Though frequently the setting for special occasions, a dining room can become stodgy with its predictable formality—making it the perfect subject for fresh design ideas. The following three showhouse rooms have been finished with top-notch wall treatments—hand-painted wallpaper, earthy, neutral landscapes, and contrasting silhouettes—that take them from expected to exceptional.
Photograph: Bruce Buck
North Shore Jewish Community Center Showhouse
Blue and white. This classic duet has longevity, reinventing itself time and again from its centuries-old Chinese porcelain roots. Interior designer Dennis Duffy created his own interpretation of the beloved color combo for this dining room.
The space’s high wainscoting, recessed paneling, and generous but not-too-grand proportions sold him on the project. His vision—a room that highlighted the existing architecture yet appealed to modern sensibilities—would be realized by artists who could create magic with paint. "I wanted to torque the room up to something edgy with movement," says Dennis.
Taking his color cues from the original blue-tile fireplace surround, he devised the idea of a heavily textured background above the wainscot, overlaid with a graphic silhouette of blossoming dogwood.
A round fruitwood table anchors the room and is surrounded by vintage chairs from the 1940s covered in cotton velvet. The multi-arm chandelier with its amber glass shades is a nod to the lemon-gold ceiling finished in pearlized metallic paint. The ivory sideboard, designed by Dennis and made of cherry with ivory lacquered drawer fronts, was inspired by 1930s Hollywood glamour.
Dennis Duffy, Duffy Design Group Inc., 530 Harrison Ave., 2nd Floor, Boston, MA 02118; 617/542-2074, duffydesigngroup.com.
Photographs by Bruce Buck
Text by Krissa Rossbund
Produced by Estelle Bond Guralnick
Meghan Bailey, who specializes in textured finishes, achieved a vibrant metallic effect by dripping layers of paint ranging from cobalt to slate gray on canvas. A spray of water over the canvas overlaps the blue paints to look like aged metal. The canvas was then fitted and applied to the walls, at which point muralist Susan Harter painted the figurative design.
Boston designer Dennis Duffy
Floral mural: Susan Harter, 617/501-1320, susanharter.com.
Mural backdrop: Meghan Bailey, 617/429-1900.
Buffet: Duffy Design Group Inc., 617/542-2074.
Table (by Restell Brown & Clennell): M-Geough Co., 617/451-1412, trade only.
Chairs ("Melissa,’’ Amy Howard Collection); fabric ("‘Fedor,’’ discontinued): Robert Allen, 800/333-3777, trade only.
Glass sculpture (by Amanda Brisbane); clamshell: Webster & Co., 617/261-9660, trade only.
Decanters; coral; ivory tray; wall sconces (by Laura Kirar): Baker, Knapp & Tubbs, 800/592-2537, trade only.
Chandelier ("Cosmopolitan’’): StudioMetz, 323/782-6980, trade only.
Carpet (sisal in Golden Wheat): Landry & Arcari, 800/649-5909, Pheasants; murano-glass lamp: Gallagher Christopher Antiques, 617/523-1992.
Ceiling paint: custom.
Trim paint ("Blond Wood’’): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667.
Atlanta Symphony Showhouse
It was a memorable trip to China, where interior designer Robert Brown and his wife adopted their fourth child, that guided his scheme in an Asian direction. To incorporate the style into the space, he found a hand-painted Chinese silk wall covering depicting peonies and meadowlarks to wrap the perimeter of the expansive room.
On top of an antique Oushak rug in the center of the room he placed a Regency-style table surrounded by eight armchairs upholstered in bronze laser-cut velvet. Embellished with such details as gilded legs and tufting with silk taffeta bows instead of buttons, they add a touch of luxury.
"The generous scale of the room needed large-scale furniture and art," says Bob. "There was enough space to use all of the armchairs at the dining room table. Guests should be just as comfortable as the hosts."
Bob finished the table by substituting a bronze sculpture for flowers as a centerpiece, providing a refreshing change from the conventional choice.
Bob Brown, Robert Brown Interior Design, 349 Peachtree Hills Ave. N.E., Atlanta, GA 30305; 404/917-1333, robertbrowninteriordesign.com.
Photographs by Emily Followill
Text by Krissa Rossbund
Produced by Lisa Mowry
"Many of the chinoiserie wallpapers are bold in color," says Bob Brown. "This one struck me because of its quiet, chic butter yellow."
Atlanta designer Robert Brown
Wallpaper: de Gournay, 212/564-9750, degournay.com, trade only.
