Furniture is not the only way to soften formal room

DESIGN LINE

July 04, 1993|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Contributing Writer

Q: We recently purchased an old house that has a very large dining room with a high ceiling, six windows and a fireplace. We have the usual 18th-century-style brown mahogany dining table, chairs and server. How can the room be made more inviting without losing its elegance?

A: A basic problem with such spaces is that they were meant to be filled with people as well as with great paintings, decorative objects and colorful rugs. In today's world, that's hard to achieve because banquets are no longer frequent events.

Still, there are ways of making your dining room come to life. Furniture is only one part of the solution, so you needn't worry much about the ordinary look of the pieces you own. Instead, focus your attention on the color and details of the room's surround.

To point you in the right direction, I've chosen this photo of a large, high-ceilinged dining room filled with 18th-century, English-style, brown furniture. The simple yet stately lines of these pieces are emphasized here by the treatments given to the surround.

Let's start with the windows. The choice of coverings will depend on a number of specific factors, including your budget, taste, need for privacy and exterior views. The options can thus range from no window-coverings at all, as is the case in the photo, to simple floor-length panels with tie-backs, or elaborate lambrequins, swags and jabots.

If you choose something simple, it's possible in a large room to give the walls a more ornate treatment. Here, a reproduction of one of the French Zuber wallpapers imbues the space with a distinctive sense of place. Chinoiserie wallpaper patterns, which include large flowers and vines, would also help produce a colorful environment.

Similarly, you may wish to consider a room-sized rug with a bold pattern. In this setting, an antique Sultanabad serves to anchor the furniture and to soften its austere lines. The same effect can be achieved with a new and comparatively affordable needlepoint rug in a large-scale design.

Painted wainscoting, paneling and other millwork details further

embellish this particular space. While such additions are rather costly, they will certainly contribute to the elegance that you enjoy. Keep in mind that it's not necessary to introduce as many details as are seen in the photo, though in a room as big as yours, crown molding is just about essential.

Furniture arrangement is also important. The dining table should be placed in the center of the space, but don't hesitate to introduce other furnishings on the periphery. Your server will readily find a place in such a vast space, as will a tea trolley and a few planters filled with small trees. The fireplace makes a natural focal point for a seating group, so if your room can accommodate it, be sure to include that perfect inducement to a relaxed after-dinner conversation.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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