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What went wrong attempting a cozy dining nook?

December 4, 2018

I moved in a year ago w/ my longtime bachelor partner. He always ate at the kitchen island, which is fine. But I wanted to create a dining area that would be inviting for a few guests.

We have a small home, and the only option was to use an empty area in a room that connects the kitchen to the living room--it's kind of in between a room and a giant hallway, with a sloped wooden ceiling and a west-facing window.

I got a rug, wooden table, rattan settee, cute steel shelf, and clay bead chandelier ... but it somehow feels sad and uninviting to us. We almost never use it, either ourselves or with guests (which still hang around the kitchen island). What can I do to make it feel warmer and like a more self-contained area? It's to the left, below--this is the view looking in from the kitchen. (Today is laundry day--normally the table is clear. The folding treadmill sucks but there's literally no other place in the house for it.)

We have a very low budget for home decor at this point, but should I save to slowly replace the mismatched chairs with cozier padded ones? We live in South Africa and need a way to block people from seeing in the window, so no window-covering isn't an option. But would a bamboo blind be better than curtains? Is there anything I can do to improve the lighting?

And what about the far wall--should I paint it an accent color like teal or red, or wallpaper it with leafy wallpaper or something fun like yellow chalk stripes?

Comments (29)

  • cawaps

    The biggest problems I see are functional. The settee looks fine, but between the legs of the table and the arms of the settee, it doesn't look at all easy to get seated on it. Backless stools are not very comfortable and will be the last choice for anyone to sit.

    I would put the table as close to the center of the room as possible while still leaving a traffic path. I realize that electrical for the chandelier is already in place, but maybe you can swag the lighting to a new location without moving the junction box.

    Guest will generally not naturally gravitate to the dining table unless you are actually serving a meal there. If you had in mind for it to be a conversation space outside of meal time, a dining table is not the best format. If you are having people for meals and you still can't get people to go into the dining room, that's probably a failure on your part to set the table and herd everyone in there when it's meal time.

    Eve thanked cawaps
  • pennydesign

    That's a charming room and one I would absolutely want to be in. You won't stop people from wanting to be in the kitchen with you no matter how cozy you make it, though...Probably the queen hangs out in the kitchens at Buckingham Palace...

    Anyway what's fabulous for me is the chandelier, the drapes, the windows the ceiling...All of that points toward cozy.

    I think what doesn't work is the art, the shelf, the rug and maybe the bench, but that can wait.

    Honestly, I see slipcovered armchairs in there with pillows...A console with a bookshelf for books and games...Vintage linens on the table...

    Kind of a combo game/dining/cozy-ing/lounging place...(plus laundry) :)

    Check Craigslist for a beat up farm table...

    Also I might have a loveseat against the window ( but that's my own preference)...again, you may get lucky and find an Ikea Ektorp loveseat...And no, I don't care if guests need to squash to get in. They can sit on the other side if they want...

    Eve thanked pennydesign
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  • Olychick

    I would try turning the table - I think you have enough room to keep it under the light fixture and still have a walkway - even butt it up to the window, then turn the settee so it faces the wall with the picture and shelf unit and put the two chairs on the opposite side (try the settee on both sides to see which works). You can hide the stool under the side against the window.

    Does the whole window (top to bottom) need to be covered, or just the lower part to prevent people from seeing in? If the upper part doesn't need to be fully covered, I might take down the draperies and try a cafe curtain set-up, with them open when you can and closed when needed. It looks like a lovely window that I might not want to cover fully if I didn't need to.

    could we see a pic of the two walls not shown?

    Eve thanked Olychick
  • erinsean

    Can you put the treadmill on the left side of the archway (same room it is in now)? Move your tall metal shelf for now. Put your settee under the picture, rug and table turned the other way (narrow end of table toward the window) and use only one chair around the table...Facing the settee). Your chandalier is beautiful but should be lots lower and maybe swag it over to the center of the table. Maybe have to get a longer chain for it to swag. Now see you have enough room in the "walkway" for you tall metal shelf....maybe toward one corner or the other.

  • partim

    Yes, turn the table and remove the metal shelf. It's all too crowded. Maybe a screen for the treadmill.

  • PRO
    Home & Decor Hub

    1. Remove a tall shelf, a nightstand with flower, and take off glass from the picture. It will make a space more cozy. Replace a picture with oil or acrylis, without glass insert.

    2.If you can paint by yourself, paint all brown/dark surfaces with simple off-white, for e.g., RAL 9001.

