The Dining Space: A Hero’s Journey

Breakfast nook, eating area…whatever you call it, this is what our house came with. At first the lack of a proper dining room didn’t bother me, but that quickly changed.

Our previous house, a 1920 Colonial in the Bronx, had a lovely formal dining room, with 6-foot windows, oak parquet floors, a 9-foot-high beamed ceiling, plate moldings, and a brass chandelier with fishies on it. I wish I’d appreciated it more.

Here’s the dining space shortly after we moved in, back when I wanted the whole house to be Key West Gay (tropical colors, bamboo furniture, big plants, flamingo objets d’art). Note the banquette built into the windowless corner, illuminated by canister lighting, like my own private interrogation room. My solution at the time was to hang this 400-pound Deco mirror that was sure to kill anyone if it ever broke free from the wall, along with orange zebra cushions, a Heywood-Wakefield drop-leaf table I refinished, and my dump-salvaged Breuer chairs:

Kinda wacky, and it worked for a while, but the cushions were just too crazy, and the mirror only intensified the canned lighting. Try to look pretty in THAT.

Stage 2: reupholster the cushions so they disappear, throw down a shag rug (good for catching tasty food morsels), and hang a random collection of art (a maddening task that’s worthy of its own post). Sweet little kitties on the table always helps, too:

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Better. But I still never liked inviting people to dinner and then making them sit in the corner. My friend Liz called it “playing restaurant.” I agree. It works fine at a dark bistro in Soho with dreamy waiters serving martinis and oysters. But that don’t happen here.

I think breakfast nooks/banquettes can work when there’s open space or windows involved. Consider:

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I like how some of the nicer ones look, but I don’t think they’re practical as your only dining space, like in my house. Especially if you like to cook and entertain friends who wear grownup panties.

Then one morning, on my daily tour around the house, looking for things to obsess over, my eyes landed on the banquette. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I called my contractor and asked him to TAKE! IT! OUT! Which he did with a crowbar while I held a little rave in the background. Thankfully the beadboard behind it was intact, so there was only some minor trim repair (in addition to a whole lot of caulking, sanding, and painting).

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Next: lighting. I went with something simple (though about a week after I installed it I heard someone explain that large fixtures can make small spaces feel bigger—who’da thought?). I bought this light at Schoolhouse Electric, and it wasn’t too pricey, so down the road, if I find something I like better, it ain’t no thang.

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Soon after I set the space up, I miraculously found what I’d had in mind for the corner: mid century shelving, at an estate sale of course. Also, note the ceiling color. I really loved the peachy/buttery hue because it was so different and made the whole room glow, but I eventually decided to tone that down as well—it was too much to factor in with all the other challenges about the space.

Here’s how it looks now, with different rugs, because I can’t seem to make up my mind (and I should admit that when changing the rug I smacked my skull on the glass globe, cracked it, and had to order another one—the globe, that is). Any opinions?

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8 thoughts on “The Dining Space: A Hero’s Journey

  1. well being one of the lucky people who got to dine in each of the phases, I liked them all. I never stopped to think at any moment the mirror could kill me. I have always loved banquettes but I understand that it doesn’t work when it’s your only dining area. As far as the rugs, I like the one with color, it works well in the space.

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  2. Way more usable space for dining and the oriental rug is gorgeous. What happened to the spectacular Art Deco mirror, I lust after that piece. I have fond memories of your beautiful Bronx house and the dining room you described. Please post more if possible–needed therapy at this time!!!

    On Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 2:29 PM, house in retrograde wrote:

    > sarahjwalker posted: “Breakfast nook, eating area…whatever you call it, > this is what our house came with. At first the lack of a proper dining room > didn’t bother me, but that quickly changed. Our previous house, a > 1920 Colonial in the Bronx, had a lovely formal dining room,” >

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    • Thank you! The mirror is in the sunroom now, ready to crush and kill anyone who dares to sit under it in there. If you ever come to CT with a pickup truck it’s all yours! Though I’m not joking when I say it weights hundreds of pounds. I have so many projects that need attention, I will try to get busy. I need the therapy—and the escape—too.

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  3. I like the new rug better. Hated shag in the 70’s, whether it was long or cropped. Next photo should be one with the table loaded down with food! I’ll join you this spring in the estate sale search for a new lamp.

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  4. I grew up in the house behind Peter’s and was there a lot with his sister Lin. A friend sent me this article and I was delighted to hear of Peter’s accomplishments in life. It jogged a lot of memories. I remember him going into the bathroom to get away from Lin and me so he could talk to Jane on the telephone. What a story to hear they found each other again!

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