Celebrate-style

March 30, 2014

From Stumped to Stellar


Empty spaces. Awkward places. Here’s how to take charge of design-challenged rooms and transform them into invaluable parts of your home


Last year, I was asked to decorate a dining room and kitchen for a family of five who had just built their dream home in Manoa. The challenges posed by these side-by-side open spaces are familiar to many homeowners. This week I’ll focus on the dining room and what we did there.

The clients wanted a warm, inviting dining room, but the adjacent kitchen was very cool, with all-white cabinets. That transition would have to be addressed.

Next, the dining room somewhat spilled over to the traffic pathway into the kitchen, so using an area rug as a grounding element would not be a good idea.

Finally, since the kids use the dining table to do homework, we had to provide a comfortable setting that in a pinch could become more formal for entertaining.

The solutions? We already had a warm palette, thanks to the beautiful hardwood floors. To add to the warmth and bring in a sense of casual elegance, I covered the white walls with a golden wallpaper with a very subtle shimmer. This neutral backdrop embraced the dining room and gave it its own sense of space, especially since we did not want an area rug.

Next, for a low-maintenance dining table/homework station, we found a reclaimed-wood table whose beauty made it a statement piece in itself. Its chunky mass also grounded the space, further eliminating the need for an area rug.

For seating, we made easy-to-maintain parson-style chairs with a commercial grade, chocolate brown faux leather that could be wiped down for easy cleaning. The material and color added a sense of richness and formality while still being practical.

Our lighting solution was the most fun part of all — a chandelier that became the crowning glory of this dining room. Nothing too froufrou, but the simple chrome bar and cascading crystals added a modern elegance. A mirror on one wall reflected the crystals and made the space feel bigger.

As another functional and beautiful focal point, we added a baker’s rack in the niche. Finally, to give the room some balance, on the empty wall alongside the shutters we hung a piece of art that we made. We surprised our clients by choosing a photo from their favorite family vacation in Yosemite and having it digitally abstracted, blown up onto a canvas and painted in acrylics for an original piece of art.

It served several purposes: It filled the wall space nicely, it’s an image that’s near and dear to their hearts, and it’s a family portrait without being a staid, posed photo. It’s become a talking point at many of their dinner parties.

Phew! That was a lot of tips for one space. I hope you can use some of them as creative solutions for your decorating dilemmas.



Cathy Lee is a home style expert, speaker, president and designer of Cathy Lee Style. Her redesigns of residential and business spaces have been featured in local and national publications and on HGTV. For more info and inspiring photos of design projects, visit cathyleestyle.com.
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