Return of the Dining Room

Where do you stand in the open-plan, live and eat-in kitchen versus the separate dining room debate?

For years style pundits have told us that the dining room is a relic of the past: stuffy, conventional and old fashioned. In its place we’ve embraced the seamless, easy living of the open-plan kitchen and dining space where cooking, homework, play time, and eating merge easily. 

But I detect a sea change…

For sure, an open plan kitchen will never go out of style simply because it suits our more relaxed, communal way of living these days. But I also feel that more of us are craving the cosier, four-walled conviviality of a dining room. In my own 19th century home in the Boston area I’m lucky to have the best of both worlds. We have an open- plan family kitchen, but I also re-configured the ground floor to include a separate dining room where we can entertain, eat together as a family – and of course, play Monopoly on a Sunday!

The Dining Room as Sanctuary

In fact, I would argue that in our digital, always-on world, the dining room has taken on a new relevance.

Nowadays we need the four-walled privacy of the dining room to tune out from online distractions and reconnect with people over conversation and home cooking. We don’t always want the noise and expense of a restaurant but a special place where we can spend time with our family and friends – in short, the dining room.  Designed with thought and individuality it becomes our happy place where we can escape the everyday distractions of phones and computers. Being hugged by four walls makes us feel safe while being separated from the kitchen sink also discourages the host from disappearing to tidy or wash up between courses!

Conjuring the Right Atmosphere


Atmosphere is so important. I like my dining rooms to be warm and cosy. One of the easiest way to achieve this is by using what we designers call ambient - or layered -  lighting. I start by hanging a chandelier over the dining table. The trick is to hang your light at a level that illuminates the table while also creating an area of shadow around the table. So, aim to position it at height that is neither too high nor too low. By creating an area of darkness around the table you’ll also draw guests closer together adding to the appealing atmosphere   I also like to add lighting at eye level either with wall sconces or table lamps to conjur different moods.

Keep it Simple

When it comes to furniture less is more. A rectangular or oval table is best; round tables can dwarf a space.  In my dining room, we can sit 8 around the Saarinen table. For larger parties, I bolt on an antique burl folding table.  We’ve squeezed twelve people in to the small space. At first I thought, “Oh my this will be too cramped,” but it worked. There was lots of laughter and conversation in to the small hours, no one wanted to leave.


Be Bold with the Decoration

The dining room may be one of the most traditional rooms in the house – but that doesn’t mean you must be conservative with the decoration. Separated from the rest of the house, the enclosed space of a dining room is the ideal setting to be bold with colour and pattern. In our home, I used the Kelly Wearstler Channels wallpaper to echo the lashings of gold and brass in my kitchen. I chose the teal and beige colourway to offset the navy and grey of the Living Room.  For the ceiling and wood-work I opted for Savage Ground by Farrow & Ball. When the paint was first put up my heart sank and I thought “oh no...” the colour reminded me of a pair of grandma-style nude stockings: not chic. But everything changed when the paper went up. The teal of the wallpaper design just blazed against the pinky hue of the paint; proving how much different tones and colours affect each other when they are placed side by side. 

Finishing Touches


Choosing the dining chair was simple, though I tried quite a few.  I fell in love with the Beetle Chair, by Enrico Fratesi and Stine Gam at Gubi, it was so comfortable. Choosing the drapery was more challenging. The coordinating Kelly Wearstler fabric didn’t quite work with the paintwork. It wasn’t until I found the fabulous Flux Rug by Kinnasand that I realised I need to introduce a grey tone to cool the warmth of the paintwork and balance out the scheme. Once that was in place; the roman shade fabric slotted in perfectly adding a subtle gleam that binds together the feel of the space: glamorous and enticing but also cossetting;  a setting that’s suited to the candle-lit conviviality of a grown-up dinner party as well as Monopoly on a rainy Sunday.

And check out my dining room before it became fabulous.


Happy New Year! Resolve to embrace hygge

Some people hate when the holidays end. But for me, it’s time to just be. To be happy, be comfortable, be at home, warm and cozy, right in my own house. The Danes have a term for this: it’s called hygge. The first thing to know about this design buzzword (besides that it’s pronounced HUE-gah) is that it’s an old Nordic concept and “is simply the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Friends. Family. Graciousness. Contentment. Good feelings. A warm glow.” I am writing this post with two huge pots of chili on the stove (one white and one red - let me know if you want the recipes!) while sitting in my living room with the dog at my feet, the football game on and the kids hanging around. That’s hygge. Hygge is also about being surrounded by cozy, familiar and comfortable things. The design of this room certainly contributes to enabling this feeling of well being and happiness.


