Once a year, at Thanksgiving, the dining room is the most important room in the house.
Just when we want it to look its best, we have to fit in twice as many people as there's space for and find room for more dishes than the table can hold. Of course, that's what's wonderful about the holiday. Set up a card table for the overflow guests; bring in the kitchen chairs. No one will mind. But this year why not give the whole dining room the attention it deserves -- not just the table that holds the holiday feast.
Conventional wisdom has it that the dining room is an anachronism. Maybe so, but not in this area. Baltimoreans love their dining rooms.
Even those who aren't traditionalists are using their dining rooms more these days as a result of the past year's unsettling events, says Ed Albers, an Annapolis interior designer.
"People are more concerned with a family-and-friends type of holiday," he says. "There are more reasons than ever to have family functions. It's a comfort."
His advice for getting the dining room ready for Thanksgiving?
"I tell people to keep it simple because the holidays get so crazy."
Of course, simple means different things to different people. Maybe just polishing the silver till it gleams will do it for you. But there are plenty of other ways to spruce up the room in time for Thanksgiving, from minor ones like having the rug cleaned to major ones like repainting.
For most of us, though, getting the dining room ready means creating more room for guests to have a sit-down dinner. Last year Kay McConnell, who lives in the Lake Roland area, decided she didn't want a table for grown-ups and a separate children's table. She ignored the fact that her dining room ended at four walls. Instead she created one long table that seated 11 by placing another table against her dining room table and covering the whole thing with her best linens. It extended into the foyer, but no one minded. The foyer has a fireplace, which added to the arrangement's charm.
"My kids are at the point now where it's fun to have them at the table," she says. "It was great to have us all sitting together."
Use your imagination in creating Thanksgiving space. Designer Jay Jenkins of Alexander Baer Associates has a bay window in his dining room. He brings in a small sofa and a breakfast-size round table with chairs for overflow guests.
"It's very cozy," he says. "Try to do something different."
Round tables are generally best for conversation. If your dining room is large enough, Baltimore designer Linda Robinson even suggests moving your rectangular table out temporarily and renting several round tables to replace it for the holiday. Whatever you do, though, make sure everyone has a place at some table. This is one time of year when people don't want to eat balancing a plate on their knees.
Readying the room
Solving the table problem should be just the beginning of getting the room ready for the holidays.
"Dining rooms are neglected in the summertime," says Robinson. "This is the time of year to make your dining room an inviting place to be, even if all you do is warm up the room."
Something as simple as a bowl of apples on the sideboard can do that, she says. Decorate with the colors of the season, perhaps adding autumnal topiaries, and bring out warmer accessories like brass candlesticks.
"Clutter the place up a little," she adds. Even an elegant dining room should look cozy and festive this time of year, not stylishly minimalist.
If you like the idea of changing the look of the room according to the seasons, one of the easiest fixes is to add little paper or silk shades to the dining room chandelier, or replace dingy ones. You can find them at lighting stores. This time of year, dark red might be a good choice. Shades are a minimal investment that can brighten a room.
If shades aren't your thing, changing the candle bulbs -- to prisms, perhaps -- can give the room an up-to-date look. You might also put a decorative sleeve around the chain of the light fixture.
Interested in more substantial changes? Many dining room chairs have "slip seats" that can be recovered. If you're any good at all with your hands, it's not a big deal. Unscrew the seat from the bottom, take off the old fabric and replace it with new. Choose fabric that picks up an autumnal color in your rug.
You can also reinvent your dining room chairs with floor-length slipcovers. The extra fabric adds warmth to a room as well as color, and dining room slipcovers are a fashion-forward look these days.
For those feeling particularly ambitious, Robinson suggests putting up a decorative ceiling medallion. "It really dresses a room up," she says. They can be found at lumber yards, home centers and hardware stores. (You'll need to get an electrician to take your light fixture down.)