    3.Put your beautiful chandelier lower, extending a chain, and make a chandelier chain cover from plush (matte soft tissue) etc.Also use this tissue to make a pillowcases and accessoires (see my collage).

    4.Make slipcovers on a loveseat. If cannot replace chairs, paint and make a soft seats using covers and pillows combi colors and textures, mixing them.

  • PRO
    JudyG Designs

    Chandelier: lower it to 32/34” off the tabletop.

    Black shelf: move to the other side of window, no lamp and decorated it with glasses/china, whatever you have.

    Window treatment: add two more panels (unlined burlap from etsy.com.

    Settee: try it on the inside wall.

    Rug and table: turn perpindicular to the window.

    Contemporary art: hang over the inside wall shelf (and over settee).

    New chairs: from IKEA with slipcovers, as suggested above.

    The chairs in this photo are IKEA with slipcovers.

    Have you a big bowl or a basket...something a bit special for the top of the table?

    Casual Dining in a Formal Setting · More Info

  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

    There are no warm colors in the room, and without them it's difficult to have a cozy look. Do move the table more toward the middle if you can, and I would remove the tall rack in the corner and find some large and colorful pieces of art for this room. Also remove any items that create clutter and find some pillow covers in warmer colors, terra cotta, gold, yellow, anything to get rid of the cool gray-blue vibe you have going. That should help a lot without spending too much money.

  • l pinkmountain

    Honestly I think you are being overly critical!! (Sorry about criticizing you for being critical!). Move the table out a bit as others have mentioned. You've got the room to still move through there if you move it out a bit. Maybe consider taking down that ladder shelving unit and do floating shelves on that wall for your stereo system. Or maybe just something that looks less like a ladder. If you've got room for a horizontal piece under your art, that might work better. I don't know what that black thing is that the plant is on, but I'm assuming the bass unit for the stereo? Move it over so folks can get to the seating back there. You might even try switching the loveseat to the other side, making it easier to get in and out of. Folks hate feeling confined. I have the same problem in my dining room.

    Slipcovers for chairs are expensive. Why spend money to cover not very nice chairs. I would just start buying better chairs, bit by bit. Decide on a style you like and buy two matching ones for starters, or if you'r lucky, find a match to the wooden chair. Put those across from the loveseat and then maybe you can stack those chairs with the metal legs if you don't use them all the time. They look uncomfortable. I would phase them out and keep them in storage only for when I had guests . . . that I didn't want to linger, lol!

  • njmomma

    following.......because I love watching :-)

  • THOR, Son of ODIN

    It is already an attractive space, but I detect some issues with the lighting.

    During the day the predominant light is coming from the window on only one side of the room. Either more lighting or a large-ish mirror might add the needed light from another side.

    Architect/theorist Christopher Alexander conceptualized his Pattern #159: ‘Light On Two Sides Of Every Room’ in his 1977 book, A Pattern Language. Alexander identified that “when they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty.” He further maintained that, “this pattern, perhaps more than any other single pattern, determines the success or failure of a room.”

    At night the lighting seems to be limited to overhead or high up sources.

    Compare the uniform lighting from on high in an office building to the pools of light (and shadow) in a cozy cafe.

    Create pools of light (more here) that gather people in. Lower the chandelier, as others have mentioned. Perhaps add a small lamp on a lower table or cluster of candles, string lights or lower pendants if available.

    And add soft textures, organic forms, and warm color with fabric, flowers, and art. These can be family heirlooms, second hand, or found objects from nature.

    Best wishes!

  • groveraxle

    I'm sorry. It looks cluttered and like the space where unwanted furniture goes to die. I would start by removing everything except the rug, table and chairs, hang art on the walls, and consider it done. For sure lose the etagere and the little stool. Probably lose the shelf as well.

    Perhaps the treadmill can go in a back corner instead of in such a prominent place.

    Eve thanked groveraxle
  • ShadyWillowFarm
    It’s a great space but looks tired and dark. The treadmill needs a new home, and put a buffet with cheery accessories on that wall. Some pretty art and more cheery rugs and accessories will draw people in. The dining table needs to be easily accessible for anyone who wants to sit down. It’s a really cute space!
    Eve thanked ShadyWillowFarm
  • Cheryl Smith
    I think this room was always meant to be a dining area. In the first picture it looks like there is another ceiling fixture. If there are in fact 2 move the new one you put in to the more central one. Turn the table and center it under the light. This way pulling out a chair doesn't affect the walkway between the 2 rooms and makes using both sides easier than walking around the table to the back. Put nothing in the path of the walkway. Can the treadmill be moved to the wall behind the refrigerator that you don't show in any pictures? The settee is nice but not too practical for everyday use. Keep everything simple there is too much in this small room to feel comfortable. Remove everything except table, chairs, rug and artwork. Although nice changing the rug could bring in more color and interest.
    Eve thanked Cheryl Smith
  • mimimomy

    I think it does look cozy... Wonder if you could move a few things so you have a little serving cart or something, to put appetizers on, drinks, serve food from....