Here’s what the space looked like when we first bought the house (on the left)  and it was a dining room. This room couldn’t be more boring, stiff and formal with that 80’s polished brass chandelier. 

I wanted to transform the space into a room we’d use more often by taking away the ritualization of the “dining room” and embracing the Danish idea of hygee. When I saw this House Beautiful photo (on the right), I knew it would serve as my inspiration.

 The space before.

The space before.

 Hygge inspiration.

Hygge inspiration.


The Papa Bear by Modernica (on the left), an iconic mid-century chair with matching ottoman upholstered in a nubby wool, invites you to put up your feet and the Icelandic sheepskin flung over the back adds a layer of warmth and luxury.

On the velvet couch (on the right), big enough for 10 to sit comfortably, I added throw pillows of different shapes and sizes in a variety of fabrics and designs: dots, stripes and even bugs all play off the butterfly shades with it’s gold threads playing off the gold mirror and chandelier. The pillows add dimension and texture -- a mix of silk and velvet, some with piping, some plain, lying in twos and threes with an Brahms Mount alpaca throw blanket (best throw ever!). To me, it all says come relax.

Texture and color also play a big role. The whole design started with the couch, the most important piece of furniture. I believe that the more couch the better so go as big as you can go while maintaining the best quality as possible. This couch can fit a crowd but its slim design doesn’t overwhelm the room. The down cushions are not too soft and not too hard- just right! The rich blue velvet  says hygge like nothing else could and because the couch is the same color as the walls, Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue, it recedes to make the room feel grand. This is one of the greatest colors ever, sexy and cozy at the same time.

Although the TV is in a functional spot,  it’s not above the fireplace. I saved that spot for my favorite ornate mirror. 

There are some other details that say hygge: I added the chunky built-in shelves (painted the same Hague Blue but in a high gloss). The shelves had to be chunky and modern to balance the substantial original marble fireplace and the ornate mirror and created to hold decorative objects and books that tell the story of our family. My grandma’s vase and new design books are mixed in with artifacts we brought home from vacation, as well as paintings and photos from antique fairs, yard sale finds, and even an old mink stole all add warmth, texture and depth to the room. My living room is not just a space for entertaining traditionally thought of in American homes, it is it’s heart second to the kitchen of course...

It’s pretty hygge, too, don’t you think?

Tour my kitchen: How to make the place you cook the place you want to hang out.

I’ve been working on my house in Brookline, Mass. for the last two years and now that it’s done, I want to share with you my interior design work room by room, starting with the kitchen. My hope with this blog is to show you not just my inspiration and process for completing eight major rooms, plus a full walk-out basement, a few baths and a laundry room, but to share some tips that can amp up the design of any home. I’ll also incorporate design trends and some interesting client work along the way.

Kitchen first, which was featured here in Boston Home Magazine.

When we bought the house, the kitchen was in the basement — a common issue in older Victorian homes. But this was not going to work for our family, with three active boys, two cats and a dog. Also, I wanted to make the kitchen more of a living space than just a cooking space. So, we ripped out the fridge, cabinets and stove in the basement (a blog for another day) and created a new floor plan on the main level with a brand-new eat-in kitchen. Basement kitchens are dark and gloomy. Check out the before:

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Here’s the after:

©Natalia Foto-Cecilia Casagrande-3.jpg

Many of my clients say they want a large kitchen that is open to other living spaces, especially if they have kids to watch who are snacking all day, or using the room for everything from breakfast, trading Pokémon or actually for homework. Sure, we needed that too. But I also wanted the room to feel and look like other rooms in the house — comfortable, not just a bank of white tile and cabinets.

The overall aesthetic is not too shiny and not too sterile but mostly not too kitchen. It’s warm and it makes us happy. There’s matte black enamel, warm brass tones, and the crackle in the subway tile make it feel more artistic than just functional. Lots of plants — as well as the wallpaper by Ellie Cashman give a garden-like feel that the space is alive. You don’t need kitchen wallpaper to have chickens or food on it. This bold floral reminds me of a Dutch painting, one you’d sit and relax in front of it, appreciating the art.

Then there is the furniture — a word isn’t used often in kitchens. Since I wanted this to be more living than just cooking we needed furniture. I chose a banquette with a high back to feel like an old Parisian bistro while being super comfy. My husband has even fallen asleep on the banquette waiting for that very special once-in-a-blue-moon occasion when I will open the cookbook to make dinner. Then I layered on the pillows and this is where I had some real fun picking fabrics from England, Denmark and Boston. The Haack Table had me at American Black Walnut. If its legs were shorter, it could be in my living room. But why have a wood-topped table in a kitchen? Isn’t that asking for trouble? Yes, but that’s what good old fashioned orange oil is for and I never looked back.

