Colorful Dining Room

from Creative Home
A bare dining room gets a kick from apple-green walls and modern furniture. Use some of these ideas to add color and style in your own home.

When it comes to watching the seasons change, it's hard to beat the view from Kim and Michael Allen's home in Winona, Minnesota. Perched high on a bluff in this Mississippi River town, the house's open plan and floor-to-ceiling windows offer unfettered views of acres and acres of trees.

Yet the view was less inspiring inside the Allens' dining room, where bare walls and earth tones masked the dramatic potential of the open space and contemporary architecture. So Kim called on the Creative Home Design Team to breathe some life into the room.

But, could this neutral-loving family adjust to the bright colors and bold design that editor Wanda Ventling had planned? And would the design team win its race with the clock to transform the room in one short day?

Michael and Kim Allen's house was designed to have a spectacular view from every room, and it does. But the open floor plan that allows the views also presents a challenge: The design of any given room has to work with all the surrounding spaces.

With the seeds of a plan for bringing in the colors of the outdoors already sown in her mind, editor and designer Wanda Ventling took stock of the dining room and adjoining kitchen. Which elements of the room should be nurtured and which pruned back?

"The open, airy floor plan and wood floors were great starting points, but this room was crying out for color," Wanda says. "Plus, we would need to soften the hard lines of the walls and dining table and do something to make a room that has 9-foot ceilings feel more inviting."

Because the design team would have only one day to give the Allens room the contemporary but warm and comfortable look Kim wanted, good planning would be crucial. Wanda aimed to have as many of the design elements as possible ready ahead of time. When the team was ready to load its minivan and head north, the draperies, table runner, and chair cushions had already been sewn; a new dining table and sideboard bought, stripped, and painted; and paint, accessories, and even fresh flowers purchased. "I knew we would have no time for shopping, so I thought through each task to be sure we had all the tools and components we would need to finish in one day," Wanda says. "And I bought more accessories than I thought we would need, just in case one piece didn't work."

It was 7:30 a.m. on a Wednesday when the design team rolled up to the Allens house. They took over the garage as a staging area, setting up stations for paint supplies, shelving fabrication, accessories, and flower arranging. The setup helped the team stay organized for a day that would require everybody to multitask.

Painting was the team s biggest project, and the first one tackled; everything else would be worked into the flow as the paint dried. Because Kim had painted most of the home s main floor in a warm, creamy neutral, Wanda chose to paint the window wall in the dining room the same color to ensure that the made-over space would flow seamlessly with the rest of the house.

The design team also called on paint to neutralize the room s biggest design challenge: a 12-foot-long wall, half of which juts back a scant 18 inches, while the other half has unsightly air vents at top and bottom. With only two walls in the room, this choppy wall had to become the focal point, Wanda says. Hanging a dramatic piece of art wouldn t work; it would fight for attention with the recessed part of the wall, where Wanda planned to place a sideboard and some floating shelves.

Dealing with this challenge, it turns out, would earn the design team its stripes in four shades of green, plus cream and brown. After base-coating the wall a light spring green, associate art director Becky Lau-Ekstrand checked to be sure the floor was level. Then, measuring up from the floor, she taped off horizontal stripes of varying widths. A wide swath of leaf green begins at the floor, followed by a series of narrower pinkish-brown and cream stripes at chair-rail height, and another wide, leaf-green stripe just above eye level, making the ceiling seem lower and the room cozier.

While they waited for the paint to dry between stripes, team members moved on to other projects, such as painting over the leopard-print border of the new sisal rug with black paint mixed with fabric-paint medium, reupholstering the dining chairs in a green linen-look fabric, putting together the light fixture, making shelves, and hanging the draperies.

The drapery fabric has a scattering of embroidered leaves on a light background that looks capricious enough, but actually, this sprightly fabric is a design workhorse. Its creamy ground helps it blend with the wall behind it so the graphic of the leaves really pops without looking too busy. The grassy spring green adds life and softness to the room, and it's a nod to the colorful scenery outside the windows. Plus the organic oval of the leaves mimics the shape of the table. It's fabric that deserves to be nicely sewn, Wanda says, so she had the straight panels lined and weighted and the corners mitered for a high-quality finish.

With the paint dry, the team placed the dining table and sideboard and hung the shelves. Finding a round pedestal dining table had been one of the first items on Wanda s agenda as she planned the room. A round table would make the wide-open space feel more intimate than the Allens rectangular one, and a pedestal table would seat more people than one with four legs. She found a table a 4-foot round one that, with an 18-inch leaf, extends to an oval but it was originally stained cherry. That wouldn't work with the walnut finish on the Allens' Mission-style chairs, which Wanda kept in the new design because their crystals would be, this shapely fixture casts a soft, flattering glow on diners, and its curves echo the gentle arch of the chairs below.

"Your dining table doesn't have to be the same finish or style as your chairs," Wanda assures. Combining a black table and stained wood chairs gives a more casual, everyday look. So does the clever light fixture: two white lampshades, one nested inside the other and attached to the ceiling with a brushed-nickel pole. Far more at home in this contemporary space than a chandelier dripping with crystals would be, this shapely fixture casts a soft, flattering glow on diners, and its curves echo the gentle arch of the chairs below.

Repeating the black of the table is the sideboard, a lucky find because it fits a narrow space and, because it was slightly damaged, it was a bargain at $350. Once repaired and painted matte black, its chip is all but invisible.

As the design team sped toward a 10 p.m. finish, Kim kept her eyes on the team's progress, especially on the painting, cringing a bit as each brushstroke erased her beloved neutrals. "The apple green is a little funky," she says. It's not what I would have picked. I like warmer, Tuscan colors, like reds and yellows, and I usually bring in color with accessories. But it definitely makes the room stand out, and that's why we entered the contest."

On the other hand, husband Michael, chief financial officer at a local hospital, is sold. He's even brought colleagues home to see the new look. The room is modern and up-to-date, he says, and green seems to be a hip color.

If the design team had told the Allens about all of their plans ahead of time, Michael admits, the couple probably would have lobbied for something a little less bold. After all, they had shied away from color before. But to get a new look, Michael says he's learned, you have to step out of your color comfort zone. After living with the green and the stripes in the dining room for a while, and getting the thumbs up from sons Jacob, 9, and Caleb, 6, the Allens are already planning ways to splash more color into adjacent rooms.

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