Asked on Jan 03, 2015

How can I modernize my antique dining room?

Kelly Roberts
by Kelly Roberts
My husband inherited an antique dining room set from his uncle and it's very sentimental to him. Most of my house is decorated in modern/contemporary decor and I have no idea how to decorate this room! I want to try to add a modern/cont flair to it so that it doesn't feel like my grandmother's house. What can I do??
  50 answers
  • V Valencia V Valencia on Jan 03, 2015
    Very nice set of furniture and a great size room. I would update the color scheme to something more lively and updated. You may have a color in an adjacent room that you can use. You could select a nice upholstery fabric and use that to select paint, window coverings and possibly a new rug. I can't see the rug you have now well, but if you like it, you can use that to get more color in the room. I'd replace your light fixture to something more updated too. Another idea might be to remove one of the cabinets in the room and replace it with something that has a new, modern feel. Maybe a painted piece to mix it up a bit on that empty wall that has shelving where you could add a focal point such as artwork and other items that tie into your design. Maybe if you liked the uncle, you could have a (small) picture of him in the room somewhere. :)
  • Found & Fancied Goods Found & Fancied Goods on Jan 03, 2015
    I had to do the same exact thing. Let the wood surfaces speak for themselves; wood is natural, beautiful, and timeless. Update the fabric on the chairs, this alone will make a huge difference. It's really easy, you can do this yourself. Detract from the "grandma" look with brighter colors. Update the design with the items around it. Runner on table, modern centerpiece, artwork on wall, maybe a plant or two to soften the lines. Paint the walls a color that seamlessly blends the eras and brightens the room. Honestly, I like a simple happy bright white for this. White will also make the pops of color "pop" even more. Make the room "glow" with thin fabric curtains to allow privacy yet flood the room with warm natural light. This is a great use of "juxtaposition". Opposites attract so have fun with it. It will turn out unique and awesome! :-)
  • You could paint and glaze, but since it is an antique and if it is in good condition, leave it alone. Accessorize this room. Add some color to it so it want look so washed out. Color can come from your accessories. Put a beautiful centerpiece of tulips in a good looking container in the center of your table. Use some pretty dishes and set your table including napkins. Hang the mirror over the breakfront, centering it. Flank each side with a picture or candle sconces. Add tall buffet lamps to each side. In the center add a large low bowl full of fruits, fresh or artificial or fill full of beautiful orbs or display a collection of old silver pieces. Add a large greenery arrangement to the top of the hutch. Greenery adds life to a room and also softens it. Add artwork to your walls. Since the hutch is so close to the windows I would hang one panel on the right side of the right window and on the left side of the left window. Pull them to one side and use a drapery holder. This will add some color also. I promise you, this will be a beautiful room. Shop your home before you spend money. Then shop the consignment & thrift stores. You never know what treasures you might find.
  • Cynthia Jensen Cynthia Jensen on Jan 03, 2015
    I agree with the previous posters. Keep the set the way it is and update it with upholstery and make all excessories and paint etc. modern. You might need to exagerate modern a bit to balance the furniture. If it is not an antique I would paint the chairs and legs white and a the table legs. Antique means 100 years old or near 100 years. It bothers me when people call furniture from the 70's or 80's antique.
  • Juanita Juanita on Jan 03, 2015
    Try using chair covers in a bright color or stripes to make the chairs look more modern. Add some modern art on the walls and bright, modern accessories on the sideboard.
  • Cindy L K Cindy L K on Jan 03, 2015
    dont forget the greens...can get them cheap at any craft place or whatever or use real plants! I agree accessorize it. Go to Pier One...get a big piece for the table and for the side table get some kind of big piece of silver tray or decoration. Flowers on the table will make it look outdated.
  • Carole Carole on Jan 03, 2015
    I would put new seat covers over the existing ones. As the chairs are antique, keep the originals underneath. A pretty table runner and some centrepiece or something on the table - think hurricane vases or similar. You need to compliment the antique qualities and work with them not against them. Something pretty on the walls would brighten the room up whether paint, wallpaper or something else or simply some pictures or posters. The room is badly in need of some colour - all of which can be simply introduced without needing any major decorating makeover. Modern can go well with antique if the two compliment and don't fight each other.
  • Lola Lola on Jan 03, 2015
