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Splashes of color enliven a traditional dining room

Andover dining room designed by Ana Donohue. Michael J. Lee

A neutral backdrop was already in place when Boston interior designer Ana Donohue was called in to furnish and accessorize this Andover dining room. To enliven the space, Donohue capitalized on the homeowner’s affinity for jewel tones.

“We used aqua and tangerine to make the space pop,” says Donohue, who notes that the bursts of color do not detract from the room’s predominantly traditional feel.

Donohue made a large-scale painting depicting the outline of a face by artist Virginia Peck a focal point.

“In dining rooms, I like to play with art. Find something that creates interest and let it play the opposite: This piece is unexpected in a very traditional dining room,” she says.


Another bold choice is the aqua blown glass chandelier from Horchow.

“I wanted something with vibrant color to serve as a statement piece that the homeowners won’t get tired of it,” says Donohue. “Sometimes people purchase a safe chandelier and then they get tired of it after a while.”

Various patterns provide a multidimensional feel.

“A lot of people want to layer things, but they’re not sure how to do it,” says Donohue. “The key is to select patterns of different scale so they feel balanced.”

The damask, tone-on-tone wallpaper is free flowing with lots of curves; the wool Landry & Arcari rug has a colorful interconnecting pattern; and the chairs are upholstered in a Duralee fabric with a smaller print but a bolder hue.

“You need the changes in scale to feel cohesive,” says Donohue. “The room has a rhythm to it.”

Century buffet has mirrored door fronts that break up the wood in the room.Michael J. Lee


When it comes to dining room design Donohue recommends keeping these essentials in mind:

Forgo the matching dining room set: In this space, all the woods have a dark tone. “But none of them match completely,” says Donohue. The round Spanish baroque style table is made of Alderwood finished with a mahogany stain. The Century buffet has mirrored door fronts that break up all the wood. The chairs, by Hickory, are mahogany with an oxford stain. “The different woods blend well,” says Donohue. “But because the pieces are all so different, in 10 years the dining room will still feel relevant.”


Find comfortable chairs: Nothing is worse than an uncomfortable dining chair. “If you go the effort of designing the room, and you want to entertain, it’s essential to find chairs you’ll want to sit in for more than an hour,” says Donohue. Try out the chairs before buying and seek one that hugs you and allows you to put your arms up like these English Regency style chairs that have upholstered seats and backs.

Consider what you have underfoot: A rug under the table completes the décor, but one ill-fated food or drink spill can ruin the entire scheme. Stay away from solid or two-tone rugs and avoid silk. Natural fiber rugs like jute are pretty durable and easy to clean. Wool rugs like the one in this room will clean up easily with soap and water if you address the stain quickly. “If you are really worried about spills, select a rug with multicolors and lots of patterns, that way stains will blend in,” says Donohue.

Jaci Conry can be reached at