Your Home: 100 ideas under $100

Designer tricks for the dining room

Architects and interiors specialists share their secret sources, strategies for clever styling, organizing tips, and other home updates you can do yourself.

By Marni Elyse Katz and Deblina Chakraborty
June 12, 2009
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Put on a new face A few coats of color on the drawer fronts update a dresser or built-ins quickly. Designer Susan Sargent says that using "two or three versions -- if you have the patience! -- of the same color is really interesting," though she warns against using too many different colors, "at the risk of a making it too much of a focal point." You can finish with new knobs, using one style to pull it all together.

Sit on it One of the reasons designers like rattan pieces is that they often can do double duty -- a stool is a table is an ottoman. Urban Outfitters sells a versatile low pouf for $88. Rattan furnishings are particularly nice in summer. "They help bring the outdoors in," says Boston interior designer Eric Roseff. Urban Outfitters, 111 JFK Street, Cambridge, 617-864-0070, and other locations;

Start at the top You can update old recessed lighting without an electrician, says Beverly interior designer and decorative painter Danika Herrick, using a can-light conversion kit such as The Can Converter ($50 for a 6-inch can). Then add a chandelier or pendant light. Light N Leisure, 120 Andover Street, Danvers, 978-762-7510

Gloss over it If you have an old chandelier that dates your entire room, take it down and coat it with any high-gloss white spray paint for a look that's hot right now, suggests Milton interior designer Taniya Nayak, host of's $100 Half-Day Designs series. Don't forget to stuff the sockets with paper.

Mark an occasion Boston architect Stephen Chung's dining room walls display significant dates in his family's lives -- including his two sons' birth dates and his wedding anniversary -- quietly. He painted the dining room in his Wayland home a flat white, then added the dates using shiny white adhesive numbers that he bought at Lowe's. "The numbers won't always be apparent," he says, since they're just 4 inches high. But depending on the flicker of a candle or light from another room, the numbers shine, prompting dinner guests to ask about them. Lowe's, 15 Commerce Way, Woburn, 781-376-5500, and other locations;

Live low South End home stylist Kara Butterfield swears by dimmer switches (your hardware store can explain how easy they are to install), and swapping out clear bulbs to low-voltage soft pink or white ones for instant ambience. No tools required.

Re-cover quickly North Quincy interior designer Melinda Cabanilla used fabric from Winmill Fabric -- it cost just $25 and covered six chairs -- in the project pictured at left. Here's her quick chair makeover how-to: Unscrew your chair's padded seat from its frame. The old fabric will almost certainly be stapled on; remove staples with a screwdriver, then use the old fabric as a pattern to cut the new. Readjust padding, if necessary, and staple new fabric taut (get someone to help you hold it). Replace seat. Winmill Fabric, 107-111 Chauncy Street, Boston, 617-542-1815

Repurpose the room If your formal dining room is infrequently used, try giving it another purpose that takes advantage of its quiet, suggests Carole Freehauf, a design correspondent for This Old House who has an interiors business in Plymouth. For example, move a comfortable chair, a reading lamp, and a small table of books from another room next to a window and you have an inviting library. You can whisk the arrangement away when company comes for dinner.

Get a leg up Don't have a dining room table? You can make your own, says interior designer Jean Verbridge of Siemasko + Verbridge in Beverly, who also suggests having fun with the design. Attach legs from IKEA ($7.50 and up) -- don't limit yourself to just four -- to an old door from a salvage shop and paint the whole thing a now color like bright raspberry, melon, or Chinese red. As soon as next year's hot colors become apparent, it's time to repaint.