3-Step Decorating: Dining Room

Do you have a blank room to decorate and not a clue how to start? Follow this three-step plan that invests in furnishings slowly and looks ahead for design flexibility and growth.
Stage 1: Go Basic
Bare dinning room

You moved into a larger house with your first real dining room (bye-bye, eat-in kitchen), but you don't have the bona fide furniture -- or the budget -- to fill it right away. Still, you want to entertain friends with a modicum of style while you settle into the house and think about what furnishings and feeling you'd like to have in the room.

Tactic: Evoke a French bistro style. Utilize basic dinnerware from your bridal registry, pieces of furniture you already have, and a bevy of affordable accessories.

They're not pretty, but when a dining room is empty, a folding table and chairs are quick and cheap. When you buy real furniture, the folding table and chairs can be used for parties on the deck and holiday gatherings, so money is not wasted.

Square white tablecloths are inexpensive and versatile for the future, especially since you don't know the size of your "dream table." Place a square at each end, then angle a third square in the middle to cover the gap and voila -- bistro style in a bare room.

Decorative table setting

Compose compelling place settings so guests focus on food and conversation, not on the empty room. Put your wedding registry dishes and basic stemware alongside Grandma's love-it-forever flatware. Classics commingle with margarita-glass votive holders and $2 curtain ring clips used as napkin/place card holders.

Use a half dozen empty soda bottles to spread one bunch of blooms into a big arrangement for just a few bucks.

Bare dinning room

White wood blinds are definite keepers; they suffice solo for now, but leave room for dressing up in the future once you've settled on a color and style plan.

Decorative wine rack

Photography is affordable art, especially when outlined with wide white mats and black frames. Choose meaningful subjects to personalize the space -- travel photos, nature images, still lifes. Later, you can move the art to a powder room or guest room.

Use that wooden wine rack you bought for your first apartment in the 1990s as a buffet or bar. Make it part of a wall composition with artwork, a platter on a stand, and an ice bucket for chilling wine.

Resources: Like what you see in this story? As of 2005, the items featured in this story were available from these manufacturers. Wall color #SW6137 Burlap -- The Sherwin-Williams Co.; 800-474-3794; www.sherwin-williams.com. Table and chairs -- Cosco Home & Office Products; 888-818-5110; www.coscoproducts.com. Hotel napkins, tablecoverings -- Sam's Club; 800-881-9180; www.samsclub.com. Bottle vases -- Jones Soda Co., 800-656-6050; www.jonessoda.com. Kitchen towels -- IKEA; in the United States: 800-434-4532; in Canada: 800-661-9807; www.ikea.com. Margarita glasses -- Pier 1 Imports; 800-245-4595; www.pier1.com.

Continued on page 2:  Stage 2: Build on It