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(Stacey Brandford Photography/stacey brandford)
(Stacey Brandford Photography/stacey brandford)

Dare to dine in style Add to ...

What's happening in your dining room? Is it being used and enjoyed for dinners with friends and families, special occasion meals and frequent gatherings? If you answered no, you're not alone.

Now that many homes feature an eat-in kitchen, the separate dining room runs the risk of becoming the most underused (and sometimes under-decorated) space in the home. It's my goal to change that. I like to think of the formal dining room as a special place where good times are had, milestones celebrated and occasions marked in the collective family history.

If you've got a standalone dining room that is divided from the rest of the home by walls and doors, it's not that easy to repurpose said room, since it's obvious to all that it's intended sole purpose was for eating meals as a family.

So let's talk about what you can do to turn that dinosaur of a dining room into a dynamite destination for dining.

Make a trim statement

When faced with a lack of personality and architectural features, you can start by amping up the appeal factor of the basic box. It doesn't need to be expensive or extravagant, but you may find that a simple addition of trim details can help create a more formal look. Taking cues from the existing plaster crown moulding, we selected a chair rail and panel profile to be installed on the lower portion of all the walls, enabling us to apply a three-colour paint scheme. Historically, a chair rail was installed at 28 by 36 inches above the floor to prevent the backs of chairs from damaging the plaster. However, if that's not your primary concern, you can select your own height as it suits your purposes. I opted to install the rail at 42 inches so it would not interfere with the height of the sideboard we chose (you might want to select your sideboard before committing to a final height).

Start with a luxurious accent

A bland room with lacklustre appeal needs pizzazz and texture, something that feels fancy and exuberant. I've always loved the rich detail of embroidered silk for the saturated colours and lyrical patterns offered on a rainbow assortment of backgrounds. Since I'm practical by nature, this would never pass as a main upholstery fabric (plus it tends to cost about $75 or more per yard so it's out of the budget for many), but it's an interesting, if unexpected, choice for the outside back of your chairs (which won't fall prey to the same wear and tear as the seats, unless your typical dinner party fare is wings coated in sticky sauce).

Then add a graphic touch

With the goal of lightening, brightening and invigorating this little room and turning it into a jewel box of sorts, Tommy and I made a dramatic departure from the floral silk when selecting the main upholstery fabric and opted for a mustard toned geometric on a cotton ground. Why, you ask? The yellow is actually found in the embroidered fabric and offered the opportunity to make a youthful and cheery statement (it was also easy-care cotton and easy on the budget).

Work with what you've got

In some cases, the only way to get gleaming hardwood floors is to rip out what you've got and start fresh, but it's not always necessary. If your floorboards are in good condition and only suffer from an unfortunate shade of stain, it's an easy job to sand and refinish your floors for a fraction of the price of installing new. It can be done as a DIY project if you're really handy, but at a price of $900, we opted to leave this job to the pros (my mom and I still get the giggles over our refinishing experience 15 years ago …).

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