At Home: Dinner party prompts dining room refresh | Lifestyle

The prospect of hosting a fancy dinner party at my house filled my heart with panic and my redecorating engine with jet fuel. I had been wanting to update my dining room. Suddenly, I had an incentive and a deadline.

“You start seeing everything they don’t even notice,” said my neighbor, trying to calm my nerves.

“I’m more worried they’ll see everything I don’t notice,” I said.

Aren’t we all a little house blind?

The dinner party wasn’t my idea. A few months ago, my friend, who is also a friend of the arts, hatched the plan to auction off a dinner for eight, including my husband and me, at my house, for an Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra fundraiser.

“You know how your column is At Home With Marni?” was how she framed it. “Well, this would let people actually be at home with Marni. Get it?”

Oh, I got it. If I’d known when I started writing a home design column what I’d be getting myself into I would have become a pet therapist. People assume I live up to my words! Before I agreed — and because no one should pay to eat my cooking — I called a chef I knew to see if he’d help. Chef Angelo Bersani generously agreed to donate his time to prepare and serve dinner if I paid for the groceries. Done! Chef and I became a package deal on the auction block.

With the food taken care of (Phew!), my focus turned to the dining room, which sits immediately to the right of my home’s front entry. You can’t miss it. The room has only two walls. The non-wall sides open onto the entry and living room.

Now, because I live in the real world, redecorating for me does not mean tossing all my furniture and starting over. It means working with what I have and making small refinements to get, ideally, big results. The trick, however, is knowing what those small moves are, which is when paralysis sets in.

My next call was to Los Angeles interior designer and longtime friend and colleague Christopher Grubb. “HALP!” I cried! “I have all these illustrious dinner guests coming who think my home is something out of Architectural Digest and they are about to be bitterly disappointed.”

Grubb knows I’m prone to hyperbole. He also knows I can follow directions. He agreed to work with me on an hourly basis. He’d call the shots if I did the legwork, which involved shopping for materials, gathering samples, and coordinating workers. This would save him time and me money. Again, Done!

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With a chef and a designer on board, I could feel my lungs fully expanding, my blood pressure dropping.

Since Grubb is on the West Coast and I’m in Florida, we worked virtually. I sent him photos of the dining room and told him my goal was to move away from the traditional furnishings to make the room more transitional, a direction he supported. We discussed some ideas, then he gave me my to-do list.

Over the next eight weeks, we exchanged dozens of texts, photos, and a few sobbing emojis, and made the following small refinements, which yielded big results, and just might do the same for a room or two in your home:

• Added lampshades. Although I had replaced the dining room’s dated light fixture a few years ago, I had not “finished” the fixture off with chandelier shades, which Grubb advised. I test-drove three shade styles, ordering one of each and returning the rejects, before settling on a black tapered shade. Because black shades direct light down, not out, they can make lighting more dramatic.

• Filled in the art niche. Art niches in walls are common yet often difficult to work with as they limit the size of art you can hang in them. The niche in my dining room’s accent wall was 5 feet square and 3 inches deep. Until recently, a large tapestry hung over the niche and covered it. But, as part of my attempt to make the space more contemporary, I sold the tapestry and now had this, uhh, hole in the wall. “Art niches just make you ask why?” said Grubb, who recommended having a drywaller fill it in.

• Put up wallpaper. To make the open room feel cozier and more intimate, and to distinguish it from the entryway, Grubb suggested covering the now smooth back wall and ceiling with sea-blue grasscloth, which added character and texture to the room.

• Replaced mirrors. Although Grubb liked the idea of two mirrors flanking the art on the main wall, he suggested replacing the existing round ones with larger, vertical mirrors to make the room appear taller. Since we were moving toward a more transitional less traditional look, we kept the frames simple.

• Updated end chairs. Although our goal is to replace all the tapestry-covered dining chairs with more contemporary seating but keep the existing table, here we hit an impasse. I couldn’t find any chairs I liked that would also be available in time for my dinner party. Rather than compromise, I bought the chairs I wanted and accepted the fact that they wouldn’t arrive until September. Darn that supply chain. Meanwhile, I recovered the table’s two armchairs in a bold zebra-print fabric and painted the wood lacquer black. These chairs, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, are now fixtures in my living room, but for dinner parties they double as end chairs.

• Added ambiance. With the new furnishings in place, all I needed to do was add the finishing touches — a fresh centerpiece of pale roses, patterned table linens, crystal and silver, candles, and, of course, illustrious guests — to make the room come together like a symphony.

Marni Jameson is the author of seven home improvement books. Reach her at

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