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Divine Design Candice Olson



Before: Left, this home’s adjoining living and dining rooms were short on space, dark, tired and in desperate need of a full makeover. After: By moving out the clutter and adding family-friendly furniture and accessories, this space was ready to entertain the relatives.  SHNS photo courtesy HGTV

Entertaining Space
Cramped quarters get room to breathe

Mary and her family of six live in a 1930s stucco house that serves as headquarters for family gatherings. There are seven for dinner on most nights, but a crowd of 20 is not uncommon.

Unfortunately, the home’s adjoining living and dining rooms were short on space, and extra seats — including the piano bench and butcher’s block — were always being dragged in from other rooms to accommodate the guests.

The dark and tired rooms were also in desperate need of a makeover. Mary wanted to add some modern conveniences and high-tech touches while retaining the traditional feel of her older home. So I grabbed my own design family and geared up to transform the cramped rooms into an open-concept space that combines equal measures of style, functionality and elbow room.

I started the reconfiguration in the dining room by ripping out all the existing bulky corner cabinetry and replacing it with a wall of mirror-backed cabinets with glass shelves that better utilize the space.

In the living room, I took what should have been the room’s focal point — an out-of-scale fireplace — and rebuilt it. The new fireplace is not only larger and more eye-catching, it is now flanked by deep cabinets that maximize storage and allow for the proper placement of a new television-and-Internet combo.

To make the room seem bigger, I freshened up the walls in the living/dining rooms and adjacent kitchen with bone-color paint, and brightened the trim with a rich shade of vanilla. This created a vast, neutral background to the rooms and brought a visual flow to the open space.

To add the necessary drama to this light backdrop, I chose a rich collection of colors, fabrics and textures. I anchored the color scheme with warm linen and chose accents in creamy vanilla, sharp raspberry and deep chocolate brown. I mixed and matched these tones in the various fabrics (silks and velvets) and patterns (stripes and florals) used for the draperies, pillows and other unifying elements in the rooms.

Next came one of the redesign’s bigger challenges: Furnishing the space so Mary and her family would get the most amount of seating space possible.

I installed a big table on wheels in the dining room and added 10 new chairs with versatile slipcovers. For added flexibility, I brought in a drop-leaf table that can be pulled up alongside the larger table if more room is needed.

In the living room, I arranged a comfortable, casual grouping of furniture, including two beautiful, natural linen-colored couches. I also added several chairs and ottomans that can be moved around depending on the seating requirements of the day.

Then I got to work on the lighting. Mary was always worried about damaging her home’s old plaster walls, so the lighting was almost nonexistent. I minimized the damage and maximized the look by installing traditional wall sconces throughout the space and hanging two elegant glass-bead chandeliers in the living and dining rooms.

After a few finishing touches, including photos, vases and knickknacks, this space was ready to meet the relatives. By using elegant finishes, eye-catching fabrics and family-friendly furniture, Mary and her crew can now enjoy a traditional living/dining room that is big on space and style. How divine.

Interior decorator Candice Olson is host of HGTV’s “Divine Design.” For more ideas, information and show times, visit or

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