Winter has not left the building! Despite what you read in magazines or hear on TV- the snowdrops may well be poking through the ground but they resemble little groups of sullen teenagers that have been dragged out of bed too early – the birds may be tweeting but don’t be fooled because lets be honest, its freezing out there!
In fact, it’s the perfect excuse to relax and enjoy a few more cosy evenings with rustic warming dinners and the satisfying ritual of lighting a crackling log fire or some candles to set the mood.
Our dining room is my favorite room in the house. It’s the only one we’ve managed to renovate since moving in and I love it. It’s theatrical, darkly romantic, a little quirky and the perfect backdrop for twinkly candlelit meals. In summer we tend to barbecue outside (we have at least three tepid days in the year in Scotland!) so I grab any excuse to use this room for autumn and winter entertaining; Halloween suppers, Christmas dinner, a Burns night feast and of course Valentine’s eve.
We didn’t actually plan to renovate this room so soon, the previous owner had really taken care of it and it was homely with some lovely assets like a ‘double aspect’ window (to use the posh term) and gorgeous deep green tiles in the fireplace.
It was a lovely space but it didn’t reflect our personalities which I think is so important and you know how it goes, you casually pick at a tiny corner of wallpaper, start pulling, get a little too excited when a whole strip comes off in one go and before you know it you’re an unstoppable frenzied blur. Suddenly you stand back realising that the whole room looks like a dilapidated squat and there’s no going back – you’re committed.
This is how it happened and before I knew it every evening and weekend I was on a mission stripping walls and sanding the floor etc. I knew I wanted to experiment with a dark colour scheme to play on the fact the room doesn’t get much light (it faces northwest). I was also looking for an excuse to try out the deep inky colours from the paint collection by Abigail Ahern. It’s a small range but each colour has a rich velvety feel due to high pigment in the paint and immediately starts a dramatic moody relationship with any light source when it hits the wall.
I opted for the glamorous ‘Hudson Black’. It’s a deep sooty black with tones of grey and brown to bring warmth and depth. I used this (in appropriate finishes) to paint out the ceiling, cornicing, walls, woodwork and fireplace. Every artist knows that cool colours recede but I swear the room doubled in size! It was like looking into a pitch-dark night and losing all sense of distance. I stained the floor by mixing two water based high pigment stains by Manns , I used Jacobean and Black to give an almost black finish with some warm undertones and finished with a satin hardwearing floor varnish.
I had contemplated a mural for one wall of the dining room – a focal point for dinner parties and for the other walls I had a vision of black painted wood panelling but Christmas was rushing towards us as it does and the Hudson Black on the walls was so transforming that none of these other enhancements seemed necessary. Instead I hung our giant mirror opposite the dining table and the drama was instant!
We have a particularly fabulous antler light that was before its time when we bought it and I still love its sheer scale and the chunkiness of the antlers -we hung this low over the table for a little drama (and maybe to discourage dinner guests from getting too rowdy ). The furniture came from our last house and luckily fitted perfectly, we had a walnut table made for us by a local carpenter a few years ago and got our immense Danish sideboard on ebay. We’re also lucky that Roddy’s mum is a whizz on the sewing machine and made up these sumptuous curtains with thick lining and dark, pewter-green silk weave fabric.
For a touch of romantic boho glam, we later hung the magical black Madras lace panels (which we now sell in the store) and they create the most amazing animated shadows in the room during the day.
Our biggest investment (and Christmas gift to ourselves) was a thoroughly gorgeous vintage Beni Ouarain rug which we put under the dining table and chairs. It’s so lovely to kick off your shoes and feel its thick pile under your feet, it gives a homeliness to the room and prevents it from being too formal. The pièce de résistance however, is my little ‘ bar cart’. I found it in the street near our previous home – it was an old brown wood card playing trolley with peeling varnish and mouldy ripped green felt on the top. I gave it some TLC sanding it down (this was made quicker with a sanding ‘mouse’!), painting it black, oiling the wheels and gold leafing the removable tray. It’s now the slick little star of the show!
There are always things you don’t factor in of course like the radiators that I thought I could just paint but they had years of paint peeling off and had to be removed, sandblasted and powder coated. I had to search for brass fittings to fit the old pipe size and replace the ugly white plastic ones and we changed all the sockets to black to make them disappear. By arranging key artworks, small objects of interest and adding some leafy planting the room has ambience and intrigue . It took a lot of elbow grease and in some ways is still a work in progress as we add artworks and small details but it was worth all the effort and we have an incredible dining space without it having cost us a fortune.
I can highly recommend moving to the dark side for at least one of your rooms – it has an utterly enchanting effect (although very tricky to photograph !) I regret not documenting each step at the time- it was all done under pressure- but the plan is to do possibly the kitchen or living room next so I will have my camera at the ready to share the process with you. If you’ve already decided to make the move then send me your pics of ‘before’ and ‘afters’ and any tips or trick you have.
Having said all that, this winter I haven’t done so well with the dinner events partly due to crazy hours getting our little store launched and the immense amount of work that comes with that so I’m determined to extend the season and enjoy it before spring arrives –this past Sunday’s Valentine’s eve was the perfect excuse and hang on a minute, its my birthday today….