Dining room decorating ideas for Kami — 5 design tips to pull her room together

KamisHutch-retro design dilemmaReader Kami loves the built in 1970’s hutch in her dining room because of its charming details and storage capacity — however, the hutch isn’t jiving with the rest of the room and is in need of refinishing. Kami likes the eclectic mix of 1930s -1970s furniture that came with their house, but isn’t sure how to make all of it work together in this room while also trying to achieve a “cottage feel.”


Kami writes:

Hello Pam!

I came across your site by randomly clicking through blogs that discuss renovating and styling post-WWII houses. When I arrived at your site, I found a wonderful source for information and inspiration!

retro-built-in-hutch-yellow-glassHere is my story:

My husband and I are teachers and we just purchased our first home. It’s a post WWII cottage that was maintained by the original owners until they passed away. When we bought the house from the owner’s children, we were sure that we wanted to keep the integrity, charm and style of the house. As an added perk, the children threw in nearly all of the 1940s – 1970s furniture. That brings us to the design dilemma.

Included in these bonus pieces is a really cool built-in hutch/buffet. It’s at least nine feet long and has these really cool yellow/green plastic panels. I really like it’s functionality and form. The top of it is brown woodgrain laminate, which is super helpful when you are using the buffet to serve food because once the guests have left, it’s a simple spray and wipe cleanup with no lasting damage to the piece. The only problem is that it is painted with a faux wood grained pattern that is peeling, and has blotches of different paints all over it. The laminate is starting to peel off as well. I don’t mind that it’s brown but that particular shade looks kind of wacky with the super cool table that we received with the house. The table and chairs are in the Hepplewhite style and they are a rich mahogany brown. The walls in the room are a blue grey color, which accents the paintings and the peacock blue curtains.

vintage-hutch-with-yellow-glassI’m leaning on painting the hutch, but I have no idea what color I should choose. The panels are yellow green, the table is mahogany, the paintings are blue, the walls are grey and the wood floors are red oak. I really want to try to keep the room in the 1940s-1950s design aesthetic, but leaning towards a cottage style. If you all have any tips, I’d be really grateful.


P.S. We haven’t added the molding to the room yet, because it is being repaired. It will be painted white when it’s done, though.


Repeat the colors and shapes already in the room

Kami — that’s a tall order. Blending so many styles can be tricky. One trick to use when making an eclectic grouping of decor look less chaotic and more intentional is repetition of colors and shapes.

cottage dining-room-redo-retro-hutch

I know the obvious thought for the built-in might be to paint it white, but before you decide to pull the trigger on the white paint, consider trying to repeat the color of your wood dining table — the deep mahogany — on the built-in.

Rustoleum makes a product called cabinet transformations that Pam has mentioned several times here on the blog before. They have an extensive range of colors available — surely one would match your table — and the cabinet transformations system can be used over laminate. I think making the built-in cabinet match the dining set would help unify the room and balance the darkness of the wood around the room.

Adding a large rug under the table — like this one from Albert & Dash — would help make the space look more finished and add a medium color tone to the room — bridging the gap between light walls and dark wood. We chose this hooked rug style because you said you wanted to evoke a cottage design; you could also use a braided rug.If you are being very budget conscious — shop vintage and at estate sales… Pam says she sees rugs in both these styles — large vintage ones — very inexpensively priced where she lives at estate sales and thrift stores. In reality, the colors in your rug help set the colors for the entire room. Just make sure whatever colors you choose don’t clash with the mahogany — I would probably stick with blues, greens, yellows — which allow the reddish mahogany to stand out — instead of rugs that are predominately red or orange. The mahogany already has a warm red tone — adding too much more red to the room could make it feel too intense.

The pattern in the rug also evokes of the shapes in the yellow plastic panes of the hutch in addition to the decorative grooves on the lower doors and even the shapes of the chairs in the dining set. The cottage blue color we chose of the rug complements the artwork. Painting the small piece of wall between the upper and lower parts of the cabinet the same  cottage blue color as the rug would help carry the color around the room as well as provide a high contrast backdrop for the lovely white dishes that Kami has displayed on the hutch — really allowing them to pop.