Trim paint ("Creamy’’ #SW-7012, half-strength): The Sherwin-Williams Co., 800/474-3794.
Table (twin-pedestal table); commodes ("Avignon’’/Cherry): Holland & Co., 404/233-2091, trade only.
Server (antique): Parc Monceau, 404/355-3766.
Pedestals; Buddha: Ainsworth-Noah, 800/669-3512, trade only.
Chairs ("Cotswald Armchair’’): Edward Ferrell, 336/841-3028, trade only.
Chair fabric ("Morgan Velvet’’ by Jasper): Michael S. Smith Inc., 310/315-3018, trade only.
Silk accents: Jim Thompson, 800/262-0336, trade only.
Rug: Moattar Ltd., 404/237-5100, trade only. Drapery ("Setara Silk’’): Zimmer+Rohde, 866/627-6899, trade only.
Chandelier ("Genovese’’): Therien Studio Workshops, 323/887-0806, trade only.
Lamps (by Robert Kuo): Baker, 800/592-2537.
Large sculpture (Anita by Isabelle Melchoir); small sculpture (by Kimo Minton); mixed media (by Jean-Pierre Bourquin): Tew Galleries, 404/869-0511, timothytew.com.
Large panels (Encaustic on Panel, by Dusty Griffith): Bill Lowe Gallery, 404/352-8114.
Mirror: Parc Monceau, 404/355-3766.
Candlesticks: Baccarat, 800/777-0100, baccarat.com.
Tableware: Neiman Marcus, 800/937-9146.
Silver: Beverly Bremer Silver Shop, 800/270-4009, beverlybremer.com.
Napkins: Bloomingdales, 800/555-7467.
Boston Junior League Showhouse
If there ever was a magnet to lure a designer to a showhouse, it would be an old home rich in history and classic architecture. Take the Richard Henry Dana Jr. House, built in 1851. Designer Michael Carter snagged the dining-room assignment and paired his elegant approach with the talent of muralist Susan Harter for a space that is full of personality but not distracting.
"I envisioned walls painted with a landscape that had a dreamlike quality," says Michael. "I wanted a suggestion of trees, fields, and sky without any houses or other definite landmarks." After reviewing 18th-century landscapes for inspiration, the design team settled on a scene that emulated sepia-toned softness but in blues and greens. Instead of painting directly on the wall, the artwork was applied to large canvas sheets. The sheets were stretched on the wall above waist-high wainscoting, which was washed in soft white with gray undertones.
Michael Carter, Carter & Co., 36 Newbury St., Boston, MA 02116; 617/227-5343.
Photographs by Kevin Lein
Text by Krissa Rossbund
Produced by Estelle Bond Guralnick
After viewing these dining rooms, take a look at these showhouse bedrooms .
A restrained tapered-leg oval dining table was partnered with curvaceous klismos chairs with seats upholstered in aqua blue silk. Descending from the ceiling directly above the oval table, a bowl-shaped crystal-and-silver chandelier gives the room sparkle, like a piece of good jewelry. Instead of a conventional painting or bull’s-eye mirror over the mantel, Michael hung a doughnut-shaped mirror based on an ancient Chinese design. It sports a distressed silver-leaf frame.
The canvas sheets on which Susan Harter created her murals were removed when the showhouse was dismantled.
Boston designer Michael Carter
Mural: Susan Harter, 617/501-1320.
Table ("St. Cloud’’); chairs ("Elgin’’); chandelier ("Sancerre’’); console ("Malmaison Commode’’); mirror ("Ashanti’’); planter ("Hadrian’’); sconce ("Column’’) chair fabric and drapery trim ("Cipriani’’/Sycamore): Niermann Weeks, 212/319-7979, trade only.
Table lamp ("Montgolfier Occasional Lamp’’): Donghia Furniture/Textiles Ltd., 800/366-4442, trade only.
Clock; altar sticks: Antiques on 5, 617/951-0008, trade only.
Carpet: Redi-Cut Carpets & Rugs, 203/256-0414.
Window shades ("Crosshatch’’/Spa #25388-15): Kravet, 888/457-2838, trade only.
Shade trim ("Mikado’’#NCT470, by Nina Campbell): Osborne & Little, 212/751-3333, trade only.
Drapery ("Nice’’/Snow #34041-1): Clarence House, clarencehouse.com, trade only.
Candlesticks ("Rafanelli Ball,’’ Bryan Rafanelli Collection by Pairpoint): Shreve, Crump & Low, 800/324-0222.
Glassware: Simon Pearce, 800/774-5277.