Contributed photo                                A leafy fig tree adds a healthy glow to this artist’s dining room.

Contributed photo A leafy fig tree adds a healthy glow to this artist’s dining room.

Another guest at the table

Begin with a blank canvas

Designing and decorating a dining room is an adventure. You begin with a blank canvas, which may be intimidating but a worthwhile challenge nonetheless. Whether it’s a quiet place to enjoy your daily supper, a family communal meeting spot, the space you gather with friends or all of these, the atmosphere should be friendly and inviting. There are many different approaches along the way as you pick furnishings, wall treatments and lighting. The room is not complete until it suits your purpose and pleases your eye.

Every room should include a focal point, something that draws you into the space. Since the object here is dining, the obvious first choice is the table and chairs. The dining table is a fabled piece of furniture. It can be a rustic slab of wood or a hand-me-down that borders on antique. Its surface will hold the memories of a lifetime. Handy if the table can be extended to fit a crowd. Dining chairs don’t have to match. Bring in seats from the kitchen or living room; a piano bench and a hall chair will work for a crowd.

But there is more to discover. Think about other features, such as a stunning piece of art or a dramatic wall colour as special guests at your table. Their presence can spur on conversation, increase the appetite and provide a congenial atmosphere.

In the dining room of an artist and plant lover that appears in Wild Interiors, Beautiful Plants in Beautiful Places by Hilton Carter, a fiddle-leaf fig tree is the statement piece that joins the festivities. Carter notes that the expressive plant sets off an abstract print beautifully. The motion of the brush strokes mimics the shape and growth of the foliage. Perspective changes on the tabletop. A Dracaena looks unexpected, quietly perched in a small bowl of pale stones. These strong features await whomever comes to dine, ready to join the conversation or happy to listen.

For a less dramatic approach you can choose to paint the walls in a soft shade or hang wallpaper in a classic pattern of stripes. The walls become a neutral backdrop for a cabinet or buffet that displays china and stemware.

Alternately show off a collection of memorabilia taken from travels. Photos or posters of great food or cafes are always fun and bring their own energy into the room.

Lighting is always an essential feature. In the dining room plan for good overhead lighting thatís helpful when setting up (or when your table is being used for other purposes such as games or work). Dimmers give you control over the mood. Wall sconces are well suited to a dining room creating ambient light that will give your room a soft glow. Candles are a romantic gesture and can be planned as part of a centrepiece.

Once the essentials are in place, add in personal accents that fit your dining occasion. Floral arrangements often play a big part in table décor. They add colour and texture but should not be scented. Small posies work well lined up along the table, taking care that their height does not interfere with views across the table. (Peeking around a large bouquet to continue a conversation is awkward and becomes almost humorous.) Flowers and plants can be displayed elsewhere in the dining room, on a buffet, a side table or the floor. For special occasions ivies can be entwined around a chandelier or around wall pendants.

Written by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please email decorating questions to Follow Debbie at,,

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