Q: For the last 20 years my dining room has included a glass-and-chrome table, matching leather chairs and a beige wall-to-wall carpet. I want to soften the look and make it more interesting, but I can't afford to replace everything at once. Where do I start?
A: My initial reaction is to urge you to break up the matching dining set, but on reflection, I think you should start with a plan. First decide on the colors and design direction you prefer.
Since you have to proceed on a piecemeal basis, the easiest way to create a soft and interesting look is by assembling a mixture of furnishing styles that will form a coherent whole.
Dining rooms, because they're used mainly in the evening, seem to look best with deep and textured wall colors. A fabric, paint or wallpaper could be applied in a narrow stripe or in a mottled, spongelike pattern. A dark shade like claret red or a medium tone of cinnamon will flatter the diners and the food, especially in a room illuminated by wall sconces or a decorative ceiling fixture.
A multicolored area rug in an all-over pattern will totally change the room's appearance. It will certainly look a lot more interesting under your glass-top dining table than that old beige carpet.
Replacing the leather chairs with something less predictable will also make the room come alive.
Although I often warn against latching on to the latest trend, there's one innovation worthy of your consideration. Actually, it's not an innovation at all. Painted furniture has been around for a long time, as is evident from frescos of Roman interiors. But it's suddenly being rediscovered -- with a vengeance.
In your case, painted chairs around that glass-and-chrome table would make an elegant combination. Specifically, a neoclassical style chair of the early 19th century looks great in a room filled with simple modern furniture.
The photo shows a lovely reproduction of an English Regency chair manufactured by Smith and Watson in New York. The introduction of this piece was prompted, in part, by designers' requests for a less stodgy chair that can be used both in contemporary and traditional settings.
This particular model, also available as a side chair, features a hand-caned fan back surrounding a carved lion's head. The original chair, which dates from about 1805, was done in terra cotta lacquer with gilt and moss green accents. In a late 20th century home, ebony with red and gilt accents might be more suitable.
Painted or wood-finish chairs in simple designs like Queen Anne or Chippendale would also make an interesting and attractive contrast with your dining table.