    I like the top of the table, maybe get some slipcovers to go over the chairs, sort of a parsons chair look, some large candle sticks, maybe mercury glass on top of the sideboard cabinet, one drape panel pulled away at each window, put up a chair rail or wainscoting and paint or wallpaper with a new large scale paper on one wall. Large centerpiece on table, maybe a art glass bowl with lemons. etc.
  • Lola Lola on Jan 03, 2015
    I just realized you're in Hamilton and I'm in Middletown, 15 minutes away. We have Ikea in West Chester, right down the road from you, you could get a lot of items from there and verycost effective.
  • Cookie Dorner-Vogel Cookie Dorner-Vogel on Jan 03, 2015
    You can make a long table runner with matching chair covers. A brightish color to make the room pop.
  • Z Z on Jan 04, 2015
    What a beautiful set. First off painting it will not make it look contemporary so I hope you are not planning on that. It would be such a shame too. That aside, I'm with Juanita and Iola on the idea that full slipcovers could help. I like that idea better than modern fabric on the seats alone. If there's a way you can move the pieces so that the table can be placed at an angle in the room I'd try that. If you are keeping the rug, Which seems to work well with the furniture, I'd paint the walls to match the background. Fill the china cabinet with modern dishes and place modern lamps, something that matches the finish of your chandelier, with drum shades. I also like the idea of a table runner for the table with a modern center piece, also in the metal to match the light fixture.
  • Maria Urban Maria Urban on Jan 04, 2015
    You may want to think about replacing the chairs at the heads of the table with modern chairs in your color scheme then recover the existing chairs in a coordinating fabric and then add a modern rug.
  • Cindy Marks Cindy Marks on Jan 04, 2015
    I would move the buffet (I think it is a buffet pictured in the bottom left) to the blank wall at the head of the table above which I would place a large oval mirror ( at least as long as the buffet and oval to add some curved lines to a very hard line room) You could then move the cabinet that is located between the windows to the wall where the smaller buffet is now located. The smaller buffet could be located to the space vacated by the larger buffet or located in another room altogether. If the ends of the table can be lowered I would do that as it is not necessary for the table to be fully extended at all times. You could recover the chair seats in a lovely damask and you could place mirror panels in the china cabinet to help lighten the look. I would do drapery panels on the windows. You can also add crystals to your light fixture (ebay) to give it a "chandelier" look. As stated in previous comments, a lovely centerpiece on the table - and placing mercury glass candle sticks in various heights with cream candles on the buffet would be lovely. The carpet is not quite large enough but that is something that can be changed out at any time (when they are on sale)
  • Doris Doris on Jan 04, 2015
    Go for farmhouse look to make this room special. I have done this with the breakfast area of my kitchen...antique secretary, husbands grandmother's homemade farm table, antique bentwood chairs, old lawyers bookcase. Everything in the room is inherited. De or is old silver trays, depression glass, flea market finds, crocheted doilies. It works with my traditional house.
  • Kayo Frazier Kayo Frazier on Jan 04, 2015
    If it's an antique, the ONLY thing I would do is maybe strip it down to the wood & re-varnish it maybe a lighter color...I would never paint it. It will lose it's value as an antique. If you ever bequeath it to a family member, or sell it. I would store the chairs & replace them w/ a more modern design maybe a high back upholstered chair. That is ALL I would do.
    • See 1 previous
    • Kayo Frazier Kayo Frazier on Jan 04, 2015
      @Cherie not know that...Cool learn something new every day...Thanks for the info.
  • Mary Gemmell Mary Gemmell on Jan 04, 2015
    It's a beautiful set, one thing that would help is to move the tall cabinet to a different room and add a more modern piece to that window wall. that tall cabinet overwhelms and hides the far window.
  • LTorrans LTorrans on Jan 04, 2015
    Completely agree!!! Keep the wood. That looks like a lovely butter yellow color in the rug! Start layering in color and texture. Floor to ceiling drapes in a solid rich fabric --- most likely found on discount now that spring is arriving. I would use a deep butternut fabric with a lighter butternut paint. Then throw in a print on the chairs. PLUS for the chairs be sure to add some foam padding with a foam square wrapped in quilting batting and THEN your fabric. Possibly BOTH a table runner from the fabric and a secon runner laid across the sideboard. MAKE THE DRAPES SOLID ... AND POSSIBLY ONE OF THE TWO RUNNERS WITH ONE MATCHING THE PRINT ON THE CHAIRS AND ONE MATCHING THE DRAPES. Or I recalled an image from a shopping expedition and linked it here which is similar:[postimages]/0/ Accessories and color! I would put a screen in behind the China cabinet to enhance the height ... from Craiglist. You do not have a focal point behind the chair at the end. Close the table and possible put the sideboard there with fabulous art, candlesticks ... and if you want to paint ... paint the ugly chandelier!!! Give it a red or orange color to contrast the walls (which would be a deep butternut color) and if that mirror is NOT an antique paint it to complement or even match the chandelier.
