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Shift focal point to small dining area Dimmers, screens and curtains help


Q: We moved into my husband's apartment in the city, and I rented out my big suburban house after we were married last fall. Since he works in town and my children are all grown, it seems logical, but I'm really missing all that space, especially a real dining room.

All we have now is a "bulge" at one end of the kitchen. Any help you can offer on how to make it more attractive would be appreciated. I guess what I really mean is "more formal."

A: Attitude is always more important than floor space when it comes to creating a mood in any room. If you choose more formal furnishings, it follows that the end result will have the ambience you're after, no matter how "miniaturized."

However, since your dining room is just a "bulge" off the kitchen, there are other considerations, privacy and lighting chief among them. You can use the latter to help create a feeling of the former.

By installing dimmer switches to lower the kitchen lights, you can shift the focal point to the dining room and leave the "business end" of the room relatively in the dark.

A standing screen, a ficus tree or large plant, or even a portiere (door curtain) swagged from the ceiling across the dining room "entrance" will serve as a psychological divider, if not an actual wall, between areas.

Designer Katherine Stephens conquered a problem similar to yours when she decorated the kitchen of the Kips Bay Showhouse in New York, where the long gallery kitchen ran into a small area she turned into a French-flavored dining room.

The workaday kitchen (which doesn't show in this photograph) was fairly tailored and a bit formal itself, with Avonite counters and vintage cabinetry. Ms. Stephens then worked mega-magic in the minispace by treating it with an elegance far beyond its actual size.

First, she chose a traditional toile de Jouy for chairs and walls. The one-fabric look always enhances the illusion of space. Then she added another interesting dimension by upholstering one wall with flat fabric and hanging softly gathered curtains over another, over which she has hung a painting.

The mirror, too, wears a small, ribbon-hung painting that also helps fool the eye into seeing more room than really exists.

Q: While she was away on a business trip, I painted the bathroom to surprise my wife, who was always nagging me about it, but, boy, did I get a wrong number!

I thought she'd like a nice soft green. In fact, I was so clever I even took one of her favorite blouses to the paint store so I could match the color. What went wrong?

A: Wearing green and seeing yourself looking greenish first thing in the morning are horses of different colors, indeed. Especially in a small room like a bath -- and especially if you're using fluorescents -- the light will bounce the color off the walls all over you.

What you've just discovered is one of the major caprices of color, and one of the reasons smart women love pink tones. It gives a rosy glow, so everyone looks -- and feels -- "in the pink."

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the author of five books on interior design and a contributing writer to other publications in the field. Send questions to Inside Advice, Food & Home, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.

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