So, I’ve been staring at my formal dining room and parlor for about two years and just not loving them. I confess, straight up hating on them.
No matter how pretty I made them, these spaces just seemed so weird, boxy and nonfunctional. We’ve lived here for almost two years and honestly never used these rooms, (they were like well decorated hallways). The entire time, I have been wracking my brain trying to think of creative ways to actually make this square footage not just pretty but functional. So about a month ago I finally had an “ah HA!” design moment, the kind that all husbands dread. The kind that starts with the words, “Honey, so I was thinking . . . ” and follows with a respectful and humble request involving power tools, a wrecked a weekend (or three), and several hours at a home improvement store.
Thankfully, my better half is not only used to these moments but he actually gets on board pretty quickly. We’ve been together long enough that he knows me and I know him so we do our “dance” well on the delicate topic of potential projects. (Truth behind the music confession: Even though DIY is our “thing” and we do it all the time, his first answer is always “No”, “Oh HELL, no” or if I’m lucky, I get the more benign, “Really?”. It honestly takes him a good two days to mull it over before he gets on board fully. So if you’re the idea guy in your relationship, know your partner well and give them all the space and time they need. Heck, if they need a year – give them a year. Rome wasn’t built in a day.)
Thankfully, we got Rome built this time around in about a month. Here’s a quick reminder of what these spaces looked like before my epiphany moment of what to do with them.
The first is a bird’s eye view of the living room and formal dining room about a year ago.
And this is always fun – a great “before before” – what this space looked like when we bought the house two years ago:
Here is closer view of the “problem rooms” before my moment of inspiration – formal dining and parlor, (aka well decorated hallways) from a few different seasons:
And one more time, the “before before” of the parlor when we first bought our home:
If you read my blog regularly, you’ll recognize the parlor because I use it for a lot of shots, I love the light in this space:
Here’s one last “before shot” of the parlor looking in from the kitchen dining area:
So yes, they were great spaces to decorate but honestly just not functional. The proof is in the pudding. And the “pudding” in this case is actually “putting”, and by that I mean we never were “putting” ourselves in these rooms. Never. I would feel guilty about that from time to time and just go sit in them in my shame. Really. I would. It felt so wrong to have rooms NO ONE USED.
And so that brings me to my brilliant idea moment. It happened at Christmas time. Everyone was around the fireplace opening gifts and my parents, brother and I were sitting uncomfortably at the formal dining room table (the rest of the family was crammed into the sunken living room) when I realized, “Why is this dining room even here? Shouldn’t it be there?” You got it. It hit me like lightening. Switch the purpose of these rooms!
Are you ready? Check it out – the parlor is now the formal dining and the formal dining is now the parlor:
Why This Works
The solution was under my nose (feet) the entire time, and it lived in the biblical truths of home design. A room always needs a focal point. And although I tried to create one with my decorating choices, I was never actually utilizing the architectural features of these rooms and their innate focal points. For example, the focal point of the original parlor was the vast bank of windows along the east wall. That focal point was hidden behind the sofa. And because I had curtain panels around the perimeter of the entire room when I decorated it originally as a parlor, that focal point was lost. When we repurposed this space to a formal dining space, I knew I needed to make that bank of windows the focal point. Here’s how I did it:
I love neutrals, but by adding a color and pattern to the windows with curtain panels, it now draws the eye to the bank of windows. (This is a Magnolia fabric called Hamilton Denim, I had 90 inch panels custom made by a seamstress I trust.) Now your eye doesn’t get lost and stop in the former formal dining room space, it is drawn allllllll the way baaaaack to the far wall with the insertion of color and pattern on the window bank.
In addition, this room has a high pitched ceiling, another natural architectural feature that I had been ignoring. Now, it is highlighted by both the 90 inch curtains mounted above the window trim and our decision to switch out the fan for our dining room chandelier and (the best part) – are you ready? Shiplap on the ceiling! (This is the power tool part I referenced at the start of this post.)
That boring old popcorn ceiling is a thing of the past, people. It took Matthew about a day and half to knock this out and it is absolutely flawless. What was once a perplexing purposeless room is now by far, my favorite room in our home.
The second focal point we were ignoring was the window seat area in our former formal dining space. It was tucked back in behind the table, absolutely lost. Once we removed the chandelier and flanked seating on either side of it, this room is also magically transformed by highlighting it’s natural architectural feature.
I guarantee this room is now being used. It is no longer a well decorated hallway. How do I know? Because, we hosted family for the Super Bowl and people were sprawled all over these spaces – it was great! I even ate chili with my sister in law at our dining room table while watching the game, (ok, I mean Justin Timberlake – there was a game?).
Like I said, the proof is in the “putting” – and people were putting themselves in these rooms immediately. Our kids are using them, we’re using them, our guests are using them – I feel like we added on to our house and gained so much square footage overnight. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before!
Last but not least, since I had my seamstress’s attention I also had her whip up a slipcover for another chair to flank our fireplace. Check this out – I got this striped little baby on Facebook marketplace for $40. Amazing what a slipcover can do, isn’t it?
My chair on the right of the fireplace is an old Ethan Allen I’ve had forever and a day (it used to be red before I had it reupholstered about 4 years ago), but she was lonely. The chair I found was the right size and the lines were similar. Now that she has a snappy new slip cover, I call them fraternal twin sister chairs. (Design tip: Symmetry goes hand in hand with focal points, so any time you can incorporate symmetry into your design, it’s a home interior home run. The fireplace is the focal point for this room and by adding symmetrical chairs – it makes it even that much warmer and inviting.)
Here’s a recap of the evolution of this space from the bird’s eye view, one more time with feeling:
So you see, your home is a metaphorical manifestation of life – always evolving, changing and becoming more and more authentic and true to who you are.
Thank you for coming along on our design adventures! Until next time when I say the cryptic phrase, “Honey, so I was thinking . . . “.
Peace, Joy and Blessings,
“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.”
A little real life glimpse below – Matthew in action and me with my camera capturing it all. Matthew owns On Point Construction, so remember, if you’d like shiplap, subway tile, new flooring, refinished flooring (or just about any update or remodel you can imagine) – you can get a quote and make all your updates come true!
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701.541.4145.