For a casual atmosphere, get rid of the traditional dark cherry woods and go with something lighter. Photo: Paula Deen for Universal Furniture
What a Switch!
Put your new casual style in its best light by trading the crystal chandelier for wrought-iron, says Sharon McCormick of Sharon McCormick Design in Durham, Conn. Also, recessed can lights and sconces add a soft glow. Then, says Morris, place everything on a dimmer for versatility.
The Everyday Dining Room
Transform your forgotten formal dining space into a casual, family-friendly hub of wall-to-wall warmth.
- by Susan L. Comer
Your dining room is a showplace, complete with cherry dining set, crystal chandelier and oil paintings with gilt-edged frames. But what if your showplace is heavy on the "show" and light on "place," as in—a place no one ever goes? Most of us host a formal dinner two or three times a year, if at all. But casual meals and homework happen every day. If you’re tired of wasting this precious square footage in your home, it's time to change the rules.
Here are some tips to transform your dining room from frozen in formality to an ultimately usable destination for good times.
Start by tackling the elephant in the room: that heavy cherry table. If you can't afford to replace it or choose not to, Tracy Morris of Tracy Morris Design in Bethesda, Md., suggests relaxing its formal feel by faux painting. (Either hire a painter or do it yourself.)
Or, for instant satisfaction, toss on a cotton tablecloth with a patterned or French design (think picnic) and tie skirted slipcovers onto chairs, suggests Sharon McCormick of Sharon McCormick Design in Durham, Conn. You can still protect your table from daily disasters by using a glass top cut to fit your table or a removable table pad.
If you decide to buy a new table, choose one sturdy enough to handle everyday dining and crafts. Morris recommends a distressed farm table or painted-finish antique.
If your original dining room feels dark, painting can infuse the space with energy. On walls, lighten up with cheerful tones such as light yellow or sage green, says McCormick. Morris favors a washable matte finish. "You don't have tons of sheen," she says, "yet if little fingers get on it, you can still scrub it."
Concerned about carpet spills? Place an easy-clean Sisal rug underneath your table. (Allow two extra feet all the way around to accommodate seating.) Or go with the ultimate in casual flooring, bare wood. "Hardwood's always phenomenal," says Morris. If you’re on a budget, laminate flooring offers a less-expensive option to traditional wood flooring.
Eat, Play, Hang
As for décor, oil landscapes with picture lights are more at home in a museum than a family-centered room. Instead, let dining-room artwork reflect activities you'll do there, says McCormick. Into scrapbooking? Display your work on floating shelves. Chess or checkers fanatic? Hang a vintage game board. If the room’s going to function as a homework hub or crafts workstation, children’s artwork is a great option for wall art. And don’t forget to replace that old dusty silk flower centerpiece with fresh flowers or a basket of fresh fruit.
For craft storage, assign one drawer of your existing dining room buffet per family member. Or, says McCormick, store supplies in the breakfront; simply hide contents by hanging pretty fabric on café curtain rods behind the glass doors.
Voila! The room that was once "off limits" welcomes everyone—anytime.