    At least in my household, where there is food/drinks, there will be people :)

  • Eve

    These are all GREAT ideas and so helpful!! Thank you!

    This is the view to the space from the other side (you're seeing the kitchen as well--it's night time).

    A few follow-up questions: 1) I love the idea of a sofa or loveseat at a table, but it always seems too low! How do people elevate a sofa to be at a dinner table without it looking crappy? Google is unhelpful on this.

    2) I don't like tablecloths, but that's a lovely vintage table I don't want to paint. Would a table runner in plain off white or a warm color make the space look more cluttered?

    3) Thor, son of Odin (!), your lighting principle is fascinating--but is there any way to get some light on the treadmill side of the room without a sconce? (We can't easily rewire our walls.) A torchiere?

    4) There actually is a mirror ... on the far side of the room, pic now included. I have never been able to figure out why this mirrored wall doesn't seem to increase the light in the room. Obviously it's a crummy mirror, but it's not doing anything for the light, either! And I previously had a beautiful, large, wood-framed mirror where the ladder shelf now is, and it didn't brighten the room, either. It made it look worse.

    I'm thinking a whitewash on the ceiling could make a big difference, though it's Oregon pine and theoretically a nice color.

  • otterplay
  • partim

    To bring more light into the room, and for a better look overall, slide your curtains to the end of the rods so they do not cover the glass, and just barely cover the edge of the window. Let them hang straight down, not draped back.

    You're right that mirrors do not increase light. At best, when the sun is shining on them, they reflect the light. But if the sun never shines on the mirror, it doesn't help. I'd take down that mirror. It's not an attractive shape, and it reflects the shelf opposite, which is a bit cluttered looking.

    Anywhere you would put a torchiere, you can add a wall-mounted sconce., or a pair of them. No need for rewiring. How about a wall mounted sconce where the tall shelf is, and a second one on the opposite wall where the large mirror is now?

    You could put castors on the love seat to elevate it.

    I would love to see your room with the table turned perpendicular to the window, almost touching it. Then it would be an inviting place to sit and look out the window.

    Eve thanked partim
  • l pinkmountain

    For a mirror to be a positive in a room, it needs to reflect something positive. Yours is reflecting another wall, so is really not adding anything. If you put it across from the window it would reflect a window and make it look like that wall had a window. Just a thought.

    I think a table runner would be nice. Even a nice colorful placemat with a low centerpiece. I have a seasonally rotating set I use. Not something tall which would block the back though.

    What is that thing the plant is setting on?

  • Jamie Ludwig

    The mirror is not helping because it is in the wrong place in relation to the window. To really help you need to have it on the wall opposite the window. It will also help if you get a longer drapery rod so when you pull the drapes back during the day they do not block part of the window (thus letting in more light) Your idea of whitewashing the ceiling would also reflect light and make the room seem brighter. What is the big wood box in the corner next to the window? Could that be painted the same color as the walls to blend in?

    I think that replacing the settee with a simple wide wood bench under the window would save on space and be much easier to access for seating. AND with the back of the settee aginst the window it is blocking some of the light and adding to the darkness you don't like. It may not seem like much is blocked but I really think not having it in front of the window will help. Anything placed in front of a light source casts a shadow and darkens the room.

    If you are not a fan of table cloths try using colorful placemats and using a pretty vase or bowl for a centerpiece. IF I know guests are coming ahead of time I always try to pick up a small bouquet of flowers to put on the table. It is a nice cozy touch that never goes un-noticed.

  • pennydesign

    I agree about that mirror...it's not in a place that makes much sense....can it go opposite the window? (a floorplan would help)

    Partim is referring to plug in sconces...like this...

    See the wire that goes down the wall, there? That would work and be very nice in there (style is up to you, of course...

    How do you feel about spray painting the wicker settee white?

    I do like Olychick's cafe curtain idea. You could still keep the ones you have as a window "frame"...These have bees on them because I love anything bee...but whatever you like (especially if you sew even a bit).