Finally, there’s the lighting, which is an obsession of mine in all of my work. Here I have ambient light at different levels - sconces, pendants, under cabinet, tiny recessed and a chandelier.

Before we talk about that chandelier. Let’s me share how much fun it was to learn about Allied Maker, creators of my over the table pendant light. They are from Long Island and I asked them if I could come visit their showroom while visiting my family. They were surprised — no one had ever asked that so, yes, I was their first visitor and now I love saying I knew them when…


Ok, then there is the focal point like no other: a Lindsey Adelman Branching Bubbles light fixture with grey glass globes. It took my breath away and still does. It hangs in front of the black and brass hood I designed with Aaron at Vogler Designs in Indiana, where it was made. The hood goes perfectly with my LaCanche range, which was a starting point that led to many of the choices for my kitchen. I saw that stove in a home design magazine and knew it had to be mine so I could feel like I was living in Paris again. 

 Aaron at Vogler Designs sent me this picture before shipping it Brookline.

Aaron at Vogler Designs sent me this picture before shipping it Brookline.

 Look how many guys it took to carry in a little bit of France for me!

Look how many guys it took to carry in a little bit of France for me!

One final note, the ceiling medallion was a very simple one — even though it was original. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about changing it until I found a shop in Boston that creates molds of original ceiling medallions from some of Boston’s finest townhouses on Commonwealth Ave. So I upgraded to this:


The owner of the Boston Ornament told me to paint the ceiling behind the medallion black because it hides the light box. Genius! Well it all worked and I couldn’t be happier.

Next blog..Living Room...coming soon

From 80s Ultra Glam Decorating to Designing Authentic Interiors

When I think about my passion for interior design, it always brings me back to the 80s—the early 80s. During this time, interior design was interior "decorating." An interior decorator was a fancy term for a woman that came to your home and suggested you lay down some wall-to-wall carpeting, heavy drapery and mirrors.

I'm not kidding. The 80s was a decade when we were OK with kelly green shag carpeting, round bathtubs and these ULTRA GLAM mirrors. What a time to be alive!!

When my parents bought our house on Long Island, NY my mom thought she had to hire an interior decorator, and got EXACTLY what she payed for. When she realized that our newly "decorated" home had jumped off the set of a cheesy 80s movie, she freaked out. At that moment, WE REVOLTED! We realized that we were great collaborators, and spent copious amounts of time scouring antique shops and boutiques. We designed a home that was right for us and broke from the mold.

Anytime someone asked me what I wanted to be, I'd say "decorator." 

Fast forward a few years and by my 20s I had diverged from that path and instead, I wanted to save the world. I pursued a career in social work and public health. I traveled the world and studied in France (an excellent place to dabble in fashion and design, too). I went as far as a masters in social work and public health before realizing that I wouldn't be able to explore my creativity. I couldn't find a job that really spoke to me. Most importantly, I didn't find passion.

After being home with three boys, I found my love for designing, both helping myself and others. I found that I had superpowers! Like Superwoman, I could look at a space and literally see through walls. This wall is going to have a giant bay window! This wall is coming down! These floors are extending! This space is going to open up!

I transformed our first home with these newfound powers:

 Top Row: Sold for $919K, 2010. Bottom Row: Sold for 1.6M, 2014.

Top Row: Sold for $919K, 2010. Bottom Row: Sold for 1.6M, 2014.

I loved putting together these design projects, finding a neighborhood carpenter, painters through Craigslist, plumbers, contractors — managing every detail. After I had done this to two houses, I felt confident in my skills. 

It didn't fully click for me until I read the works "Rethink" and "Happy" by Australian designer Amanda Talbot. These two books resonated with me and brought me serious inner peace. It's hard to summarize what these books have taught me but if I had to, I'd say they've helped me to understand how to help people find authenticity in their lives. The importance of sourcing local materials, inspiring sustainability, and inspiring genuine happiness and joy.

I've gone from "decorating" in the 80s to finding my passion as a designer (a fancier word for a person with an artistic eye and serious Revit Autocad skills). I'm a mover of walls and a supporter of feng shui — using colors and blending modern and vintage to brighten my soul and the souls of many. 

So here I am now, running a woman-owned local business doing what I love and feel truly passionate about. Taking my time doing creative, authentic work to help people find the same joy in their homes as I have.

"Though people follow different paths, their main goal is to be happy. It’s such a simple thing — we live to be happy.”
- Amanda Talbot