With winter entertaining season on the horizon, now is the time to dust off, spruce up and deck out your dining room. In search of pointers and inspiration, Globe Style visits three inviting eating spaces, from large and grand to casual and cozy.
Dee Dee Taylor Eustace's dining room: French formality, with a lived-in feel
Dee Dee Taylor Eustace, the well-known architect and interior designer, creates gorgeous spaces for an A-list clientele, but her own home, where she has lived for less than a year, is a barn.
"The horses came in through here," she says of her dining room, a former stable attached to a sprawling 1906 mansion in Toronto's Rosedale neighbourhood. "It's why the ceiling height is 12 feet and then drops to 10 feet in the interior of the coach house."
In the decades since those steeds moved out, the space has been fabulously refurbished more than once, including twice by Eustace, who first tackled it 15 years ago when the home belonged to one of her clients. Renovating more recently for herself and her two children, Eustace drew inspiration from the surrounding architecture and such original details as arched entranceways and swirling ironwork on overhead circular windows.
"I worked with white and shades of grey to let the antiquity of the house shine through and then just fit my own furniture in," says the Globe Style contributor and co-star of the upcoming HGTV reality show Real Designing Women. "I'm a firm believer in keeping what is already there and adding new."
In this space, however, even the new is meant to feel old. The placement of antique mirrors at either end of the room, for instance, references the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, creating an illusion of infinite space. The absence of carpeting, meanwhile, lets the antique French sideboard and 10-foot-long table carry the show during formal sit-down dinners, which is what Eustace primarily hosts in the space. "But it's also a place where people can sit and have a conversation and where the kids can exchange ideas with adults. I like a dining room to feel lived in, even if filled with antiques and cut crystal." More contemporary are the orange accents, including table linens and flowers, inspired by a recent trip to Paris, where the bright citrus hue is all the rage.
"That's what's fun about decorating," she says. "You can really mix things up."
Jill Kantelberg's dining room: Baronial charm, Ontario-style
Interior designer and antiques dealer Jill Kantelberg took two years to build the 4,500-square foot country house she shares with her husband and equally beloved dog in Mulmur Township, a 90-minute drive northwest of Toronto. The inspiration behind the design was dozens of photographs of falling-down farmhouses she took in France during buying trips for Kantelberg & Co, the antiques and custom furniture shop she owns and operates in Toronto's Castlefield Design District.
"I wanted this house, but especially this dining room, to have a baronial yet comforting Old World feel," she says. "The colours are deliberately muted, evocative of mushrooms and marshmallows, because that's what works here. We're surrounded by nature, and everything on the inside takes its cue from what's on the outside, as seen through the dining room's French doors."
The view – a rippling pond surrounded by a forest of ancient firs – is spectacular. The eye is naturally drawn into the wilderness, despite there being so much sensory delight in the open-concept interior, including a large and imposing stone fireplace surmounted by an old Flemish tapestry, antler stools covered in cowhide, cozy leather armchairs and a custom-made 10- seat gathering table over which a rustic chandelier made from relics of other lighting fixtures hangs.
Kantelberg designed the table from two long planks of wood because anything smaller would have been lost in the 30-foot room with a 23-foot high ceiling. "I chose the table for the size of the room, not for the number of guests [it can accommodate]" she says. "A dining room table should always fit the room it's in. It's always a focal point."
It is also where, chez Kantelberg, communal meals prepared from local ingredients are commonplace: "Everything in the country revolves around food: the planting, the harvesting, the cooking, the sharing," she says. "That's what being in the country is all about."
Elana Safronsky's dining room: Winter white, all year long
Elana Safronsky always wanted a house with white floors. She finally got them after renovating the 100-year-old Edwardian she and her photographer husband purchased five years ago in Toronto's Roncesvalles Village, just prior to their only daughter's birth.
"The whole house was in rundown condition and the floors especially needed to be replaced, but we didn't have the dough," explains the 34-year-old lifestyle editor for HGTV.ca. "Instead of replacing the boards with French herringbone, what I would do if I could afford it, we painted them white to make them look like a studio floor. I've always wanted white floors because they're good to work with," she continues. "Anything you put on them just pops. People shouldn't shy from them. White floors are a very liberating design decision."
For the Moscow-born Safronsky, who grew up in Toronto's north-end Little Russia, white floors freed her to play with colour and scale in addition to objects of varying shape, texture and vintage, from a 1950s lampshade to contemporary black-and-white photography. There's also a distressed side table (acquired for next to nothing at Value Village, Safronsky's favourite source for unique decor finds) adjacent to a $5,000 modernist wood-and-metal dining table, the room's biggest splurge.
"A mark of a good modern table is its proportions," says Safronsky, justifying the cost. "And this one really is the perfect size for this room. What I like about it is that it doesn't bully the space; I can put any kind of chair I want around it, which is important to me because I like having the freedom to add vintage pieces without having to renegotiate the look." Situated at the front of the house in what was originally the living room, the dining room is never just for eating.
"The best light is here," Safronsky says, "so we tend to be in this room a lot, using the computer, playing cards, hosting a nice dinner for friends. I wanted the space to feel intimate and I achieved that by filing it with all the things I love."