3-Stage Makeover: Elegant Dining Room

stage three window treatment
Bland as clear broth, this dining room lacked spice. A three-step makeover adds piquant tang with a generous dash of exotic flavor.

Stage 1: Plain Dining

With generous proportions, handsome floors, and a distinctive niche, this dining room has loads of latent promise. But the room is too neutral, the floor blends with the furniture, and the lighting fixtures and draperies are wimpy. The dining set is a gorgeous choice for an inspiration piece. Its striking Chinese Chippendale style is timeless and suggests a design direction for the room. The table is set with simple china and crystal that, while a little too understated, create a solid foundation upon which to build.

Stage 1: Plain Dining

The alcove is a terrific feature that increases serving space, creates a natural focal point, and balances the room's pair of tall windows. The arrangement within the alcove, however, underwhelms. The console table is beautiful but underscaled for the niche. The mirror is dowdy and the spindly lamps belong in another house entirely. Walls and window treatments have the clout to make or break a room and in this case, it's the latter. Dining rooms offer the perfect canvas for invigorating color, but this room's beige-and-white scheme plays it far too safe. The windows' drama is stifled by timid draperies that melt into the walls.

Stage 1: Must-Have Basics

When shopping for china or dinnerware, first evaluate your lifestyle. Will the dishes be used only on special occasions or do you want something you can enjoy routinely and dress up for the holidays? White plates with a simple edge design are the easiest to coordinate with a variety of layering pieces. When choosing accent items, take cues from your dining room: Hand-glazed stoneware may be great on an Arts and Crafts table but odd on a Chippendale.

Stage 2: Adding Sophistication

The dining table is twice as commanding when anchored by an eye-catching rug. The subtle Greek key pattern echoes the chairs' fretwork, while the anything-but-subtle coral hue establishes the table as a focal point. A black pendant lamp adds dramatic scale with a contemporary twist. Walls and window treatments haven't changed dramatically -- they're often among the final touches in a room's decor. The tired sheer panels have been replaced with simple white shades, while the bold new rug cues the need for more color.

Stage 2: Simple Upgrades

The alcove houses a modern interpretation of a Chinese altar table that serves as a bar, while the handsome console table has found a better fit on the adjacent wall. Dragonfly prints -- Web clip art framed in faux gold-leaf molding -- reinforce the dining room's budding Asian aesthetic.

Stage 2: Building Layers

Accent plates don't have to be precious; look for distinctive dishes at import stores and catalog retailers. Chargers lend heft to a place setting and present an opportunity to incorporate contrasting materials, such as lacquer or metal, or shapes, such as squares.

Stage Three: Dashing Dining

With the furniture in place, it's the windows, walls, and accessories that propel this dining room past the finish line. Timid beige is ousted by swaggering color and pattern, and the tall windows finally receive their due. The table sets the stage for a chic evening. The simple white china is layered with graphic peony-pattern dinnerware, and votive holders are filled with marzipan favors. The runner fabric is a mid-century classic, but its crisp black-and-white geometry is perfect in the room's mix.

Stage Three: Add Accents

Seek out unexpected accents for the table -- decorative votive holders make clever personal candy dishes.

Stage Three: Dressed Up Alcove

The alcove is clad with boards to suggest the grid of a shoji screen. The altar table is bracketed by sculptural lamps that make a big statement. Unusual in a dining room, the floor lamps are an unexpected choice that ups the style quotient. A mirror framed in back-painted glass lends an exotic air.

Stage Three: Dramatic Walls

Walls and window treatments make all the difference in this makeover. Daring and glamorous, this wallpaper is certainly no wallflower. The bright orange and pink balance the rug, while black and white accents keep the powerful paper from going over the top.

Stage Three: Well Dressed Windows

Towering draperies play up the great windows and mirror the painted-white alcove. Black grosgrain trim echoes the chairs' fretwork, incorporates the rug's Greek key design, and adds a contemporary twist on a classic Asian motif.

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