How to Avoid the 5 Most Common Dining Room Decorating Mistakes | Kanebridge News
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How to Avoid the 5 Most Common Dining Room Decorating Mistakes

Advice on sidestepping the decor gaffes that design pros see most often in rooms meant to fire up appetites—from unpalatable wall colours to stingy rugs

Fri, Apr 28, 2023 8:30amGrey Clock 3 min

DINING ROOM décor gone awry can kill appetites. Whether your guests are flinching from an eerie portrait their chairs face or squeezing into too-tight seats, bad decorating can take the joy out of even the most well-concocted meal.

Los Angeles-based designer David Netto believes dinner guests are rarely eager to enter these stuffy rooms. “So what a dining room must have, above all, is atmosphere,” he said. Here, interiors pros detail five mood crushers in dining rooms, and palate-pleasing alternatives.

1. Blinding Lights

Ample light helps diners distinguish between mashed yams and potatoes, but cruelly aggressive bulbs inspire squinting, not conviviality. “Nothing will kill the vibe of a dinner party faster than harsh overhead lighting,” said Marina Medina, a Vancouver-based interior designer. No one feels good under 5000K LED bulbs, says Susane Jory, a designer in London, Ontario, “and few of us look good bathed in it.”

Instead: Kelly Finley, a designer at Joy Street Design in Oakland, Calif., relies on “recessed lighting on a dimmer, a chandelier with soft lightbulbs and wall sconces” for a softer shine. Mark Eckstrom votes for the old-timey romance of candlelight. Said the co-founder of Studio Eckström, in Omaha, Neb., “Every guest at your table should have faces aglow.”

2. Tasteless Walls

Think of a dining room’s walls as a platter on which dinner is served. Sterile white dishes with a hospital vibe often don’t flatter food. Nor do chaotically patterned ones. Similarly, when it comes to walls, some color can help, but Mr. Eckstrom returns to the effect décor has on complexions: “Sorry, but nobody looks good in a yellow or chartreuse room.” And Brian del Toro, a New York City interior designer, warns against surfaces with “overly active patterns, colours which are too bright or distracting, and combinations of the two, which aren’t soothing.”

Instead: Save the pattern-on-pattern alchemy for the powder room, and pursue colors like terracotta, rose and aubergine that Mr. Eckstrom says “stimulate appetite and reflect well on guests’ skin.” But know that naked walls don’t make people feel comfortable and sociable either. “Every seat should have a view—a window, art, sculpture, wallpaper, mirror, flowers,” he said.

3. Prissiness

You won’t feel inspired to plop down at your dining table for a casual brunch if it’s surrounded by austere crystal chandeliers and dusty mahogany sideboards. Mr. del Toro finds that most dining rooms skew too formal, dark and “limited,” appealing only for an evening dinner.

Instead: “Most of us lead relatively informal lives,” said Mr. del Toro, who likes dining rooms casual enough for sipping a smoothie or morning latte. Chris Goddard, an interior designer in Springdale, Ark., said he’s partial to installing weathered wood tables that, while inherently chillaxed, can be “dressed to the nines for a festive dinner.”

4. Sound-Bouncing Surfaces

When you ponder your dining room’s décor, remember that happy repasts aren’t silent. Poor acoustics can turn animated chatting into cacophony, said Olle Lundberg, a San Francisco designer. “Hard surfaces like stone flooring, plaster walls and large windows all bounce the sound back into the space, creating reverberation,” warned Mr. Lundberg.

Instead: For a more discussion-friendly space, Mr. Eckstrom prescribes a blend of softer materials like drapery, carpet, tapestries or a tablecloth “that help absorb echoes and promote conversation.” Mr. Lundberg goes further, endorsing the idea of covering walls with fabric or draping it from the ceiling. Many textiles come in “large formats and can often be installed seamlessly,” he said.

5. Failures of Scale

In a dining room, ill-fitting furniture is more than an eyesore—it can result in stubbed toes and dry-cleaning bills. “If you’ve placed a giant table in a small room,” said Ms. Jory, “your guests will invariably be wearing the soup as you squeeze behind them with the gazpacho.”

Even the size of a carpet can throw a wrench in the roast. “Rugs that are too small pinch the overall vignette,” said Jessica Lynn Williams, founder of Hendley & Co, in Newburgh, N.Y., who adds you should never force your guests to scooch their chairs awkwardly over the edge of a too-tiny rug.

Instead: An occupied chair should ideally have 3 feet of space behind it for proper circulation and flow, said Meg Lavalette, founder of Lava Interiors in New York City. And carpets should accommodate sliding chairs—without giving them any lip. Laura W. Jenkins, an interior designer in Atlanta, says that when it comes to light fixtures and rugs, she prefers to err on the side of a little too big.


Designers recall meal-spoiling decorating gaffes

“Once I saw a light fixture that hung so low and so close to the edges of the table that even the older kids in that family complained about bonking their heads against it!” —Noz Nozawa, interior designer, San Francisco

“I tried to convince [a client that] even though red was his favourite colour, it wasn’t a great choice for a dining space and that we could bring it in through other avenues—décor, rugs, wallpaper. We ended up not taking him on because he couldn’t get past the red for the dining room, but it was so bad.” —Shaolin Low, interior designer, Honolulu

“I was once seated in a dining room with a table that was too small. The chairs were covered in Fortuny, but not even the chicest choice of fabric could keep my knees from bumping against the person who was sitting next to me.” —Michelle Nussbaumer, interior designer, Dallas


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At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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