Our Dining Room Dilemma
This is one of those posts that as I was writing it, ended up changing my mind about the ENTIRE room. But instead of deleting out all the “debates” at the beginning, I left in the thought process that brought me to a big TWIST at the end, so keep reading.
**But before I get into talking about our mountain house, I want to recognize a fellow family blogger’s fire tragedy. Chris Loves Julia were also documenting their mountain cabin renovation of which we have loved following along. Last week, it tragically burned down and well, it shook our office and our family, with almost everyone tearing up so I can’t IMAGINE how they feel. I didn’t want to continue going along, documenting our mountain project, without just recognizing their tragedy and knowing that it might be hard for them to read along. Not sure what else to say except we, like them, are so grateful that no one was inside. They are a great family to support, creating wonderful content and putting good things out into the world so if you don’t follow them, now’s a good time to start. We are so just so, so, so sorry.
It’s another “where we are and where we might go” post on the mountain house, this time in the room that ALWAYS CHALLENGES ME the most: the dining room. Why? Keep reading, but first let’s remind us all what she looked like before.
Besides this strange peninsula in the middle, it was kinda the same shape. We put in new GORGEOUS windows from Marvin (more on that later) and changed out the flooring the nicest family with the prettiest wood, so if you live in LA, please go check them out and say hi from us).
What you can’t see is that the walls all had a thick layer of orange peel spray and the corners of the entire house were rounded—like every window, every doorway, everywhere. Do you want to know the most annoying way to blow your budget? Smooth coating walls. More on that later (and we didn’t do that here, actually, they are a slight plaster).
It’s a pretty room with GREAT light, but it’s not there yet. A lot of the elements could change.
First, once again I have a scale issue and I’ve finally learned my lesson. I, Emily Henderson, like smaller lighting fixtures over dining tables. Sometimes it takes three times, making the same mistake to really get it (Glendale house, Los Feliz dining room and now here). It’s like how I keep buying high waisted wide leg sailor pants and yet I always opt to actually wear a skinny jean. Always. So the other day I told my best friend as I was purging my closet, “I’m making a promise to myself and you that I will NEVER EVER EVER buy another pair of this style.” And then three effing days later, I bought low waisted wide legs as if that’s going to be any better!!!
Anyway. There is a reason for the larger fixtures. Originally we were going to punch through the ceiling and show the joists to match the kitchen, but once we decided on the plumbing in the directly-above master bathroom, we couldn’t. So the ceilings were supposed to be a foot higher. I also wanted glass as to not abstruct the view. They don’t look too overscale in the photos but when you are sitting at the table, they feel big above you. They are seriously beautiful, with black and brass detailing and they give great ambient light. It’s not ideal, as they were custom but I’m hoping my friend’s new 100-year-old huge Tudor will be a good fit for them.
Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out what should go there, and I may not know for a while until I for sure decide for or against a banquette going all the way around the windows. I’m leaning towards what we like to call a “micro pendant/sconce” like this:
Next, the ever-controversial pony wall:
A few facts about the pony wall: 1. Yes, the column is load-bearing and as we tried to move it, our engineer said the most we could move it is 12 inches to the right because our huge bathtub sits above it. At one point, we were going to get rid of the “pony” part of it and clad the column in wood, but then we thought that MAYBE we’ll still do a huge dining banquet in which case we’d want that wall. So it was one of those things that we thought to keep for now, deal with later.
But as the coats and boots are being strewn about (it’s right by the backdoor which is how we walk to the woods/lake), I was like ugh, maybe I should make this awkward wall more functional. Many of you shared my same woes on our family room update post, and we even polled it on Instagram Stories last week and it was 53 to 47 to close it up. We are so used to it being open and even though there is still a big opening directly next to it, it’s hard to close things up.
So I did what any professional stylist would do: I hung up a piece of fabric to see how it felt.
The idea would be that we would dry wall the dining room side of it and turn the family room side into a very shallow wall of hooks for coats. MAYBE a low shelf for boots. Kind of like a mini mudroom, similar to:
The pros of closing up the wall are as follows:
- It will be cleaner, architecturally. It makes the dining room feel more enclosed and we can put pretty art on there.
- We get some hooks for coats, therefore adding function.
The cons of closing up the wall are as follow:
- We like how open it is!
- I really don’t want to look at a pile of coats on the wall. Not having the storage means we are forced to hang them in the hall closet, of which I do three times a day.
- We would spend more money. We are SO done spending money on this house. I really should pursue a marriage with a handyman or a general contractor. I wonder if Brian would be open to that if he knew how much money our family would save?
- We might have to move the electrical unless we don’t take the niche down to the floor, which is annoying and yes involves dealing with an electrician and saving money and we MIGHT need it for code.
A lot of you want us to do floating shelves there which we had considered, but then I have to put something on them and I don’t want to create a space that I have to style. We already have a bar, so it would just be something that would just create visual clutter.
