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Home decorating ideas: Making a traditional New England dining room feel current

An antique home in Hingham gets a California fresh feel that’s harmonious with its historic roots.

A Hingham dining room makeover by Sarah Scales.
A Hingham dining room makeover by Sarah Scales.Jessica Delaney

While the owners of this 200-year-old Hingham home loved its beautifully preserved architectural features—including wide-plank pine floors and original beams—they were ready to update the decor. Their dilemma was one faced by many a modern New Englander: How do you make your house feel family-friendly and fresh without losing, or clashing with, its historic roots? The answer: brightening. Milton-based designer Sarah Scales replaced the dated red and yellow palette and ornate accents with light, airy neutrals and plenty of clean lines. “The clients wanted a California aesthetic,” Scales says. “That’s all about taking heavy color and pattern out of a room.”

1 Because the dining room is a heavily trafficked area with five doorways, Scales left uncarpeted paths, but still centered the table on the rug. “They had a red Persian in here before,” Scales says. “This light, solid broadloom simplifies the space.”


2 Scales created a pretty design moment around the buffet, which the couple inherited from the husband’s parents’ home on Beacon Hill. Delicate polished nickel lamps and a lacquered convex mirror provide a bit of shine and a contemporary sensibility that does not seem out of place.

3 The Go Lightly chandelier by Barbara Barry for Visual Comfort makes a crisp, clean statement in the center of the space. “It’s a huge contrast style-wise to the architecture and historic furniture and sets the tone,” Scales says.

4 Schumacher’s Shadow Vine wallpaper was the starting point. “The tone-on-tone colorway was key,” Scales says. “There’s a lot going on with the ceiling beams, so it had to be quiet.”

5 Rather than trying to echo the traditional style of the table, Scales chose chairs with straight lines in a natural brushed-oak finish and bright white indoor/outdoor linen upholstery. “They have an aged look but they don’t match,” she says. “That would feel like grandma’s furniture.”


6 The couple scored the antique dining table years ago at a yard sale from another family in town who had enjoyed it for more than 40 years.

Marni Elyse Katz is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.