Oh, this dining room. It’s been driving me crazy for a few years, but we finally found the time to get it properly-ish taken care of and now it’s just pretty much the apple of my eye! I’m pretty sure it was never meant to be a dining room and probably never has been one in the history of this house, but a “real” dining room is something that I’ve wanted for a long time. And my beloved 150 year old family dining room furniture deserves a happy home, so here’s how we made that happen, in grey and white so it could play nicely with the living room which is right off of it!
First, let’s start with some “before” pictures from before we moved in, when we were having the house inspected, and some from this first few months we were here too. I searched through my old laptop and here are some of the pictures I found.
That paint color was really quite something. Kind of a really soft aqua accented by lots of scuff marks. You can’t really see, but it wasn’t really much of a dining room at all for the previous owners. More of a pass-through, catch-all kinda space. But like I said, I needed a dining room. For some reason in that photo you can mostly only see the ceiling. But anyway, that gives you an idea of how it used to look.
When you think of a dining room, you think of it coming with a few basic things that make it a bit of a special space for special occasions and fond family memories: A chandelier or some kind of special hanging light fixture, pretty flooring, maybe some built-in cabinetry to hold china and crystal. Usually, in an old house, you get all these things and then some, but we’re just really dealing with a blank slate here. A lot of new-build houses these days are being left without these basic dining room fixtures as well, so it’s neat that if you’re in a new build like that, we’re kinda in the same position!
Despite lacking all of these basic dining room amenities, I have to say that I absolutely love the way the room looks and functions now, so if you have some of these same “problems” that we have, or have weird floors/ceilings/walls like us, here are some tips to still end up with a room you love if you’re not quite ready to do a full reno where you rip everything out, and start fresh.
Whether you have weird, slightly askew paneled walls like we do, or just perfect, but plain drywall, painting your walls a color that you love will really make a huge difference. Everyone says it because it’s true! I stuck with the same color I’ve been using almost everywhere in my home lately and it didn’t let me down! As soon as this color went up, the room started to feel like “me”. And you don’t need to stop with the walls! If you have other things in the room that bug your eye, you can probably paint them too! Have you seen some of the amazing painted vinyl floors people have been doing? I’m tempted, I tell you. Very tempted.
Go a little bit traditional
Even if your style leans towards more modern decor, putting in one or two really traditional “dining room”-y elements in your space will make it feel more like a real dining room and less like just a random purpose-less room. This can be a tradionalish buffet or china cabinet, maybe some nice paneling on the walls like you see in a lot of dining rooms, or you can do something like we did with our plate rack. One of the things I’d really like to have in this room one day is some nice built in cabinetry to hold dishes, but since we can’t do that right now, a plate rack gives that “built-in storage” feel. It was cheap and quick too!
Define the space with an area rug
If your dining room is really just a corner of a living room or a kitchen, adding in an area rug that you love can really help to define the space and give it its own identity. I like the rug to have something in common with other rugs that are nearby, like our grey living room rug, but not to match exactly. I used this grey Orla Rug from Birch Lane and I love how special it makes the space feel. While we have a cheapo rug in the living room, this one has a really stylish pattern and is made out of 100% wool. You can really feel the difference on your toes as soon as you sit down at the table and it really gives this non-fancy space a luxurious feel. Adding in a nice area rug is also my favorite way of distracting my eye from icky floors. I hardly even notice them because I’m too busy looking at my pretty rug!
Did you notice that there are a total of THREE different types of flooring in this little area that has the hallway, living room, and dining room? I know, it’s crazy! The area rugs help soo much though to keep me from losing my mind over it!
Storage storage storage
Over time, dining rooms really do accumulate a whole lot of “stuff” and this just doesn’t work well with the fact that dining rooms are also supposed to be special, pretty, tidy places that we can sit back and relax in. When you’re planning out what you want to do with your dining room, always think about how you can add more storage. And then add some more! You never know when you’re going to inherit great aunt Mildred’s wedding china and you want to have a safe and dedicated place to keep important things like that. Also think about even being able to store serving dishes, extra cutlery, napkins, candles, tablecloths, holiday dishes, glass ware, vases, and stuff like that!
Stick to your color plan
Since this room is attached to our grey and white living room, the natural choice was to continue that in this room. I love that color pallet too because it feels calm and clean to me and just makes me feel happy. And now this room makes me feel happy too! Coincidence? I think not! It didn’t take much to make the decor really come together in this room. I started with the grey and white rug and then chose these grey and white Tara Ikat pillows to go with it, also from Birch Lane. Bam! Color pallet set! After that, I just pulled a few more extra pillows into this room that were floating around the living room, stuck them in a basket and on a side chair and things were looking pretty great. I used a little bit of scrap fabric that I had leftover from other projects on the wreath and on the table and that’s all it took! For me, creating the calm and soothing room that I wanted was more about all the distracting and jarring colors that I was leaving out, rather than what I was needing to worry about bringing in. Books don’t count! I always love a whole bunch of different books on a bookshelf, no matter what the room!
Symmetry makes it special
For me, the finishing touch to make a room feel like it’s really been well thought-out, even if it was just thrown together, is to add in just a bit of symmetry here and there. It’s a neat trick to have up your sleeve to make a room instantly feel a little more grown-up no matter what kind of space you’re working with.
We’ve just loved having this room “finished” and more useable for the whole family. While we have a big kitchen table with room to seat as many people as we like, it’s nice to have this little room that’s the perfect size for just the four of us. We like to have special breakfasts in here together on holidays, do homework, play games, or do crafts. You know that a room is really working for you when a) It’s easy to keep clean, b) It’s easy to decorate and everything seems to look good in it, and c) When your family actually uses the room! We’re 3 for 3 in here!
So to recap, here we have the before:
You can really see from that before and after what a big difference the rug makes, and even adding in those pillows on the chairs at the table too. Both of them really break up all the brown that was in the room before and really give the whole room a very “I designed this room to look this way on purpose” feel, even though the only major thing we did renovation-wise was paint. And even that doesn’t really count as renovation.
I love that even though the rug and the pillows are really great quality, they aren’t things that are way out of the price range of the average person living in an average house with an average dining room just like mine. Birch Lane is great for having lots of really stylish options at prices you can actually afford. And their catalogs are great for inspiration for how to use all that great stuff in your own home. Gotta love a good catalog! The store overall is one of my new favorites for sure.
So that’s what I’ve done to be able to love my ugly dining room. Do you have an awkward space that you’ve made into a proper-ish dining room for your family? What did you do that you love in there?
You can read more about all of my projects from this room in my dining room archives!
I was not paid to write this post, however Birch Lane did provide me with the rug and the pillow covers for this dining room project free of charge. My opinions about how splendidly fantastic the room turned out are all mine!
Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.