  • Susan Davis

    I looked up tiny eclectic dining room and found a pretty neat room that reminded me of your space...you could easily copy it over time with your limited budget, but the first thing is to remove everything and paint the room a warm white (after you remove the cracked mirror forever) so you have some contrast, and thus interest in the room.... then lower the chandelier so the bottom of the chandelier is 30-36 inches from the table top......find four chairs that match that are fun, and two that match and go

    somewhat with the four, flip out the table leaves so the table has presence, and move the wicker settee somewhere else...that is a start, then see what you think. If you like the paint the the lowered chandelier etc, then you can add one thing at a time from what you have in your home that is meaningful to you, to the room till you get the look you are after

    Here is the inspiration room, hope you like it.....

    Eclectic Dining Room · More Info

    Bowman, El Sereno · More Info

    Check our more info too for me area of the room. Everything in this room looks like you can order it online for great prices!

    Other rooms in same house.....

    Bowman, El Sereno · More Info

    Eve thanked Susan Davis
  • THOR, Son of ODIN

    As THOR, I do have a little experience with lightning ️ ;-)

    I don't believe a person needs to spend much money. Mismatched, and well-worn furniture is fine, as long as it is clean and comfy.

    And how wonderful that you already have a large mirror!


    As a general rule I use lots of lamps. The barest student apartment is made cozy with a few second-hand lamps. Overhead lighting alone makes a room feel very uncomfortable. I have a dear friend who for some reason has zero lamps in her otherwise lovely home, and I am very uneasy sitting in her living room to watch TV when the only light comes from a bright light in the ceiling.

    When you find a space you like (or dislike!) take note of the lighting.

    In the US table lamps and floor lamps are readily available second-hand. Look for a good shape and ignore the color, lamps are easy to paint. I like metal-effect paints, you can change a bright brass (i.e. cheap looking) lamp to oil-rubbed brass, or copper with patina, or whatever you fancy with a few coats of paint and a protective coat. Another possibility is to assemble a lamp with a socket/shade and base from an old bottle or jug.


    Designer Maria Killam is a big advocate of lots of lamps.


    The Enchanting World of Atmosphere



    What every Lighting Obsessed Gal (or Guy) Should Know


    (She has examples of wall-mounted sconces here.)


    Why to use frosted bulbs

    Maria Killam "The real reason your Lighting..."


    (note that today's LEDs are much better than the fluorescent bulbs available in 2011)


    Use a string of 'Christmas' lights in a room


    (Warm white, not cool white!)


    Embrace the Dark Side of your House; Lighting 101


    (note also her use of mirrors in these photos)


    Another nice effect is to create shadows on the wall or ceiling with a small uplight below a houseplant.




    These do not need to be directly opposite a window to brighten a space.

    I have a mirror at the end of a long dead-end interior hallway, it expands the space and compared to the relative darkness it fools the eye into thinking there is light there.

    A mirror can give the sense of another window even if it is not opposite the window.

    You could add a frame and muntins as if it was a real window.


    Consider adding a frame to your large mirror, DIY with molding.


    Here is an idea to accent a mirror with LED fairy lights (via Maria Killam).

    Have fun with your space!

    Eve thanked THOR, Son of ODIN
  • Eve

    Again, these are all great ideas!

    Susan Davis, I love the look of the rooms you linked. I guess style is so individual--this is actually the room in the house I'm in a sense most comfortable in, despite the clutter. (I write for a living; normally it's not *quite* so covered in notes.)

    This is my partner's favorite room (his man cave). I think it's sort of bat-cave-ish and hideous, but the battered La-Z-Boy and movie posters--as well as the back opened to the natural rock in the yard--make it comfortable for him.

    This is the room in our house that in a certain sense is the best decorated (except for the bad industrial pendant), but we don't spend much time in it.

    I'm thinking, given this, that the problem is perhaps less the clutter than the predominance of dark metal textures and the lack of good lighting/personal stuff, and we need some more art, texture, small lamps, and personalized things--added one at a time--with meaning to us in the DR.

    One last question! Those metal-back chairs were a gift from a friend who's a designer.

    His style is industrial modern, and while they look funky, not only are they uncomfortable to sit in, they don't really match anything else we have in the house (though I see BF was just having his morning coffee on one). Can anybody think of anything we could do with them? Sit plants on them? Joe will be disappointed if I give or throw them away ...

  • l pinkmountain

    Eve this is a fabulous discussion! And Thor how nice of you to post such an informative discussion of lighting!!