  • Colleen Colleen on Jan 04, 2015
    That is a beautiful set. Opposites can absolutely mix well and the result is often much more unique and interesting than a single one. The chairs stand out as quite ornate - if your hubby doesn't object, make some tailored slip covers for them but don't hide anything else. Pull a paint color from your rug for the walls. Remove the slatted blinds and consider something like what was done for these windows: First though, consider moving the sideboard to the blank wall and place a bold piece of artwork over it. Then move the tall cabinet to where the sideboard is now, and move the small table seen in the corner of the photo to in between the windows. Choose a few bold accessories for around the room in one standout color. Keep them clean lined, on the large side and add just a few key pieces to keep it from getting fussy or ornate. Also consider changing the chandelier to something larger and more modern, such as a drum shade. All of this can be done in a very thrifty way with the help of this site and the internet in general! Would love to see photos when you finish this project.
  • Cherie Cherie on Jan 04, 2015
    You have so many suggestions that I won't offer one, but would love to see what you decide to do. The furniture is lovely and you'll find if you do some color on the walls, etc. it will fit in much better. Please post pictures when you're finished! Thanks!
  • Linda Gonzales Linda Gonzales on Jan 04, 2015
    Put a really large canvas painting or canvas photo on the back wall to draw your eye and interest and deflect from the scale of the furniture. Agree about the slip covers for the chairs, Put the mirror over the buffet. Put a runner on the table and buffet with sleek modern centerpieces, like a long brushed silver bowl with clear glass balls (something to match your light fixture). Good luck :)
  • Swan Road Designs Swan Road Designs on Jan 04, 2015
    First, you need color. If you plan to keep the rug under the table, draw from the colors there. Choose the most vibrant one for the walls and paint the woodwork white. Add interest to the walls, such as framed artwork, display items, etc. Either create yourself or have a professional make a "focal point" floral arrangement for the table. Make it big to make a statement. Use the tops of the china cabinet and buffet to showcase some of your loveliest and largest pieces of china and/or glassware or silver if you have it. Adding the glass and/or silver will give the eye some sparkle to enjoy and divert away from the furniture, which is beautiful in its own right. As others have already mentioned, cover the chairs in something else. Choose a deeper, richer tone of one of the colors in the rug and add a braid trim to the edge of the seat bottoms. The trim will update the chairs just enough and make them look lovelier.
  • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Jan 04, 2015
    The set is beautiful and an heirloom. Please do not paint. I would get a large piece of modern art for that wall behind the table with a bit of the colour(s) from your rug in it . Then I'd pick colour(s) from the art for recovering the chair seats, and possibly adjusting the wall colour.. (Can't tell if it's taupe or green toned.) Choose a suitable modernistic centrepiece for the table. Finished!
  • Julane Johnson Julane Johnson on Jan 04, 2015
    The dining set is gorgeous. The room is dull. A more lively paint on the walls, some artwork, a bit of table dressings and you'll appreciate the set more. If you still don't like it, give it to me. :)
  • Claire M Claire M on Jan 04, 2015
    Have you ever had it appraised? If the set is truly an antique, I suggest you find out its history and value, and then decide from there. If so, I would paint the walls an interesting color, restore the wood pieces, and refresh the upholstery and add interesting art and maybe an area rug to tie it all together. Or you may find another place for the side pieces to give them a brand new storage use in another room. If it is a reproduction, by all means, paint it a color that makes you happy! If it is not making you happy, it's not working for you!
  • Claire M Claire M on Jan 04, 2015
    Thinking of how beautiful that wood would look when complemented by walls of your favorite color! Sage? Soft teal? Sienna? GO for it!!
  • Linda Linda on Jan 04, 2015
    Sarah Richardson always starts with several co-ordinating patterns; she'll use one for draperies; another to cover the chair seats; and another to make the table runners or use a matting for artwork. The wall and carpet colour would come from the fabric too. The final result is very pleasing to the eye. You might want to google her for ideas.
  • Loretta Clark Loretta Clark on Jan 04, 2015
    At least it's large enough to seat at least ten, right? I'm sorry, but I it's yours and painting the bottom part of it white would do a great deal to lighten the space. Same with the large cabinet between the windows, but definitely take that to your local glass shop and have them put mirror in the back. (I've done that and it's not very expensive) There are a blue million antique chairs with no homes, so do whatever you want with yours!
