The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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November 15, 2012

Tips for "decor-taining" in the dining room

The countdown has begun: Only a precious few days remain before the holiday entertaining season begins. For some of you, the impending deadline means sprucing up your neglected dining room, scrambling to find enough seating and silverware, sculpting your centerpiece and, of course, planning your menu. Well, don't panic. The only thing more fun than decorating and entertaining is the intersection of the two — what you could call decor-taining.

To decor-tain successfully, start with the basics: a table, chairs and lighting. I chose an unfussy modern table of white lacquer. It always looks as clean and crisp as a white linen tablecloth, but all you have to do is wipe it down — no staining and no ironing required. My table seats a maximum of 10 guests, which, to me, is an optimal size because you can have three conversations going or just one. (If you have more than 10 guests, consider some temporary furniture.) You also don't want your dining table to take over the room. A good rule of thumb is that the footprint of your dining table should be no more than a third of the floor's total space — you want room for people and chairs.

As for your chairs, they need to be not only comfortable, but also interesting. For me, that means chairs that do not match the table. Instead, mix things up with contrasting colors and materials. Dark wood chairs? Pair them with a marble-topped table. Antique mahogany table? Add a set of modern white-frame chairs.

For my dining room, I paired 1920s French red leather upholstered chairs with my modern table. If you want a chic dining room, you have to blend styles and finishes: old with new, light with dark, slick with aged.

Whatever you do, never underestimate the importance of lighting. You should take your cue from your favorite restaurant and keep the lights low. If you have several light sources, keep each at a flicker (which might require installing dimmers). There should be enough illumination to help you get around and to see your food, but not so much that the light is harsh and unflattering. I always include candles in the lighting mix — tapers, votives or pillars — to add a little ambiance.

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