    I'm going to comment on the chairs because I was the one who said they looked uncomfortable. Don't get me wrong though, I LOVE the look of them and I had the feeling that they were handmade and special to you. The wood part is so beautiful. But they are more of a "bistro" style chair and they say, "Sip your coffee here while watching the street scene" rather than "Hunker down for a long meal and then conversation and a game of backgammon afterwards." Quick and dirty, those metal (it looks like metal in the photo) seats are crying out for a fluffy animal skin cover/cushion, even if it is fake. I'm sure you could find one that has ties that could attach it securely to the legs and back.

    How about the loveseat, does that work with the table as far as height and comfort? If I were to manage to scoot back there and sit, what would my view be of? At this point it looks like you have some art on the opposing wall, but it is fairly high up. One of the main reasons we like sitting in our dining room is the walls are covered with some of our favorite art, all nature scenes which we love. I think people might not want to sit back there because of the hemmed in aspect. I realize that one could easily get in and out of that spot really, but even if it is just a "feeling" it can still influence how people use a space. How long would I want to sit on the loveseat facing the opposite wall, and for what purpose? Probably the answer is, "not long."

    The same thing can happen with mirrors, they can turn people off over the long haul even though they look great on first glance. I put up a mirror in my tiny dining room but it reflects the image of the diners while they are sitting at the table, and folks have told me they don't like sitting there looking at themselves in the mirror, it is unsettling and distracting. You don't have that issue, but I'm just giving it as an example of something that LOOKS nice when just looking at the room in passing, but in USE has the effect of turning people off.

    I also have a big window at one end of my dining room, as do many dining rooms. In the summer months and during the day that makes the space a nice airy light warm space and I love to linger in there looking out the window. But in winter and at night, the window turns into a cold black hole. But if you close the beige drapes in your dining area, then it is a boring blank beige wall. This is a classic case where some little twinkly lights or some kind of artistic window decoration would improve the space at night. I solved my problem by hanging wreaths up in the windows since I like the open look. You can also solve the problem as someone suggested to me, by putting something lit up outside the window, that also stops the "black hole" problem of a big window. I'm going to hazard a guess that you don't often close those drapes on the window, so you have a lot of options when it comes to window decorating, even cafe curtains or some fake foliage along the windowsill, a lighted art piece hung in the window, textured blinds or shades, etc. etc.

    How many people would regularly sit at that table if it was getting the kind of use you want it to on a daily basis?

    Eve thanked l pinkmountain
  • hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

    Just keep in mind with a mirror near a dining table, many people are uncomfortable watching themselves eat.

    Don't know how much space you have in front of your window, but if you can plant screening shrubs farther away from the window, rather than having them right outside the window, you can create an inviting garden view. A lovely view lures people to sit and look outside if there is something worth looking at. A focal point such as a shallow basin that attracts birds is a lot of fun and you can cobble one together from odds and ends for nothing.

    Eve thanked hoovb zone 9 sunset 23
  • Eve

    Thanks Hoovb. Sadly, I live in South Africa and that's our retaining wall/security fence ... a common and miserable view. I'm looking at putting a fun creeper there like a bougainvillea, but since it's just a cement walk now I'll need a big pot as well, and that's unfortunately not top in the budget ...

    Pinkmountain - fluffy seat covers would be so cool!! We actually love well done fake sheepskin. These chairs were actually prototypes that Joe rejected because they are a bit top heavy and have a tendency, when one rises, to fall backwards with the crash of an anvil dropping to the floor. But if they were on the OTHER side of the table or against a wall, that wouldn't really be a problem!

  • pennydesign

    The chairs could maybe be used in a bedroom? Everyone needs a place to perch to take off shoes (or, in my case, to throw clothes...)

    ETA that rock wall is such a cool feature to look at!!

  • l pinkmountain

    I don't know about how it is in South Africa, but around here you could maybe shop a thrift or antique store for some window or wall decorations that you could light up. I work at an arboretum and we were donated a bunch of metallic wall art by a gardener who was moving to a smaller place. So it's not uncommon for folks to want to get rid of nice things when they move, because it just won't fit their new space.

    Does that doorway off the dining room lead to an entrance? If those chairs are tippy, that is one reason for sure that folks don't want to sit on them. But against a wall they would be fabulous, maybe by the entrance for taking shoes on and off?

    I'd be inclined to put the wicker loveseat in the office space and then change out the darker loveseat piece from the office into the dining room. It looks more "dining chair-ish" but I'm just guessing from a distance.

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