  • Candace Candace on Jan 04, 2015
    Accent with silver and white on table and wall art
  • Rosalie chow Rosalie chow on Jan 05, 2015
    Never change or paint antique furniture. If you do it decrease the value of the furniture. You an put a modern tick table cloth to modernize it. Yes the cabinet either move to another room. Your antique dinning set is beautiful. I love the chairs. Thank you for sharing.
  • Jamoschini Jamoschini on Jan 05, 2015
    If you are looking for a continued modern look in your dining room, I would Paint the back wall in a chevron pattern of Turquoise and Cream paint. The remaining walls paint cream. Floor to Ceiling Turquoise Drapes in a light weight material. Switch out the hanging light fixture with a new one that has a modern flair. Switch out the Rug under the table with something modern in a complimentary color to match the drapes. Change the material on the chairs to a modern turquoise and cream pattern and paint the table and chairs white. You could re-stain the furniture to freshen it up, or paint it white, maybe not touch the wood at all. It's all up to your taste.
  • Candace Candace on Jan 05, 2015
    I say paint. There are too many pieces of the same dull brown. Leave the table (or stain it darker) but reupholster the chairs (I don't agree with the slipcovering idea either--slipcovers over a chair look like slipcovers over a chair) but I would paint all the other pieces; they're nothing special. Just because something's old doesn't make it an antique or valuable or aesthetically pleasing. Respect your husband's wishes, but brighten up individual pieces of the set which will then frame the importance of the table and chairs. Good luck!
  • CK CK on Jan 05, 2015
    I totally understand your desire to try to make this dining set and the room fit the modern/contemporary design aesthetic in the rest of your home. However, I'm going to offer another direction: Why not "work with what ya got"? By that I mean, embrace the very different look and make the room a sort of showcase to another time/another era/another style. The room appears to be separate from the rest of your house (kinda hard to tell on the pic though). So it's not a 'pass through this room to get to that room" situation. It could be the one room in your home that tells a story of your family's past. Do some research into colors, accessories, etc. from the era when the set was built. Try to incorporate those ideas into the room and yes, it may look like 'grandma's house' but then you could also think of it as a sort of 'living museum', a tribute to memories from the past. Ideas to incorporate that look would be antique frames for black and white family photos of relatives, wall colors appropriate to the time period, a chandelier that's an older style (easily found at flea markets and thrift stores or maybe another relative has one to give you), some antique or vintage dishes/flatware, etc. You get the idea :-) Consider another furniture arrangement. There may be other furniture arrangements that work better. Also, I'm willing to bet you could remove a piece or two (eg. either the buffet or the china cabinet) and the room won't look so 'heavy". The removed piece may be used in other area....or just stored for the time being if you have room. The fact is, even painting this style of furniture (which many will tell you not to...but hey, it's a personal preference) is not going to make it look modern/contemporary. The lines of it just aren't. IMHO painting it would make it look brighter and lighter but paint is not going to pull it into the 21th century. However, I have done projects where I've mixed contemporary with traditional and it has worked out OK. It's not everyone's cup of tea though. Bottom line: Embrace it and make the room to fit it. Someday, you may have the opportunity for other choices. Sometimes, leaving things 'as is' is the right choice.
  • Gail Salminen Gail Salminen on Jan 05, 2015
    @Kelly Roberts it is a beautiful set. I agree with the comments on lightening up the room. Perhaps consider painting the walls in a tone that you like and will provide a relaxing atmosphere. Add some complimentary wall decorations - my favourites aside from art pieces - are metal hangings as you can easily change the colour to compliment the room. Hang a mirror to reflect the light. If after all of that you still don't like the look of the set then paint away - but I would recommend you keep some wood showing. You could also consider putting some furniture pieces in other rooms to create more of a spacious feel to the room and perhaps a modern light fixture and tablescape. Please update us with pics of the progress and final outcome - love these pics. Good luck and thanks for posting.
  • Gail Gail on Jan 05, 2015
    Just to echo. Find a modern rug you love, perhaps blocks of color. Then make your color choices from there. Paint your walls, add modern art that is not to over the top, but reflects some of the antique. Beautiful modern plates and stemware. I think it will be wonderful.
    • See 1 previous
    • Shui Shui on Jan 18, 2017

