Friday, May 9, 2014

The Evolution of a Dining Room

My last blog post featured an updated fireplace in a client's home and gave a sneak peak at some of the work we've been doing in her living room.  In addition to the fireplace, there are several other things we've been working on, including custom living room furnishings and a handful of adjustments to the existing dining room layout and decor.  While I want to save the full reveal for a time when we've been able to get in there and properly photograph the entire space, I thought it would be fun to share how we've transformed her dining area from somewhat plain and lacking in focus, to a room that is stylish and cohesive, all with just a few adjustments that can be easily replicated.  (To be fair, while I make this sound simple, the transformation took place in stages over the course of several months.)  Here's how we did it.

When we started, the client had a fairly new dining set in perfect condition.  The set wasn't necessarily in keeping with the new style direction she wanted to go in, (Translation: more contemporary, with a touch of mid-century and "glam" mixed in) but she very matter-of-factly stated that she didn't want to replace it.  While I don't consider myself a wasteful person, this type of situation is always a big challenge for designers--how to work in preexisting pieces without compromising the integrity of the new design. We smile at the client and say "no problem," but inwardly we're groaning!  Several things bugged me about this particular set.  For starters, the chair seats were covered in black leather.  Practical to be sure, but also aesthetically boring.  Secondly, the scale didn't seem right for the space.  It looked too small and all those identical chairs created visual clutter instead of supporting the room's most obvious focal point: the formal dining table.  Beyond the dining table were two additional major pieces that, while beautiful, weren't living up to their full potential.  One was a gleaming baby grand piano, tucked in a corner so far away from the viewer that it was hard to appreciate its gorgeous lines and stately elegance.  The other was a beautiful yet misplaced antique chaise lounge, which seemed to reside in an awkward location.    
The "Before" shot of the Dining Room

Clearly, the first order of business was a new furniture layout for the room.  We decided to anchor the space with a very large, custom area rug in a single, rich shade of teal.  We choose that color because it complimented the tones in the hardwood floors and because teal was also the primary accent color in the adjacent living room.  Repeating the same accent color helped us to unify these two areas.  Then we turned the existing table at an angle, which is always more visually dynamic, and allowed for better flow between the indoor dining space to the adjoining outdoor patio.  The chaise went away (sadly, it just wasn't right for this project) and instead we brought in a new console cabinet, which is intended to function as a bar area.  The new console has the mid-century feel that the client wanted, and is distinctively different in style and finish from the dining room table, to keep things from feeling too "matchy-matchy"--one of my biggest pet peeves.  We relocated the console to the corner previously occupied by the piano and moved the piano to a more prominent position, just off the foyer and next to a beautiful, art-glass wall that had been added during an earlier remodel.  In this new arrangement, the piano and the glass wall are like a dynamic duo, each calling attention to one another without competing or clashing.    

To freshen the dining set, we had the chair seats reupholstered in a fun fabric that features a popular mid-century Sputnik motif.  The fabric pattern is small in scale, so it's subtle. But it helps the chairs to relate to the character of the buffet, as well as the new pieces that were purchased for the Living Room.  (Design Tip: changing the fabric on dining chairs is always a good way to update the look of a room when operating on a limited budget.  Minimal yardage is needed and while we had ours professionally done, swapping out the fabric is an easy DIY project that can be done in a couple hours with the aid of a staple gun.  I can't tell you how many times I changed out the fabric on the thrift-store dining chairs I owned during my college and pre-married days.

At this point, things were starting to look better, but we still needed a few major tweaks to whip this room into shape.  Here's how it looked mid-project: improved, but not yet great.

A quick photo analysis told me that a handful of things still needed attention: 1) The new rug, while beautiful, needed to be balanced with the addition of some equally bold pieces.  (When I look at this photo, all I see are bold rug and black piano.  Everything else just seems to be a jumble.)  2)  Then there was the new console cabinet.  Charming to be sure, but lost and lonely looking in the corner.  What we needed was some height behind it, to balance the room and draw the eye from foreground to background.  3) Lastly, the dining set still needed some major "ooomph."  Even with the new upholstery, it continued to look like a collection of uninteresting chairs.  So I did what I always like to do when I'm feeling a little puzzled, mid-project.  I took this photo, laid some tracing paper of the top, and began to sketch ways to "fix" the room.  (I should interject here that in my line work, some rooms come together seamlessly from initial concept to completion, with no adjustments needed along the way.  Others, like this one, are a series of alternating additions and re-evaluations until the project is finally complete.)

 I then sourced the items shown in the sketch and presented everything to the client.  Thankfully, she was on board and got right to work ordering the pieces I suggested: two captain's chairs in ivory leather to anchor the ends of the dining table, a pair of over-sized mirrors to go behind the bar console, and a chic lamp to top it off.  Also at my recommendation, she replaced the large single painting behind the piano with a trio of three smaller pieces and and viola, the room  looks SO much better!  

The dining set, with the new leather end-chairs, now fits the scale of the space much more appropriately.  The ivory leather looks fresh and pretty against the teal rug and adds major pop against the backdrop of the glossy black piano.  The large mirrors behind the bar console add height and drama, while intentionally repeating the black finish of the piano.  The new art trio is more visually stimulating that a single painting and  keeps the back wall from looking too heavy.  In my mind, this portion of the project was a success and I'm glad the homeowner trusted me through the various stages of the design process.  She now she has a very interesting and dynamic dining space that  I hope she'll feel proud to entertain in.  She got to keep her dining set, and I'm no longer groaning on the inside.  "No problem" really was "no problem."  The client is pleased and therefore so am I.