Like fashion, decorating trends come in waves. One day, everyone wants a sputnik light fixture in their foyer, and the next they want a Moroccan Beni Ourain-style rug on their living room floor. If my clients’ wishes are any indication of the next trend, then I’m predicting light and bright dining rooms are the upcoming craving du jour.
Three clients recently called wanting to lighten up their dining rooms. When asked why, they all said the same thing: They wanted these underused rooms to be happy, uplifting and airy. The dark wood furnishings they had installed 10 or so years ago — the ones they used to think of as warm and cozy — now feel too serious and boardroom-like.
Their desire for change is partly driven by the fact they all want to use their dining rooms more — particularly during the day — so a lighter, fresher design seems more attractive and inviting. I also attribute their change to today’s ever-growing influence of Scandinavian design favoring lighter woods and paler colors.
Although there are several ways of giving my clients what they want — repainting the walls, changing the window treatments — I have urged them to start by making the biggest piece in the room, the dining table, white. I like white tables because they are crisp and clean and because every kind of china, glass, flower and linen looks good on them. The clients also have dark wood floors, so a white table immediately will lighten a large horizontal swath of the room. And although white dining tables are available on the market, the clients, for various reasons, will be transforming their existing tables.
One client had her walnut table custom-made — she loves the shape of the table, just not the finish. So the best solution is to have it sanded, stripped, and white-lacquered. The process is not inexpensive; Harry C. Johnson & Son, a Maryland-based furniture restorer and refinisher, estimated refinishing her table would cost about $2,800 and would take 10 to 15 days. Of course, pricing varies based on the size, condition and complexity of the table, such as whether it has leaves or not.
Another client’s dining table has a dark industrial concrete top that is so heavy visually and literally the only way to get it out is to break it or have it craned out. The table is in an eighth-floor apartment, so there is no way of just carrying it out. To give the table a facelift, I enlisted the help of the client’s architects, New York-based Moschella/Roberts Architects, who suggested making a quarter-inch to half-inch thick white Corian top that will be adhered to the concrete with a special epoxy. They also proposed adding a thicker knife edge that tapers to a sharp point around the perimeter of the table to reduce the visual weight of the tabletop and conceal the concrete below.
In the last case, my client is not willing to commit to a white table. We settled on a white tablecloth that goes to the floor with an inverted pleat at each corner and then topping it with glass.
As for the dining chairs, my clients are keeping their existing chairs, and one client plans to re-cover the seats in a lighter fabric. We all agree: Their chairs will look fresher when paired with a white table, the chairs’ shapes will stand out more, and the juxtaposition will make the rooms look more interesting.
Want to buy a white dining table? Here are some of my favorites:
• Design Within Reach’s Saarinen Oval Dining Table
• Crate & Barrel’s Spotlight White Dining Table
• CB2’s Aqua Virgo Dining Table
• West Elm’s Parsons Dining Table
• Bungalow 5’s Malta Dining Table in white
• Bungalow 5’s Norwalk Dining Table in white
• Pier 1 Imports’ Extension Antique White Dining Table
• Hive Modern’s Paper Table
• Design Within Reach’s Min Table
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”