      That's a sound echo!

  • Cath windmueller Cath windmueller on Jan 06, 2015
    @Kelly Roberts ...If you paint the room with a fresh contemporary color, recover the chairs in a classy contemporary fabric and do window treatments in the same or coordinating fabric it would give you the look you are looking for. I suggest art in your chosen color pallet or a modern large scale mirror and perhaps a new chandelier. It should be a fun project for you to complete. Please post "after" photos of your space when it's finished.
  • Tori Black Home Tori Black Home on Jan 06, 2015
    If you don't wish to re-paint (which personally, I would not as it reduces the value of a piece which ends up looking neither here nor there) start by getting a pair of upholstered Queen Anne wing chairs or similar style, preferably with armrests, for the head and foot of the table. Upholstered in white linen - and white linen only! Then get a white linen table runner for the table, and see the difference. At some point you may get a Black and white Chevron rug and re-upholster the chair seats in a black and white pinstripe or houndstooth pattern fabric. It looks chic on antique chairs! I would switch some of the other wood pieces to another room - max two wood items in this room, so as to keep the wood finish from looking repetitive and boring or match-matchy! I would also place one of those items of wood furniture at the far end of the room to dress up the bare wall. Add a shiny wall mirror to break up the chunkiness of the wooden pieces and you're good to go!
  • Yolanda Alcantar Yolanda Alcantar on Jan 06, 2015
    the furniture is beautiful I would leave it alone, paint the walls add a new colorfull rug add pieces of decor to the hutch, and put a runner on the table with some glass candle holders add some drapes to match the rug and it will look beautiful
  • Tammylrichard Tammylrichard on Jan 07, 2015
    I would start with the area rug. If you love the one you have there, then pick out a colour you love on it & paint the walls that colour. New light fixture if you don't like that one. Get one that hangs low with a large round shade. If there is more room at the closest end of the dining table to the picture, put the larger cabinet on the wall on the other side. Move the smaller cabinet between the windows. The blinds look ok (they seem to be the wider slat ) If you paint dark get a lighter curtain with a little darker design on them, not too big. I would do one for each window & tie back to opposite sides. Then get artwork you like. Maybe a fun clock. Instead of covering up the table with a table cloth get a runner & put a centre piece on that is maybe homemade. Use something that is older but put a modern twist on it. Recover the chairs. Put a glass tray on the lower cabinet with some fun wine glasses. You can really just do what makes you happy. I wouldn't paint the furniture. They can use a good polish.
  • Carol Carol on Jan 07, 2015
    I have just had the same situation. I didn't like the old fashioned chairs, especially. I kept the table due to its nice grain, but I bought new parson's chairs in a lovely silvery tweed. I hung a new light fixture over the table and that's it. People compliment my new look. I also donated the china hutch to the goodwill and added a modern looking serving/bar table. I gained wall space then, so added a colourful stretched canvas painting.
  • Pat Kelley Pat Kelley on Jan 13, 2017