So where are we right now on the pony decision?
Last weekend, as we sat at that table with friends, fabric over the opening, everyone agreed that they missed the openness. Brian was pretty adamant about not closing it up and I was on the fence so I suppose that’s our decision for now.
I do think its a missed opportunity for function, and there is something a little dated about it but I will say this: There is STILL a chance that I will put in a big built-in banquette in which case we’ll want that wall.
Let’s talk about the real problem here…
TABLE & CHAIRS
Right now, we have this IKEA table (I know, it’s pretty darn good) chosen because the day before we were moving all of our stuff up there, we realized that we didn’t have a table and IKEA stocked this one. Turns out we actually really do like it. We brought all our extra dining chairs up there to play around (and sit on), so naturally, I took photos so you could see the difference between wood and black.
What do I really want? A GORGEOUS live-edge table and beautiful yet comfortable chairs.
BUT DO YOU KNOW WHAT DOESN’T ACTUALLY EXIST? REALLY beautiful + unique + REALLY comfortable + sculptural + kid-friendly chairs. It’s not that I haven’t looked, it’s that by nature of being a chair, it can’t actually be all of those things. It’s like trying to find really low-calorie/low fat + really delicious food. It’s just not how life works and you have to compromise somewhere.
I know this because our dining chairs at our Los Feliz house were in fact VERY comfortable but they were kinda boring. My next door neighbor/good friend has them now because I found my dream set of Cherner chairs at the flea market which are a 7 on the comfort scale, but every time I’m hanging out around her dining table, my bum being nestled by the padding on all sides, I regret choosing style over comfort.
So here I will NOT choose style over comfort. It’s a bummer, TRULY. Maybe you are wondering what level of comfort a family could possibly need and I’ll go ahead and say our’s is VERY HIGH.
What makes a chair comfortable?
- Upholstery and cushion on both the seat, back and, ideally, arms. Think a club chair at a bar. That’s what I want. But those are rarely if EVER in the style that we want up here, which is more sculptural and minimal, with mixed finishes (ideally wood and upholstery). But upholstery on the arms is by nature NOT kid-friendly. Even if it’s leather, you still have to wipe up the marinara and jelly hand prints.
- Large scale. Especially for guys, we don’t want a dinky, light chair.
I love these below, but they are everywhere and that back looks VERY straight.
These look more comfortable but I still don’t want to sit for hours and hours (I write at the dining table from 5-7 am most mornings).
Something like the below could work, they are large scale and have upholstered seat and arms…but perhaps too contemporary for us.
Are you ready for this????
After writing this post for three hours on Saturday, I finally realized what needs to happen that will solve all our problems: the light, the pony wall, the comfort, adding style and interest, the need for kid-friendly…
PLOT TWIST IN THE DINING ROOM DESIGN!!
We need to go back to the ORIGINAL plan which was to do a big built-in banquette on the three sides where the windows are and the pony wall. That’s what I ALWAYS wanted because EVERYONE loves sitting in a banquette. We’d make it deep and have a ton of pillows, so I can add much needed softness and texture. We’d likely do leather or a vegan leather for the bench.
We’d obviously need an oval or round table, and then put three chairs on the front side, chairs that the kids can sit in with maybe an upholstered seat but not arms or back, thus checking off two of my boxes: sculptural + kid friendly. I’m not going to be sitting there, my spot is smack dab under a window. And yes I know that it MIGHT be annoying for everyone when the people in the middle have to get out, but it’s worth it. Who opts for a table at a restaurant when there’s a big comfy booth open? People who care nothing about coziness and comfort.
We had dinner there with friends on Friday night and it just didn’t feel good the old way. But by rotating the whole set up and eating breakfast by the window, it became such a happier, more inviting, more desirable space. It’s a space you WANT to actually sit for hours.
By doing a built-in along the window, it gives the pony wall some purpose. Our architect felt that there was a lot of wasted space in the middle up there, but we have kids and open space is FINE. It actually feels really, really good.
Lastly, it solves the light situation because we could simply get rid of the pendant closest to the kitchen and the other one is PERFECT for a rounded table/nook. Even the location of it is perfect.
I get my comfort, a place for me to sit and write and hang out on upholstered cushions. The kids will get their more kid-friendly chairs that are really pretty (I’ll probably just get cushions made for the Paul McCobb chairs that I have or mix up vintage). We keep the pony wall because we love how open it feels and we don’t have to change out the lights. Then we’ll put some low hooks for the kids’ coats on the other side of the pony wall.
BOOM. Even Brian was excited about this new plan.
Thanks for letting me externally process this all with you. I know not everyone will agree with this, but when designing a house, I really try to make EVERY single room as desirable as possible. A room you actually WANT to spend hours in and sometimes you don’t know what that is going to take until you live in a space for a while.
Thoughts? Feelings? Comments?