. Actually, I went to a store down south and picked some things out and the owner made suggestions for placement because I was STUCK! And now I love it. Although I still need to recover the chairs.

    You have some of my favorite dining room photos in this post, including Sarah Richardson. My hubs would die if I painted the chairs, though.

    I love itchy, scratchy seagrass or sisal, too!

  21. The slipcovers are a must, and I am going to do the same thing wih my Queen Anne dining chairs. I love unique sconces that would compliment a traditional chandelier. Have been looking for a pair!

  22. I wish I had a dinning room big enough for 16 chairs. How lucky you are! I remember my girlfriend getting those chairs in black lacquer with a white/black bamboo type print on them and the table that went w/them had a glass inset showing the black laquer design in the middle. I think it was about 1980 or a little before, but she paired it up w/a Peter Maxx on one wall and another painting of similar design on the other wall. I do like the linen chair covers, but not really practical unless you dont use your dinning room ever. I would start with the art..and then change the seat fabric. maybe a velvet. I do love the idea of modern glass chandelier or maybe a row of simple hanging lighting. Maybe some sheer drapery to also brighten up the heavy wood.
    beautiful blog you have.

  23. Been thinking of your D/R all day. If it were mine I would use an Oushak or a solid wool rug with a border.(Not a sisal fan for my bare feet). A contemporary fixture would kick it up to current and Hubbarton Forge at Five Rivers.com has some great ones. THe most important element is the artwork--get it first and go from there and share the pictures with us. hlb

  24. I have been really thrilled to read all of your comments. I am so grateful for your insights and ideas!

    One thing I neglected to mention about my table - it is really a conference room table. My mother-in-law used to entertain on a grand scale (hence, the 16 chairs - I have 8 around the table, 2 to the side of the buffet, and 6 in the attic), and a regular size dining room table was not big enough for her. So, she purchased a Baker conference room table, like the kind you might see in a law firm. It is 118" without leaves, and it has 4 leaves. Of course, I have it with no leaves. I put the end chairs to the side of the buffet because I needed to put chairs on the end that would slide completely in - to make a bit more room. My dining room is a good size, but I do not live in a McMansion, and the table is really a bit large for the room.

    Anon, I am on your wavelength. I love oushak rugs, and I think a soft light colored rug would be perfect. I am a huge fan of sisal, but I have it in my front hall and family room. I also agree - a great piece of contemporary art needs to be my next purchase.

    Fortunately, my favorite art market is coming up in a few weeks - literally thousands of paintings by emerging and established artists - so I will see if I can find anything. I will post pictures of the art market in a few weeks, it is truly an inspirational place.

    Thank you again for the comments, everyone! If anyone wants a picture of my current dining room, just email me and I will send. I was a bit embarrassed to publish on the blog as it is still a work in progress. But, I am going to post it soon because the chandelier I bought was SO cheap - truly a good example of mixing the low end with the high end.

  25. Cheap ideas:

    Paint the floor in a big David Hicks style geometric-- this is something they used to do in the 18th c., so it will go with your set.

    A modern window treatment, such as Roman shades, a la Vicente Wolf. Or none at all.

    Paint the walls a strong blue-green, also traditional, but makes mahogany look good.

    Don't match the seat covers, use 3-5 related solid colors, mix it up.

    Take out the carvers (at the ends) and use 2 different chairs, such as wing chairs or painted chairs. Use the carvers elsewhere.

    Put a huge paper lantern in, instead of a chandelier. Noguchi, that sort of thing.

    Put some challenging modern art on the wall, a huge photograph or something graffiti inspired.

    Use modern accessories, cheap uplighters, plants, etc. for drama.

  26. A conference room table would be a perfect platform to display some accessorizing with repetition, like 5 modern simple glass cylinders of one type/colour flower with a minimalist display...a la
    Kelly Hoppen....notice your first pic has used the 3 vases as well...this could be changed with the seasons and be a big mod punch - like fuschia or orange...


  27. Scone, my neighbor has her floor painted in a great geometric pattern instead of a rug, and it looks great! Thanks for all of the great ideas. You must be a designer or artist.

    Jillian. it's funny, I am so bad at accessorizing that I never even thought about doing a repeating element on the table. And yet, I look through a lot of my inspiration pictures, and many have a repeating element - just like you describe. I will definitely have to look into that. There is some company - CB2 or something? That has great glassware for very reasonable prices.

    I am now thinking of a dining room that I used to admire when I was in college - belonged to a family that I babysat for - I loved her style, and she used to have glass vases on her dining room table, varying heights, and would put tulips or other flowers in them. It was beautiful.

  28. The artist who makes the hanging sculptures in the first image is Carrie McGee: http://www.carriemcgee.com/

    Love the slipcovers! I'm going to use that technique to integrate some lyre back Biedermeier chairs I've resigned to my attic into my contemporary living room! thank you!

  29. Which "favorite art market" are you going to? Sounds great. ATLart[09] or something else?

  30. i would reupholster the chair seats in a very wide stripe (think http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_hUw_VQ5l9r0/RxovxSKSvsI/AAAAAAAAAWc/UGLC_4s3GX8/s1600-h/stripes1.jpg or even slightly wider).

    instead of sisal, i would get a wide wide stripe flatweave/dhurrie rug in a similar color as the stripes on the chair seats.

    it doesn't have to be high contrast--it could be neutral+white stripes, etc. the graphic element of the stripes would definitely update the room. and stripes plus traditional furniture sets the stage for that very delicate look or refined vintage mix that so many of us love.

  31. This comment has been removed by the author.

  32. Its looking fine, you can find more Dining Room Chairs here…..

  33. Oh I love seeing what you are up to! I always have wood pieces handed down to me and while I am tempted to paint them, my HUSBAND would kill me. So I look for ways to freshen the wood pieces and mix things up a bit. I enjoyed reading all the ideas and look forward to seeing what you decide!!!

  34. v formal - they make me feel like drinking from a silver goblet!

  35. What a wonderful hand me down.I think slips are the way to go.I would start with the rug first.I think it will set the mood for the room.I see you with a very soft to med value green walls and a soft blue ceiling a drapes Use a great White lacquered Chineses lattice patterned mirror over the Sheraton piece with two very large white ginger jars on the top and nothing else.On each end of the table use a contemporary wing chair upholsterd in a great white linen with blue welt and monogram. In the center of the dining room table I would find a large sculpture piece .I think the chandelier should be over the top either in a contemp or a very old piece.Finish it off with one huge piece of contemp art. You have impeccable taste so stay true to what you love.I know it is fun to get ideas and feedback and I have really enjoyed others take on your room.Have fun,can't wait to see what you decide.kathysue

  36. Ooooooooo, LOVE the gray velvet banquet against the wall paper! Oh, dear. I see I've discovered a new obsession with this web site ...
    Thanks for creating and maintaining such interesting content with ooodles of pictures! Nice to see there are others affected by this disease. :-)


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