A Formal Dining Room That's Not Fussy

Deep hues, carefully selected decor and cozy seating turn a formal dining room into a rich yet relaxed place to entertain.

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

©Sarah Dorio Photography

Dining Room Makeover: After

On a modest budget and a timeline of three days, this formal dining room was updated to highlight its existing architectural features and to offer a cozy place for hosting year-round dinner parties.

Dining Room Makeover: Before

In its original state, the dining room was bland and in need of a bold splash of color. Using the existing area rug as inspiration, the room was updated with navy blue on the walls, ceiling and along the back panels of the built-ins. New fixtures and fresh upholstery dress up the space.

Fresh Paint

A shade of navy blue 60 percent lighter than the wall color was used on the ceiling, which covers the room in color without drastically darkening it.

Bold Light Fixture

Prior to its redesign, the formal dining room was lacking an overhead light fixture. This new satin brass chandelier adds just the right sculptural touch. Globe bulbs, instead of traditional candelabra bulbs, lend a more modern look.

Coordinating Colors

It's important to consider flow when choosing colors for rooms which open into one another. To create proper flow between adjacent spaces, stick with different shades and tints of a common color or use complementary hues. Here, the navy blue walls of the dining room coordinate perfectly with the seaglass tones of the nearby living room.

Weathered Surfaces

Weathered finishes add a touch of informality to a space and aren't just meant for rustic rooms. The black oak table used in the dining room is traditional in style but features a slightly aged rubbed black finish. Weathered dining tables are an excellent fit for high-traffic homes with active kids or pets since dings or dents acquired over the years will simply add to the overall effect.

Layered Underfoot

While the traditional pattern of the top area rug is formal, the addition of a flame-stitch sisal rug underneath instantly gives it a more casual personality. To layer rugs successfully, choose two with patterns ranging in scale and with complementary textures. A mix of nubby, coarse textures paired with sleek or refined textures will result in the perfect balance.

Recovered Armchairs

For a more personal, custom approach in your dining room, choose a mix of armchairs and side chairs. Here, a pair of high back, regency-style armchairs were picked up at a flea market for $100 then recovered in a contemporary striped print.

Slipcovered Side Chairs

Of all natural-woven fabrics, washed linen is the most casual and relaxed. Four side chairs slipcovered in stonewashed linen were added to offset the heaviness of the tall upholstered armchairs. Besides being super comfortable, the slipcovers are user-friendly, too. Should dinner parties result in spills or stains, the slipcovers can simply be tossed into the washing machine.

Unexpected Artwork

An excellent way to make formal spaces feel updated and fresh is to mix abstract art with traditional-style furniture. This oversized piece by artist Kelly O'Neal introduces an interesting shape to the room and helps balance other standout features.

Natural Light

Before using dark colors in small to medium spaces, it's important to consider the room's source of natural light. Since this formal dining room is equipped with both French doors and a large window, the abundance of natural light keeps the navy blue from feeling oppresive. The French doors lead to an adjacent outdoor space so dinner parties can actually double in size during the warm months.

Eclectic Bookshelf Styling

To keep a dining room feeling more like a showcase than a library, consider using bookshelves to display interesting objects with sentimental value rather than just books. After updating the back panels of the built-ins with textured wallpaper, an assortment of keepsakes from around the house were put on display.

Extra Seating

To make this window seat extra comfortable, a two-inch-thick cushion upholstered in the same fabric as the high back chairs was added, tying in the bonus seating with the rest of the room.

Relaxed Window Treatments

Rather than opting for more elaborate or formal pleats, the dining room draperies were sewn in a style called "soft top." This refers to the lack of pleats along the top of the drapery panels, making the fabric much more soft and loose.

Updated Hardware

For an easy update, the knobs of the built-in bookshelves were replaced with handles in a satin brass finish. Satin brass has more versatile appeal than polished brass, which is best fit for more formal spaces.

Casual Serving

To make gatherings much more casual, consider setting the table buffet style. Allow guests to help themselves by stacking dinnerware, flatware, linens and drinkware in groupings around the table along with family-style food presentation.