Formal city dining rooms are often neglected and under-utilized spaces that only get opened up and dusted off a few times a year for "special occasions." Instead of trying to create a casual eat-in kitchen directly adjacent to a more formal dining room, I opted to avoid duplication and have only one proper dining area. In so doing I was able to achieve a giant island in the kitchen as well as a small bistro table for two which doubles as a lounge area. Formal or casual is a matter of personal preference, but it seems a shame for any area of the home to be under-utilized when house prices are so high. The trick is to strike the right balance and create a room that is warm and welcoming and easygoing enough for everyday family life, yet pretty enough that it can be dressed up when guests come calling. Since the dining room in my country home is also a circulation area/hallway that links the old house to the new addition, I knew that it was imperative to keep traffic flow and wear and tear in mind while aiming to create a gathering place for delicious country fare.
Set the scene
Since many standalone dining rooms only get used during evening hours, they can support a more dramatic and moody palette, but with only one dining option, I had to devise a scheme that would be appealing morning, noon and night; dim daytime dining is as unappealing as a stark white evening ambience. Looking to the surroundings for inspiration, I landed on a harvest-inspired scheme of russet and pumpkin tones that was instigated by a Schumacher bird print fabric called Lotus Garden. (I know exotic birds are a bit of a stretch in the Ontario countryside, but the bird life surrounding the house is predominantly wild turkeys, and if you've ever seen one up close, you'll pardon my stretch of the imagination!) I was so drawn to the rich texture of the printed linen that I sent the fabric out to be paper-backed, enabling me to have it installed as though it were wallpaper. It may sound like a pricey approach, but it cost less than $200 to have it backed, and it certainly ups the drama factor!
Tongue-in-groove panelling isn't just a nice textural detail; it's also a forgiving and long-lasting solution for high-traffic areas. I knew the bird printed linen would look exceptional once installed, but what it had in beauty, it lacked in durability. Instead of worrying about the impracticality of a non-washable wall surface, I installed painted pine panelling to a height of 72", thereby guaranteeing that no sticky or grubby fingers would ever touch my beautiful linen walls. With 36" of wall left above the panelling for the bird pattern, I was able to strike the right balance of practicality and prettiness. Colour hint: you don't need to select a single paint colour for panelled rooms - I used the trim white that appears throughout the house, then warmed up the walls by painting just the panelling in a buttery-toned solid stain.
Benefit from a bump out
To help me realize my vision for the overall project, I enlisted the help of John Robinson from Robinson Residential Design in Regina. The original dining room featured a single window (where the opening to the addition is now), and a single door to the porch. The entire south-facing wall was solid brick and something I was aching to change so that the room wouldn't feel so closed-in and small. John landed on the solution of a wonderful oversized window "bump out" that incorporated enough depth for a proper window seat. By not having the window go all the way to the ground, we were able to avoid putting in a foundation, making it easier and less expensive to install. This design feature also tugged at my heartstrings, since I grew up at a family cottage that featured long benches beneath the windows where little kids could curl up and doze off while listening to the adults talking at the table. As a south-facing installation, the window seat is a cozy, sunny spot that brightens the room and offers yet another reason for the room to be in constant use throughout the day (it's the perfect place to read the morning paper while breakfast is cooking).
Play with pattern
One of my big criticisms of dining rooms is that they often don't have enough opportunity for the use of fabrics and pattern, which I rely heavily on to bring my rooms to life. Usually you're limited to a small dose of fabric on the chairs, and another hit for the drapes, but thanks to the window seat I was able to fill out my choices with additional fabrics on the seat cushion and on accent cushions. Instead of a tailored blind set back against the windows, I ordered full length drapes in an over-scaled paisley design. When open, the drapes create a rich visual of multiple patterns layered on top of each other and frame up the view; when closed they add to the fun factor for little kids curled up inside. Anyone who says kids shouldn't play in the drapes hasn't witnessed the intoxicating sweetness of little ones playing peek-a-boo!
Mix not match
I attribute the lack of wow factor in many dining rooms to too much matching and not enough variety. Suites of furniture make the buying process easy, but there's just too much sameness to create interest. I prefer the casual, eclectic look of assembling a collection of pieces from different sources. In this case I opted for an antique pine china cabinet and an 1890s walnut dining table (which cost me $1,400 and extends to a whopping 11 feet). Since I find antique chairs can be too fragile and not comfortable enough, I went in search of the ultimate dining chair solution, and was thrilled to discover a super-comfortable woven rattan armchair that blends the colours of all the wood tones in the room (the floor, table and china cabinet) and cost a mere $89 each at IKEA. Best of all this was a "no assembly required" option (which makes the low price even more attractive to me!)
Practice country casual
The best country dinners are laid-back events centred around great food, great wines, and interesting people. I'm drawn to an eclectic mix of furnishings, and the same holds true for my table settings. Forget the prim and proper fully matching china and set your table with multiple patterns for a look of effortless elegance. I found funky brown transferware whose pattern seemed reminiscent of the cutwork on a country quilt and mixed it with classic scalloped cream stoneware. By buying a set for eight in each of two patterns, you'll always be able to handle extra guests and fill the table to 16 by merging the two sets. Nothing says welcome in the country like the smell of a home-cooked meal!
Sarah's House airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV. For more information, go to http://www.hgtv.ca.
Dishes, stemware, glasses - Sears www.sears.com
Dining table, small wood bench - Christie Antiques Show www.antiqueshowscanada.ca
Dining chairs - IKEA www.ikea.com
Drapery, pillow, & wall fabric - Schumacher available through Bilbrough www.fschumacher.com
Paper backing of wall fabric - Custom Laminations www.customlaminations.com
Chandelier, stuffed pheasants - Decorum Decorative Finds 416.966.6829
Mirrored sconces - Residential Lighting 416.537.3138
Fabric on dining chairs - Thibaut www.thibautdesign.com
Architectural fragments in archway - Century Olde Salvage www.centuryoldesalvage.ca
Architectural services - Robinson Residential Design Inc. www.robinsonplans.com
Paint Colours:Para Paint www.para.com
Paneling - Front Façade P5226-24
Ceiling - St. Paul's Cathedral P5214-24
Trim - Soapy Water P5223-14D