Q. We have been following your column and love your work. We have a large Colonial and are thinking about redesigning the main dining room. We would like to go for an updated traditional look with a rustic twist. What would you suggest to balance these styles?
A. One issue that many people face when designing their living spaces is trying to blend individual tastes with current trends in a way that isn’t overwhelming. At a recent design and staging project for a down-to-the-studs renovation of a 1920s Wellesley Colonial, I was tasked with this. I took the large dining room, which the builder intended to be formal, and added modern and rustic elements, creating a welcoming space for entertaining family and guests alike.
Before I started the project, the room had been painted a color between slate blue and gray. If this room were 10 by 10 feet, not 18 by 30, I would have advised a color change — without question. I recommend neutral paint (light gray is in and my favorite), but in this case, the darker hue was working. The natural light from the main window made the cream-colored crown molding and wainscot pop.
In a nod to the traditional, a crystal chandelier was a must for this space. It’s a staple of the classic formal dining room. I always encourage white shades on crystal chandeliers because they help project the light better.
To get that rustic vibe, I brought in a weathered farm table big enough to seat eight. Dark furniture against dark walls can make even a sizable room seem crowded, so I selected Kartell ghost chairs. They added the perfect contrast and helped to blend the traditional, modern, and rustic styles.
For a twist, I used modern crystal stemware, gray faux-wood chargers, light-gray napkins, and white porcelain plates trimmed with silver — understated, modern, and neutral elements.
To complete the project, I commissioned an acrylic painting by local artist Claudia Venditto. This abstract piece brings color and life to the space and helps call attention to the molding.
When staging for real estate, I never clutter a room. Even though wall space was available, adding a sideboard would have taken the focus off the craftsmanship, one of the home’s key selling points. The number of pieces you should have in a staged dining room depends on the size of the space and the number of seats you want to display. If you’re staging a dining room in a five-bedroom home, you want a table for at least six. If you’re staging a two-bedroom cottage, a table for eight doesn’t make sense.
When previewing real estate, everyone wants to see hardwood floors. I would never put an area rug in a dining room like this. I do not use area rugs in my projects unless it’s a stylish one under a coffee table that ties a room together. Rugs are outdated, and many people, I’ve found, do not want them.
This room started off cold, dark, and dreary, but the end result is a minimalist showcase.