I am utterly devoted to taking dinner in the living room. I turn the TV on, let my meal grow cold by the time I find the perfect show, and hunch over the coffee table to spoon pasta in my mouth, eyes glazed over. It's not the most refined picture, no, but it's worked quite well for me so far. I think the main reason I've never liked sitting at the table to eat by myself is because I've never had a kitchen or dining room I loved.
My current "dining room" is really the size of a breakfast nook, and is directly off of my galley kitchen. It's approximately 5x7', and since it's the only way to get from the living room to the bathroom, it functions more as a natural hallway. Being that I've never been one to eat at the table unless I really had to, I also never gave this space much thought. A year after moving into this apartment, though, it was ready for my attention.
Here's how I completely overhauled a space that simply wasn't doing its job — and made it into a mini-version of my dream dining room:
Finding more room
For about a year, there were two shelving units that lived in the dining nook: one that held wine, cookbooks, and decor, and another that acted as a catchall for an assortment of random items. While they served their purpose, removing them from the space immediately made it feel so much larger; and without the two shelves, there was now room for four chairs to fully pull out and allow a human being to fit — it's the little things! (Honestly, with the shelves gone, I felt like I could breathe again.)
Paint, paint, paint!
In the height of quarantine I (and by I, I mean myself and my ever-patient boyfriend) had painstakingly applied peel & stick wallpaper to the back wall of the space, but four months later, I loathed it.
So, I traipsed over to Home Depot with a rough idea of the color I wanted, but also totally open for inspiration to strike me while flipping through paint swatches. I knew, from the very beginning, that I wanted to go with a statement-making color that'd be a focal point in the apartment, wavering between sagey greens and moody blues, but ended up choosing Binary Star by Behr. I painted the top two-thirds of the wall and left the bottom-third white — somewhat mimicking the look of a room with board and batten — and even though the color is dark, this change made everything feel brighter and bigger.
Before (Photo by Caroline Mullen)
After (Photo by Caroline Mullen)
New furniture makes . . . a big difference
The IKEA table and chairs (procured from Facebook Marketplace, my favorite store) sufficed for a while, but when they started to squeak, it became time, finally, for some big girl furniture. I wanted to keep the styles relatively timeless, so I went with a walnut table (with drop-down leaves in case I need more space) from Raymour & Flanigan, because that's where adults get furniture, right? They also brought it in and set it up which was . . . amazing (aka, no struggling with instructions and a teeny-tiny hex wrench). I also opted for black slat-back chairs which lean somewhat farmhouse, but paired with the mid-century-style table, I don't think I'll be getting sick of them any time soon.
A rug defines the space
Before, this little room had a yellowy oak table on yellowy oak floors, and it looked . . . very outdated. I was a little bit concerned that the walnut table might clash with the floors, so a rug was the obvious choice to break up the space. Since the room is 5x7', I wanted to leave a little blank space around the outside of the rug, and chose a 4x6', which fit just right. Usually I'd lean into some kind of patterned rug, but I'm so glad I went with a neutral gray jute (similar to this one). It's got lots of texture, so it's not boring, and it perfectly balances out the warm tones with some cool.
Intentional light fixtures change the game
OK, I know decorators, designers, and influencers are always saying that changing out a light fixture makes a huge difference, but if there's one takeaway here: Change. That. Light fixture. The dining room had an oh-so-classic boob light (actually one of the last in my apartment to go) so I hopped up on the table, Facetimed my dad, and changed it for a simple black pendant light.
I won't lie, changing light fixtures is far from my favorite task. Do I enjoy holding my arms above my head for prolonged periods of time, stripping wires and twisting them together? Nope, not so much. But the moment you flip the light switch and it actually works . . . magic. If you're ready to tackle some beginner electrical work (and you are!), I found this video very helpful.
Hanging frames high emphasizes height
Even before I painted and replaced all the furniture, I had multiple frames hung from about halfway up the wall to about a foot from the ceiling, so I had already realized that hanging frames at an appropriate height for your walls makes a huge difference.
This time, I knew I wanted to frame some vintage alcohol advertisement posters my grandfather had given me, and choosing four larger, matted frames (17x21") makes the small space feel somehow . . . very grand.
And with that, the teeny-tiny dining room was complete. It's been three months since I made the updates, and I haven't changed a thing — possibly a record for me.
This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by Food52 editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.