Dinner Belle: Dining room makeover creates cozy setting for family of five

CorrespondentNovember 2, 2012 

  • The price tag Most of the items in Kirsten Wheeler’s dining room, including the hutch, wall clock and artwork, were things she already owned. Her husband, Bryan, painted the walls. Here are the rough costs for her project: Custom drapes: $2,750 Six reupholstered chairs: $650 Dining table: $1,400 Area rug: $1,200 Side table: $300 Side table lamp, shade and finial: $50 Painting frame, mirrors and other small accessories: $100 Design work: $800 Total: $7,250
  • More information Design formulas How big should my dining table be? From the center of the room, measure to the first obstacle along the shortest wall (furniture, wall, etc.). From that number (50 inches, for example), subtract 24, the number of inches you need to move chairs back from the table. Multiply the difference by 2. That’s the size of table your room will accommodate (in this case, a 52-inch table). What diameter should my chandelier be? For a chandelier that will not be over a table, add the width of the room to its length, say, 14 feet by 12 feet, and convert that number, 26, to inches. The diameter of a chandelier above a table should be roughly three-quarters of the table’s width. How much space should there be between the chandelier and the tabletop? There should be 30 to 36 inches between the two. What paint color should I choose? Instead of small color swatches, order 8-by-11-inch sheets of paint samples to get a better feel for colors in a room. For fabrics, get samples large enough that they repeat the pattern generously. What about window treatments? Hang single panels pulled to the side to save wall space and money. Pull single-panel drapes to opposite sides of side-by-side windows. Extend the panel farther along the wall to make windows look bigger. Put one curtain ring outside the bracket so the edge of the drapes stays put. Moonlight Interior & Redesign, Raleigh. 919-821-2355 or http://moonlightdsgn.com

Kirsten Wheeler was ready to find a rectangular farm table to put in her dining room. But, no, that would have been a mistake.

Leigh Blow and Meredith Watson, partners at Moonlight Interior & Redesign in Raleigh, told Wheeler that the space, with openings to the foyer and the kitchen, needed a round table – no corners to impede folks moving in and out.

The team had helped Wheeler redo the living room of her 74-year-old English Tudor home in Raleigh last year. Knowing they would encourage her to take design risks she wouldn’t consider on her own, she had them back this fall to help her figure out what to do with her unused dining room. The room had a piano in it and one corner had become a schoolroom for one of her daughter’s dolls. Blow and Watson, who see themselves more as problem-solvers than designers, work with furniture and accessories their clients already own and add to them as needed. They put a lot of emphasis on color and its psychological effects.

Wheeler wanted a dining room that she, husband Bryan and their three kids could use every day for meals and perhaps homework. She wanted the look to be playful enough to accommodate her children without seeming childish.

“I don’t always know what I want, but I know what I don’t want,” Wheeler said.

Getting started

The dining room sits across the foyer from the Wheelers’ living room.

The designers’ first move was to replace the piano with a mahogany china cabinet as a focal point and counterbalance to the sofa and sitting area visible in the living room.

“That piece was a donation to me by my mother that I would never pick,” Wheeler said good naturedly. “They are trying to make me not hate it.”

The dining room’s three windows had existing blinds and Wheeler wanted to add drapes. She had six straight-back chairs that would be reupholstered, and a rusty iron chandelier decorated with crystals that she had bought for the space. The chandelier, a piece she liked, provided a clue to her taste.

“Kirsten likes things to be casual, but she likes a touch of elegance, too,” Blow observed.

They’d have to find a table. It not only needed to be round, but it also had to be, at most, 52 inches in diameter to fit with the hutch in the 12- by 14-foot space and provide ample room to pull the chairs back. You need 24 inches of clearance around a table for chairs.

To effectively expand the height of the 8 1/2-foot ceiling, they would cover not just the windows, but some of the wall above them, too. This simple trick makes even a store-bought treatment look custom-made, Watson said, and “it raises your eyes.” (Be sure to leave room above the brackets for hardware, such as curtain rings, she added.)

Colors and patterns

The home’s color scheme is coral and teal plus a golden accent to play off the russet tones of the oak floors. Because coral dominates the living room and the foyer is mostly teal, they looked to the gold color family for the dining room.

In a dining space, soft colors encourage conversation and leisurely enjoyment of meals, Watson said. She and Blow helped Wheeler choose a soft “Harvester” gold for the cream-colored dining room walls.

“It’s very important to get colors to do what you need them to do,” Blow said.

Since the living room drapes are solids, the designers suggested “timeless” prints for the dining room. They presented a polka dot that she rejected right away, then a modified paisley, a Colonial and a medallion pattern. Wheeler first picked the paisley, but had second thoughts, seeing it as too trendy. The Colonial’s simple animal illustrations in reds and golds on a cream background grew on her, she said.

The animal print fit the playful mood she envisioned for the room and complemented the leopard pattern chosen for the chairs, which were upholstered in an indoor/outdoor fabric that will stand up to the wear and tear they’ll see from a family with three young children.

The choices

After a search for the table – “We prefer to use used; we prefer to go to consignment stores,” Watson said – Wheeler found a distressed, round pedestal table with a leaf at Pottery Barn. An area rug and a teal side table came from Green Front in Raleigh. A lamp with a teal shade for the side table came from Garden Ridge in Raleigh. The lamp’s base is an elephant with a monkey on its back, one of the scenes depicted on the drapes, which were made and installed by Drapery Specialists of Burlington. An ottoman under the side table came from Wheeler’s living room.

Artwork on the walls, including a painting of Julia Child’s kitchen bought in New Orleans, and accessories in the hutch are family items.

“We just started pulling things out of her drawers and cupboards,” Blow said. “Everything in here is old except the table. But it’s distressed, and it’s perfect.”

Silver and crystal pieces amid ceramics, photos and old flatware in the cabinet glitter in the light, matching the chandelier’s casual elegance. Wheeler’s color scheme of coral, teal and gold is reflected in just about every piece of furniture, fabric or piece of art. The gold walls cast a comforting glow.

“It’s really cozy-looking in there,” Blow said. “It makes you want to go in and be there.”

The reaction

Wheeler was out of town as Blow and Watson put the finishing touches on her space, but fell in love with it as soon as she returned.

Her favorite part of the room? The chair cushions. She was glad she decided to have them professionally made, rather than making them herself. She had also considered buying that rectangular farm table the designers advised against and leaving it to them to work around it.

“I am so, so, so, so glad I didn’t go out and do that,” she said.

The items gathered to go into the hutch meant nothing to her, she said. They could be trashed and she’d buy accessories, she had told the designers. Among them were egg cups she never used and tie-died eggs her mother made from her father’s neckties after he died years ago. Blow and Watson put them together.

“And now it’s something that I love, and it’s out to be seen and not hidden in a drawer,” Wheeler said.

And, yes, she loves the hutch now, too.

“We plan to eat dinner here every night instead of eating in the kitchen and at an island that not everyone can get their legs under,” she said. “This dining room will definitely be an integral part of our family and our home, not just somewhere we eat on the holidays.”

Christopher E. Nelson is a freelance writer and copy editor who lives in Clayton.

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