Lea’s Open Concept Pass-Through Dining Room Design Agony – SOLVED!
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Lea’s Open Concept Pass-Through Dining Room Design Agony – SOLVED!



Hey friends! It has been such a looooong time since I first started working on the dining room dilemma. It’s been so long in fact I thought I’d start by sharing my design agony here so you can catch up on all my struggles with this space. If you have a  good memory, you’ll remember our dining room is an open concept and a pass-through space from the living room (which had its own problems that Emily helped me solve, thank you Em!) to the kitchen. Here is the floor plan so you can visualize the space:

As you can see we don’t have a lot of space here to work with and only have two walls on either side. The wall with windows has piano windows installed, not because we have an upright piano but because we live in the city and houses are placed within an arm’s length of one another. Trust me, we love our neighbors. Remember this post? But….we also don’t want to stare into their windows through our windows, ya feel me? Awkward.

Sometimes projects, however well intended, create a snowball effect that maybe you or I didn’t foresee. That’s what happened to us in our dining room. I loved our original dining room design and I especially loved our antique corner cabinet (ahem, I mean I did haul that thing from house to house with us as we moved), and I also really loved the table (still do, it’s been moved to the basement as my work surface). But when I re-designed the living room, we LOVED the way it took shape and how it started to vibe and feel organic. Which is great, except our dining room didn’t have that same FEEL.

The Living Room Now:

Wall Sconce | Sideboard | Stump Table (similar) | Arm Chair | Rug | Coffee Table | Round Ceramic Tray (large) | Modern Bowl   

The Dining Room Before:

Both are very pretty and feel very us, but they didn’t flow together and complement each other, especially when they’re a mere two feet away from one another and in the same visual path.

For context with this project, this all began during the pandemic and just as the world started to open back up. So if we were going to tackle a dining room makeover, some of my must-haves were:

  • Cozy aesthetic
  • Cohesive with the living room 
  • Thoughtfully curated
  • Bespoke
  • Designed with intention
  • Functionality and flow

Before we get into the reveal, you should know a lot (and I mean a lot ) of planning went into this space – keeping in mind, that we didn’t make one structural change. It was actually quite a few readers and Instagram friends who suggested banquette seating under the piano windows. (I’m always listening, folks!). Sadly, that would mean I would lose the corner cabinet I’ve held onto for 15 years but after much debate, it was time to let her go. This time, instead of retiring her to our storage unit, she found a new life with a new family who was looking and looking for a piece like her to complete their space.

So now that the idea of a banquette was heavy on my mind and since I was still grieving the loss of parting with my beloved corner cabinet, I knew something equally special had to replace her. So I began sketching out my ideas of bench seating and landed on this:

Don’t judge my not-so-3-D attempt at drawing. Yes, this is what I turned over to my friends at Traditional Cabinetry. Andrew and Liz both came out to measure (because you can’t take my word on measurements) and talk through the project. They really listened and we had really good chemistry right away. If you’re ever commissioning a custom-built piece just be aware that 1) it’s expensive (and rightfully so) and 2) you really need to have a good communication plan and relationship with your trade partner so that a drawing like this can actually be delivered. 

Insert Megan (not thee Stallion) – who took my chicken scratch and turned it into an actual buildable rendering.

Then the magic happened:

I just have to over-share because the amount of work and attention to detail that actually goes into a custom piece is remarkable and the Traditional Cabinetry team deserves their flowers.

Finally, it was install day!

Our very own in-house Quality Assurance Tester (AKA my husband) tested it thoroughly. And it was so good I could’ve stopped here.

Table (similar) | Chairs | Vase (similar) | Candle     

However, while all of the hard work and heavy lifting was going on I was literally holding meetings with Calico Corners to partner on phase II of the bench – the upholstery. Then we landed on these fabrics to complete the bench:

Calico Corners Stripe Fabric | Calico Corners Green Velvet Fabric

The Calico Corners team stopped out to measure the bench in person and off to the workroom they went to create the perfect complement to the white oak bench while also keeping within my organic aesthetic.

