Room Reveal: Formal Living and Dining

When we were searching for a house, having a formal living and dining room was not on my must-have list. As long as we had one good living area and one good dining area, I was happy. However, the house we chose ended up having these extra rooms, and these rooms were the first rooms I decorated with a plan. Because I was starting from scratch, I wanted to get it right. It needed to be functional, comfortable, economical, and pleasing to the eye. After all, it is the first impression when entering the house.

Finding Inspiration

I looked through books, magazines, and Pinterest to get ideas. I started a board of images that caught my eye.

A reoccurring theme I kept coming across was white furniture against a blue background. I also noticed that subtle color felt soothing to me. White walls with many bright, primary colors was a pattern of what I didn’t like. I knew to stay away from those colors. I found inspiration for my color scheme in a picture of recommended cosmetics in a magazine. It supported the feeling I wanted to evoke.

When I considered the functionality and purpose of the room, I realized that just because it’s called a formal room, doesn’t mean it has to be a formal room. I also discovered that one of the patterns I noticed that made me happy was a bit of quirky, tongue-in-cheek. The style I decided to go with was “quirky, poking fun of formality.”

I wanted to maximize seating without making the area feel cramped. After I did an aerial scaled drawing, I realized I would not have enough room to add much more furniture than a table and chairs. Luckily, the table and chairs I was looking at fit perfectly in the space and can extend to fit up to 12 people.

When Things Don’t Go According to Plan

As it goes in life, so goes in decorating. Having a plan and a vision can provide focus and inspiration, but sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned. This room is not an exception.

I had wanted a beautiful greenish blue accent wall. I pored and pored over paint samples to find “the perfect color.” I even had them color match the clipped magazine page for my inspiration. Finally, I narrowed it down to three blue-green colors and painted them on sample board sheets. I finally picked one and ordered the paint. Assured I had found the perfect paint color, I painted. It sure looked a lot brighter on the wall than I imagined, but I was certain if I just kept painting it would look better. After all, I had spent hours deliberating over the perfect color.

After the paint dried, I put all the accessories on the wall and stood back waiting to be amazed. It hit me like a 10-gallon jug in the pit of my stomach. This was not the soft whispy blue-green in the magazine. This was full-on cotton-candy-Pee-Wee-Hermon BLUE. It didn’t look anything like a tongue-in-cheek smirk. It looked like Pee Wee’s Playhouse!* No, I could not have that as the first impression when people walk into our home.

Thinking about what went wrong, I realized it was just too bright—I’ll tone it down. Back to the paint store I returned  to get them to do a toned-down version. Paint went back up on the wall and once again, I was disappointed. It was better, but it looked like Pee Wee could return at any moment.

I took some time to think and decided to give up on the perfect blue-green. Instead, I began looking at grays. I took my decorated items and color scheme to talk to a color expert at Benjamin Moore. The lady there gave me some grays to look at—one with a blue undertone. I put samples on the wall and we decided to go with the gray with the blue undertones—Stonington Gray. Third time is a charm!

I learned that our eyes pick up on even subtle changes in color so if you’re looking for a subtle color and you’re painting a large area, a gray with an undertone just might work! Also, if you’re doing an accent wall, keep in mind the tricks the neighboring walls can do with your eyes!

Anyway, here are the before and after shots of the “formal” living and dining:


No, I did not try to make it look ugly on purpose. Believe it or not, this was the best picture I could find of the room before I began.



I fell in love with paper mache animal heads awhile back. Originally I wanted a hippo head, but they were all sold out. I love the impala head! I think it adds more drama than the hippo head would have anyway.

Inside some of the frames, I added old photos of family members. Some of those include my dad blowing out birthday candles, my mom and her horse, and even my great-great grandfather, who was a travelling pastor.

Some may think I’m crazy for having white dining chairs, but the slipcovers are machine washable! And if for some reason a stain doesn’t come out, a replacement is a whopping $9.


I thought this little felt gnome was too cute and a nice way to incorporate some turquoise.

One day I found a giant tree branch in my parents’ yard, and I liked how the last leaves from fall were still attached to the branches. I took it home with me to see if I could use it in my decorating. I stuck the branch in an old butter churn that my mom had in her dining room when I was young and put it in the corner of my dining room along with artwork I made from scrapbook paper (based on an Ikea design).  

Behind the Scenes

Here’s what it looked like when I played with furniture placement for the living room using the Kraft Paper method:

Kraft Paper Method in Action

Here’s an example of what one of the scaled drawings of the wall looked like in process:

Scaled Drawing in Action

Here’s a picture of the dining room in progress while working on the living area:

In-Process Stage

After three paint colors, hours of deliberation, and multiple rearrangements on paper, I’m happy with how these rooms make me feel. Even though the wall is not the perfect blue-green color that I was going for, the gray still perfectly supports the feel that I wanted!

And we stayed in budget. The total cost of furnishing the formal dining and living room came right at $3,000, including tax.

That includes:

  • Sofa with slipcover
  • 3 side chairs
  • Dining table and 6 chairs with slipcovers
  • Coffee table
  • 2 new side tables and refinishing an old one
  • All artwork and frames on walls, including Impala head
  • All accessories
  • 6 pillows (made them ourselves)
  • New ottoman and recovered cube ottoman
  • Curtains and curtain rods
  • Lamp
  • Paint (3 times)

Have you had difficulty picking a paint color? What tricks have you learned when it comes to paint color? 

Side Note
* Not that there’s anything wrong with Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I enjoyed watching the show as a kid. I just didn’t want my house to resemble it. If that’s the look you’re going for, more power to you!

5 thoughts on “Room Reveal: Formal Living and Dining

  1. Elvie Hortman says:

    I have just reread for the second time your “Room Reveal”. Granddaughter, Anna, was so impressed with your blog and your living room. I was amused with your painting and re painting because I, too, have done the same thing. Thanks.


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