3-Step Makeover: 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.

Step 1: Go Basic

You have a dining room, but not the bona fide furniture -- or the budget -- to fill it right away. 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.

Step 1: Place Setting

Compose compelling place settings so guests focus on food and conversation, not on the empty room. Put 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.

Step 1: Basic Window Treatments

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.

Step 1: Storage and Art

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 bathroom 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.

Step 2: Build on It

Evolve from French bistro to crisp botanical style. Buy furniture and build on the basic white and black accessories, adding color, texture, and substance. If you're not yet ready to commit to a new color scheme, pick up on the soft green walls with botanical motifs in special napkins and fresh-cut or potted plants and flowers. Keep the look clean with simple white cotton window panels. Cover the bare back wall with a round black mirror ($200) and a pair of affordable glass wall vases ($40 per pair).

Step 2: Styled Place Setting

Keep the interior airy with clear glass vases, candle hurricanes, and water carafes. Strong curves add shape and interest to the table, yet the glass lets light shine through. Plus, glass pieces are ultimately versatile. Set a more sophisticated table by layering new square plates on woven chargers atop linen runners. Grandma's silver flatware and your original glasses still work great. Potted-fern place cards are special and inexpensive.

Step 2: More Storage

As you begin to invest in tableware and accessories, this cabinet stores your wares. It also serves as a bar and a buffet server. Tall vases, crystal barware, and the same framed photo keep this area a focal point until you invest in new art.

Step 3: Arrival

After a few years you finally find it -- a dreamy fabric for draperies that works perfectly with the transferware dishes you now collect. It sets the elegant tone you've come to admire as your tastes and budget have matured. It's time to finish out the room, taking color and formality cues from the fabric for a brave new wall paint, a rug, dinnerware, and wall elements. Coral becomes banding on the curtains, the color on the wall, and fresh flowers for centerpieces.

Step 3: Place Setting

Melding a color-themed collection into this decor jump-started the final phase. Start with one serving piece, then ease into place settings as your collection grows. Amber glass chargers, bowls, and wineglasses tie to those tones in draperies, slipcovers, and rug. Grandma's silver? Still there, tied in a new faux-suede napkin.

Step 3: Window Treatments

This rich floral drapery fabric stands strong with the black table and introduces accent hues of amber, coral, and brown. Leaves elongate the table to a formal scale. Two slipcovered, upholstered chairs add seating stature and the striped fabric reverses to solid brown for a change of look. With table and draperies in place, it's finally rug time. A subtle grid of sand, brown, and black ties into the room hues (and the nylon fibers are easy-care).

Step 3: Collection on Display

That mirror is still going strong, but now plates and platters join it. The beauty? The wall arrangement can expand and reconfigure as the collection grows. Atop the bar, a lamp adds height and ambient lighting to the composition. The same linen runners from stage two grace the table and bar with the addition of matching square napkins as place mats. Decanters also remain.

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