Instead of keeping the walls light grey, I suggest painting them a pale lemony yellow to echo the yellow plastic door inserts in the hutch and the gold accents around the room. The yellow also brightens up the room, helping to achieve a lighter and more airy cottage feel. Once the white moulding is installed, it will feel much more crisp. To finish off the room — especially if you want to reinforce the cottage feel — you could swap out the peacock blue curtains for fresh and airy looking white curtains. However, the peacock blue curtains would still work with this color scheme if you end up liking the more formal look.

It is possible to successfully blend varying styles and decades together in one room — through the repetition of color and shape — like I’ve done above. Repeating the same colors (mahogany wood tone, white, yellow and cottage blue) evenly throughout the room helps make the room feel cohesive, while the repetition of similar geometric shapes (rug pattern, chair back, hutch doors — even the mirror) adds interest and further unity to the room’s design.

What do you think readers?
What would you suggest to help Kami unify her dining room?

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Categoriesdining room
  1. ChrisH says:

    But if it’s tweaked it’s no longer a ’70s hutch. Personally I have no problem putting most ’70s stuff in the dumpster. But I understand there are people who really groove on the ’70s aesthetic. If Kami just wants a white buffet/hutch then she could probably sell the one she has, buy a replacement and have money left over.

    The hutch isn’t what I’d want, but I recognize it’s essential ’70s-ness. Someone out there wants it, just the way it is, and is willing to pay well for it.

  2. Kami says:

    I’m not dismayed at all. I’m actually surprised at the strong differences of opinion. I do understand that all of you are genuinely trying to help me and I’m really grateful for everyone taking the time to do so. What’s great about these suggestions is that it inspires me to come up with a plan that works best for the space based on what’s important to me, and what I feel I can part with. At the end of the day, I have to be pleased with the solution, and I’m glad to have so many voices to give counsel.

  3. Kami says:

    This particular hutch is built into the wall/plaster with huge six penny nails. Taking it out of the wall would not only destroy the hutch, but it would surely ruin the wall. I would have to replaster the wall, paint it, etc.
    I’d like to keep it because I do recognize that it is fairly unique, but it’s been painted already. That’s why it has so many paint splotches. The original family must have been experimenting with faux wood graining because it’s in abudance throughout the house in unexpected places.

  4. Jay says:

    Pam, Im laughing but in my case, it’s not Granma’s house it’s more like Mom & Dad’s house. The formal table and chairs are apropriate for the house style. The hutch is not an original feature to when the house was built. But it’s there and if Kami likes it that’s what counts. What a shame the room does not have built in corner cabinets w/glass doors. That would really spell “cottage”

  5. ChrisH says:

    I see. That’s puts things in a different light. If they’ve already experimented with wood graining then maybe continue along that line matching the table.

  6. jay says:

    Well if you removed it you could always cover the wall in Pam’s knotty pine – stained or painted. Would look nice with the dining set.

  7. pam kueber says:

    Just to be clear: This story was written by Kate. She’s the one who came up with the idea to paint the hutch to match the table. As with virtually all decorating questions — there is not one “right” answer. I might not have recommended what Kate did — but I thought it was a totally valid idea — I liked it! It’s great to hear others’ ideas, too!

  8. Annie B. says:


    Remove, or push in, leaves of the table so that you can use two chairs at either side and one chair at each end. Might look less formal and a little cozier.

    Don’t throw me out of the family for suggesting this, but paint the walls in an old fashioned “harvest” or “Williamsburg” gold color with white ceiling and trim. Harvest gold is both ’70’s and 18th. century at once. Gold goes with the glass in the hutch, too.

    Cover the chair seats in a print with a touch of gold and match your window treatments to it.