I’ve worked with Calico Corners on 4 projects now and every time, they exceed my expectations.

Did you know velvet is a wonderful performance fabric? So easy to clean and remove pet hair. I see you Remi and Mister! Also, these soft-close drawers feel so buttery.

Clearly, you can see how much I’m over the moon with this whole bench. The table and chairs really helped bring in warmth and comfort as well as the legs on this table are just well…sexy.

Now it’s been such a long time coming so I am so thrilled to share the reveal!

Calico Corners Striped Fabric | Calico Corners Green Velvet | Dining Table (similar) | Chairs | Chandelier | Counter Stool

Since we’ve snowballed here, I made a very simple swap of lighting and stools in the kitchen to also carry the flow of the dining room through to the kitchen a little bit more because we are SO not ready to look at a kitchen remodel.

Pendant Lights | Counter Stools | White Fruit Bowl

And now that we are older, I VERY much appreciate a stool with a back and these are so comfy while contrasting a bit more than their predecessors against the all-white cabinetry.

Cabinets | Armchair

I know I shared a peek of them before in my build-up to this post but I have to share again how these cabinets balance out this space while also providing much-needed storage and display space because as a stylist well….let’s just say I have a lot of stuff 🙂

Visually, the weight of the cabinets works so well with the adjacent wall where the bench and windows are. It’s a narrow room so shifting the seating to the window wall really helped define the walkway. See those sexy table legs I’m talking about? Also, your eyes aren’t going crazy, the table has a slightly irregular shape as well which made me fall even harder for her. Thank you, High Fashion Home.

And although I wish I had moved this chair for photography, it really is this beautiful and comfortable.

Back to those beautiful cabinets that so many people swoon over on Instagram.

I do get a lot of questions about how I styled them but truly I filled them with the pieces that I love and since I am a very earthy color pallet lover, well, it all just meshes on its own. Sure, I play with heights and arrangements but keeping within the same muted color family makes life easier when you have this many shelves and glass doors. Play with textures, glass, pottery, wood, etc. If this speaks to you as it does to me, I also gravitate towards artisan handmade items for their organic shapes and irregularities. Most of the items here have been thrifted and if you do choose to thrift, understand patience and persistence are your best friends because it takes time. But anyone can do it so don’t be discouraged. If this is where you find design paralysis within your own home, you can help narrow down what you like by saving inspiration photos from magazines (yes, I still do that) or of course, Pinterest. Now just pay attention to the photos you save. Something about those images even if they’re not matching your exact vision caught your eye. Study the image to find what is it that your eye is drawn to. The color? Shadowing? Textures? Does it spark a feeling you long to feel? The shape or silhouette of an object can also be alluring to the eye. 

Stylist Tip: Vary heights and scale so that your eye dances around to look at everything but leave enough visual breathing room for your eyes to rest. AKA – don’t cram all of the things into a cabinet just because they physically fit.

Dinner Plates (similar) | Pasta Bowls (similar) | Ceramic Cups (similar)

Like anything, styling takes practice and everyone works through design dilemmas and paralysis. 

One tip I learned with open-concept floor plans is to design them in a way that all of the spaces feel like they’re in the same relationship even though some may have different personalities. You can achieve this through color, textures, pattern-play, etc. Did I check off every single one off the must-haves in the dining room? No. But it finally feels juuuuust right. I think it feels cohesive with the living room now and that was one of my end goals. I like that the two spaces don’t match but they do complement one another and tell the same story. I get it, open-concept floor plans are tough! But, that doesn’t mean they are impossible and if I can do it without any structural changes being made, so can anyone else. The biggest lesson I learned when designing our dining room? Design with intention and purpose and ask yourself those tough questions such as investment vs. expense. Do you truly love it or can you wait until you find that perfect vintage/antique piece? Long story short, taking a scalable design approach really allowed me to thoughtfully curate our home.

*Design by Lea Johnson
**Photos by Sage E Imagery

The post Lea’s Open Concept Pass-Through Dining Room Design Agony – SOLVED! appeared first on Emily Henderson.





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