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Dining Room Envy
I wish I could say this big, elegant dining room is mine, but it actually belongs to my brother, Dan, and his wife, Maura. With Chris’s help, they found their sweet 1908 cosmetic fixer a few years ago, and they have been remodeling it ever since. Their most recent work is this gorgeous dining room remodel.
Mistakes of the Past
Their dining room had suffered a cosmetic “upgrade” in the 1960’s. Apparently the goal was to make the room look like a cave. The south wall was covered with wood paneling, and the 9’3″ ceiling height had been lowered to eight feet by installing a false ceiling.
The interior moldings around the bay window had been stripped away.
And in this sad state, the dining room sat for 50 years.
Miraculously, the remodeling rampage had ended before the bay window itself could be compromised. The window, with its original cylinder glass, was still intact.
At least that was a starting point. And, with its generous size, this room had loads of potential.
But how to lift this room out of the 1960s and take it back home – to 1908? Dan and Maura poured through design magazines and catalogs. Dan also found real-life inspiration in his own neighborhood.
“If I ever see a pre-1930s house for sale that looks like it’s still in original condition, I’ll attend the open house,” says Dan. “I get a lot of good design ideas – and a few bad ones – just from poking around someone else’s home.”
They decided to install period-inspired paneled wainscoting and a built-in china cabinet. If the original high ceiling height were restored, the wainscoting would look stunning and add texture to the wall space.
Although not a carpenter by trade, Dan had done extensive finish molding projects on several other homes, so he knew the impact that moldings and wainscoting could make in a room. And with so many years of experience, he was up to the challenge.
Out with the Old
But first, he needed to tackle that false ceiling from the 1960’s remodel and bring back the original 9’3” ceiling height. He assumed the false ceiling was a simple suspended ceiling.
But in old house remodeling, you never know what you will find, and nothing is ever as easy as it should be.
It turns out the previous owner was a carpenter. He had built an entire secondary joist system for the lowered ceiling and sheetrocked it with half-inch drywall. He really wanted that ceiling to last!
Dan took on the arduous task of removing this heavy material – mostly overhead work while on a ladder.
Once the false ceiling was removed, Dan hit another speed bump: The previous owner had sheetrocked over the lath and plaster walls, but only up to 8 feet. So the wall space that was above the false ceiling had to be patched with new sheetrock.
The Design Process: A Plan for Success
Finally the room was ready for the wainscoting installation. Before starting, Dan had researched the correct wainscoting ratio – 2/3 the total wall height – for a house of this era.
He made various sketches of how he might build up the wainscoting and plate rail to make them look substantial.
“Only when I knew exactly where every nail and screw would go did I start building,” says Dan, “and the whole thing went together pretty easily that way.”
Since he was planning to paint the wainscoting and moldings, he could use inexpensive MDF for the moldings and trim, and birch wood for the wainscoting panels and the built-in hutch.
Maura selected the period-correct paint colors: Valspar “Seaweed Wrap” for the walls, and “Bistro White” for the trim, wainscoting and built-in cabinet.
Salvage Shop Bargains Take Center Stage
The cabinet was designed around a serendipitous bargain find.
“By pure luck I found a set of four old cabinet doors at an architectural salvage shop in Ballard,” says Dan. “I used two of the doors for the built-in and designed the rest of the cabinet around them.”
An earlier trip to the same salvage shop netted another bargain find: $200 for the “Mt. Tabor” light fixture, originally sold at Rejuvenation for $640. Someone had swapped out the Rejuvenation shades for four antique shades – a nice upgrade. There was a broken light bulb stuck in one of the sockets, which Dan easily removed with needle-nosed pliers.
He ordered the knobs and hinges for the built-in from House of Antique Hardware.
“I like to roam the salvage shops for parts, or even for inspiration,” says Dan, “but if I can’t find any specialty parts I need there I’ll shop online. It helps to do a quick online search for coupon codes once you know where you’ll be shopping.”
All Dan’s years of experience doing finish work, coupled with Maura’s eye for color, have really paid off. The dining room is a masterpiece.
And I am green with envy.
Here’s a little before and after recap:
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