    Move the books to another location and keep your milk glass collection – add more, if you have it.

  9. lynda says:

    And….I think Annie B’s suggestion is good too. I also agree with Bungalow Bill about the Irish or French Country look. I think German when I look at it too. You will have so many choices!

  10. Diana D. says:

    I think Annie B.’s suggestion of a gold-ish color to coordinate the color of the table with the green color of the plastic panel is a good one. I have used this palette myself, the gold/tan color I used on the wall is Benjamin Moore 247 Consentino Chardonnay.

    Since the hutch has already been faux finished and it is chipping, I would refinish it per Bungalow Bill’s suggestion with distressing, probably an antique white base. So there is now a cabinet that can look more dutch colonial and blend with the table. Next, I would place the laminate counter with butcher block that has been stained to match the hue of the table.

    Back to Annie’s suggestions for the white ceiling and trim….

    I would tackle the light fixture at the end when you see what you like about the changes you have made and decide what should be done to further enhance the look you are going for.

  11. Genevieve says:

    A cottage blue/ milkpaint blue/ colonial blue/ country blue would bridge the decades, being popular through all the decades you are covering. You can use eye hooks and dowel rods on the top and bottom to run a fabric panel in a nice small pattern to match. A color will actually make the hutch seem smaller. If you paint it white or match it to the wall, it will be visually unbalanced unless you also have a lot of heavy white mouldings and trims and other white furniture to counterweight it. As it is, you have a mahogany table that is a strong brown piece of one era and a the strong brown piece of another era, and they compete with each other. It’s like they are trying to match, but they don’t. A color will let the two pieces balance/offset each other. It’s like old movies, you don’t have two red heads or two blonds or two brunette actresses in the same scene, and often not in the same movie. Then it only takes smaller bits of color here and there to balance one side of the room with the others. It takes a lot of white to do the same thing, which is hard if you don’t have the space. Also, 70’s Mediterranean isn’t necessarily that far removed from Old English/Medieval styles, popular in waves from 1880’s? up until the very early 50’s. It could work if you are very eclectic about other accessories in the room. I would be very deliberate about mixing it up, so that it isn’t all one era and then the hutch, or a butch of unrelated things whitewashed into one style. Whitewashing can work for the right collection of things, but personally, give me color any day of the week.

  12. lynda says:

    Do a “Google Image” search for– built in country blue hutch– Plenty of pictures will come up to help you “see” your hutch in a new way. The more I look at the hutch the more I like it, even if you don’t paint it. In the image searches, really liked the picture of the blue hutch with a dark wood top and I liked the fabric on the wall of one hutch. It looked like they made it a bulletin board. Maybe they put up cork before they put up the fabric.

  13. Kelley says:

    Hi Kami,

    I really admire your enthusiasm for working with what was already in the house!

    The hutch does look wonderfully functional. However, I think it looks very out of scale in the space. I actually had to scroll back up to see exactly what your dining room table and chairs looked like when you mentioned that you loved them, because the hutch really dominates the room visually. I think that its height is a bit awkward, too – it gets so close to the ceiling, but doesn’t quite reach it.

    To remedy this I would add trim to the top of the hutch to bring it all the way up to the ceiling and paint the whole piece out the same color as the walls. I’d take out the plastic panels, too, and replace them with a clear material – again, I think they are putting attention where you don’t necessarily want it. These changes would really reduce the visual weight of the hutch and enhance its built-in look. This also would put the focus on the table you love and make the room seem much larger.

    I was unclear whether you chose the wall color. You do mention that you like it and I agree that the blueish gray seems to go well with the painting, the curtains, and the dark wood tone of the table and chairs. If you needed to repaint to keep a similar color, the way it is showing on my screen I think Gray Owl by Benjamin Moore might be a good choice – it’s a sophisticated, light gray with blue undertones.

    I also agree with Kate’s idea to bring in a rug that repeats and reinforces the other colors present in the artwork and curtains.

    Best of luck with your new home!

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