Aim for elegance, avoid pretentiousness

January 31, 1993|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Contributing Writer Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Q: We have just moved into a home that is architecturally a lot more formal than our previous place. Budget constraints require that we make do with a number of furnishings from our former home. We particularly need your advice on how a large dining table with a light maple finish can be made to look more elegant for use in this new setting.

A: Camouflage is the simplest solution. Begin the operation by refinishing the dining table in a dark stain. Then focus your attention on the rest of the room, including the other furnishings, the floor and window coverings, and the color of the walls. But take care that you don't get too elegant in your treatments of these various elements.

The photo may provide you with some tips on how to proceed. In this model, the table, seating bench and cabinet with hutch are all part of a moderately priced line of furniture done in French country style, by Tradition France.

The rustic flavor of the pieces shown here has been tempered by the addition of high-backed upholstered chairs and a colorful Chinese rug. The table's dark stain and the lace window treatments further enhance the feeling of elegance, even though the room does retain a relatively informal appearance. It's a delicate balance, but in this case the designer has succeeded in creating a lovely and well-integrated setting.

In striving for elegance, you must take care to avoid

pretentiousness. That's what often results when an interior design fails to mesh with a room's architecture and physical dimensions. For example, 18th-century-style furnishings will probably be less appropriate in the average American home, with its 8-foot-tall ceilings, than will more casual and properly scaled pieces.

Choosing the simpler and less formal alternative doesn't necessarily mean forgoing elegance. Remember, a room can be elegant without being fancy. In the situation you describe, there's not much reason to worry about producing a design that's out of keeping with the room's formal architecture. Instead, your less typical problem is how to make old furniture live up to the room's more refined standards. And that may not be possible to accomplish unless you're able to purchase at least a few pieces and accessories.

High-backed upholstered chairs of the type shown in the photo would surely go well with your restained dining table. I'd also scour secondhand shops in search of a polished brass ceiling fixture. And if you do succeed in finding one, consider adding wall sconces in the same general design and finish as the ceiling fixture. Introduce the right kind of rug and, of course, some attractive fabrics, and you'll be proud of your new dining room -- ++ without reeling over all the money you spent to make it look that way.

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