    i would start by recovering the seats in a bright fabric, to set a color theme. then hang a few pictures on the walls to pick up colors from seats. hang curtains and change out that area rug. everything in that room is dark and blends together.

    the furniture is fine, its the decor you need to change. I think a lot of color will make it pop. Good luck.

  • Jcraw Jcraw on Jan 15, 2017

    This is, I believe, a draw leaf table. If you're not using it full-length frequently, put the leaves back in. Your buffet on the back. (facing us) wall with a mirror or art over it. There's more light immediately. China cabinet to the right of the table with the two "extra" chairs on either side. The small server in front of window with art.

    These are slip-seat chairs. Easy to recover/reupholster in any color that makes you smile. I'd be careful with prints because you don't want to fight the carving on chair backs. . I would do each window with a pair of white or cream full-length curtains. Faux-linen would do. You're trying to do contemporary-ish, so no pullbacks. Besides, you need more linear vertical in the room, with your furniture and blinds. And you have plenty of curves on your chairs.

    Your furniture could probably use a cleaning. Everyone's does. I'm a Go-Jo person myself, but first I'd get myself some Magic Sliders and move the pieces around you smile and have a comfortable traffic pattern.

    Id wait to buy a chandelier until you're happy with your look. In the meantime, toy with the idea of "covering" it with a round shade. The style is rather popular now in contemporary homes. At costly prices. You'll have to pull chandelier down to do it, but it could be just right, and your chandelier needs to be lower anyway. For an 8' ceiling, it should be 30"-34" over the table.

    Reminder: if you look at Houzz, or other good home sites, most of the beautiful people now have blended their modern furnishings with antiques. Maybe it would be the most fun to get a colorful contemporary rug and work your colors from there. As nice as it is, your rug is the least adaptable thing in your room. Use it in a bedroom that needs quiet colors.

  • Shui Shui on Jan 18, 2017

    I would cover with a glass top

  • Hervoline Pearson Hervoline Pearson on Dec 28, 2017

    The furniture has a Moroccan look to it I would use a beautiful colorful cloth on the seats and runner. Don't refinish the furniture just clean it , an antique dealer said refinishing furniture devalues the piece. It looks like the wood is in good shape. I took a refinishing class and the instructor had us use hand cleaner that the mechanics use to remove old wax from the furniture with cheese cloth let it sit for a few minutes then it wipe off with a clean soft tack cloth. The furniture was beautiful afterwards. Colorful cloth would enhance the furunture.

  • Dianacirce70 Dianacirce70 on Dec 28, 2017

    I would paint the chairs a light color, cream or white, and recover the seats. its difficult to see the actual details on the other furniture pieces

  • I would leave the set and use modern accessories. I'd also swap out the chairs for a few more modern ones. It would change the whole look.

  • Deb K Deb K on Sep 02, 2023

    Hi Kelly, hope this helps you out. Start by putting up some modern art, pictures etc, Select modern table decor, put don a modern area rug. Possibly paint the walls.

  • Johnavallance82 Johnavallance82 on Nov 23, 2023

    Modern Wallpaper or Brighter colour Walls & Mat curtains or accessories

  • Betsy Betsy on Nov 23, 2023

    Hi Kelly: I, too, think that another colour of paint would help, along with some modern pictures, a mirror or large clock on that back wall. You could also put valances over the blinds, and a more modern centrepiece would look nice. Embrace the past and let your hubby revel in the memory of his uncle. You say "my house", but isn't it really a home for the 2 of you? He should have a room he loves, get his imput and see what he would like.

  • I’d start with paint or wallpaper, then add art and decor, various light sources, see how things are looking. You can always repaint or change out things that aren’t working.