Budget-friendly changes in lighting, colors, furnishings, and décor can create the holiday setting of your dreams.
Holiday meals often mean gathering family and friends around a grand table in a homeowner’s perfectly styled dining room – but how do you take a space that’s largely ignored for most of the year and turn it into the idyllic setting you imagine?
Interior designers and construction experts agree: Updating an outdated dining room can be done with budget-friendly changes in lighting, colors, furnishings, and décor. If you have the time and budget, homeowners also can add built-in seating and other functional improvements just in time to host guests for those all-important holiday feasts.
“I’ve always believed the dining room to be a place of opportunity and creativity when it comes to design. While many aspects of the home remain stagnant year-round, the dining room can transition from a space for formal dinners and game nights to everyday entertaining or arts and crafts,” says Stefanie Skelley, director of business development for Reverie Social, a luxury linen rental company in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
“The tablescape is a place that can be adorned in new, fresh ways every season, from your linens and napkins to floral arrangements and tabletop décor,” Skelley says. “One of my favorite ways to spruce up my dining room is to dress my table in linens that reflect the time of the year, and the holiday season is the ideal time to do so.”
Here are 10 tips for getting the dining room of your dreams up and ready in time for turkey and all the trimmings.
Start fresh. Tyler Del Vento, an interior designer at TDV Design in Westport, Connecticut, says homeowners can bring life to a staid dining room through new-to-them-pieces or even fresh-from-the-store furniture. “Invest in new pieces that are high design but don’t come with the price tag,” Del Vento says. “Look for collaboration collection at CB2, for example, or vintage pieces. Tables and chairs are having a moment right now – interesting shapes, unexpected materials or combination of materials and, overall, more sculptural.”
Create smaller seating arrangements. “Post-Covid, we have seen a significant trend toward a more casual dining experience. Life is too short to be stuffy,” says Laura Cassell Fischer, San Francisco-based vice president of merchandise and product development at tabletop company Over and Back. Unique seating arrangements or smaller tables scattered throughout your home create a more relaxed setting, Fischer adds. “Not having assigned seats at the table usually means that guests can move around more freely and even have more of a chance to mingle,” Fischer says. “They can sit with a group at dinner and then a different group during dessert.”
Elevate your basics. Alex Bass, founder and CEO of art advisory and interior-design studio Salon 21 in New York, recommends having multiple serving spaces within the dining room. “Set up a buffet on a separate table, maybe a bar counter, so that you can leave room on the table for some décor and make the table feel less crowded,” Bass says. Bass also uses detachable seat cushions and tiny fur throws on her dining room chairs to make them feel chic and wintery.
Let technology serve you. Interior design expert Artem Kropovinsky of Arsight, his New York-based interior design studio, says homeowners should install smart, hidden systems that allow for music to play softly in the background. He also suggests adding a warming drawer within a buffet, which enhances the dining experience without disrupting the room’s flow.
Embrace nature. Creating theme tables for special occasions sets a tone of warmth, tradition, and whimsy. But you have to go beyond plates and silverware. Look to Scandinavian design for wintertime charm, says Martin Klarborg, head of sales and business development for Danish design brand Klarborg in Champlain, New York. “Adorn your table with pine cones, sprigs of berries, and evergreen branches for a rustic and organic feel,” Klarborg says. “These elements are readily available in nature, add texture, and boost visual interest without the need for expensive store-bought decorations.”
Build a banquette. Banquettes are built-in seating areas along the wall, offering a space-efficient solution that maximizes seating capacity in any dining room, says Chris Hock, owner of Earth Saving Solutions, a general contractor in Denver. “They also provide an opportunity to introduce additional texture and color through upholstery or cushions,” Hock says. “A window seat can be a cozy and inviting spot for guests to relax and enjoy the view.”
Lighting can set the mood. Kropovinsky suggests homeowners replace a traditional dining room chandelier with sculptural fixtures that act as art. Dimmable LED options also cater to a warm ambiance, whether it is for a bright family gathering or an intimate date night dinner after the holidays are over.
Change your chairs. Flexible seating is the name of the game if you want to modernize any traditional dining room, says Joyce Huston, lead interior designer at Decorilla, an online interior design firm known for bringing VR technology to the industry. “Flexible seating options add quirks to your dining table with new, unexpected elements,” Huston says. “For example, you could include bench seating, high chairs, or even poufs that you can easily move around as needed.”
Take down the walls. If you are planning well in advance for a big event, embracing the open-concept layout may be perfect for updating a staid dining room, Hock says. “Consider removing walls or partitions to create a flow between the dining room, kitchen, and living areas,” Hock says. “This not only enhances the sense of spaciousness but also allows hosts to interact with their guests while preparing meals. It becomes the focal point of your home.”
Update every other wall. Huston says homeowners who have a limited budget can go big with wallpaper, paint, or unique art pieces if they cannot remove walls or buy new furniture. “An evocative focal point adds visual interest and creates a memorable backdrop for holiday gatherings,” Huston says. “Peel-and-stick wall murals and decals can be purchased for as little as $20 and create a custom look that one would think costs more than $200. What makes these great is that they require little to no effort to put up and take down, meaning no added stress or headache.”