'Make it special': interior designer Melanie Hay reveals her rules for giving a dining room a glow up

The Toronto-based designer knows a thing or two about mixing high and low

Dining rooms
(Image credit: Melanie Hay Design)

Recently, Melanie Hay's clients have been keen on revamping their formal dining rooms to achieve a more functional and usable environment at home. 

Since dining rooms don't typically get used as often as other areas in the home, Melanie suggests making a splash in this space and not hesitating on adding a little drama. 

Here, she shares how she goes about it.

1. Make it special

Dark wooden table and floor, white cabinets

(Image credit: Melanie Hay Design)

'When designing a dining room, MAKE IT SPECIAL. Dining rooms don't usually get used every day, and are generally a space reserved for special gatherings and celebrations. Why not make this space just a little bit special and dramatic?' says Melanie, Principal at Melanie Hay Design.

2. Save 'sensible' for the kitchen

White dining chairs and round table, white lamp

(Image credit: Melanie Hay Design)

'For core everyday spaces that you spend A LOT of time in, like the kitchen, family room, living room etc, I generally suggest being more conservative in selections to make sure that you don't tire of it over time. 

'However, I think there's a bit more room for whimsy and drama in a dining room space. I always think about how I want a space to make me feel, and the dining room is a place for conversation, good times, celebration, and coming together over good food and wine with family and friends, so I think this room can handle more dynamic visual elements.'

3. Add in a statement piece

Grey and white spotted chairs, white table top and gold table legs

(Image credit: Melanie Hay Design)

'Dining room lighting is vital. I recommend adding in a statement piece such as a gorgeous chandelier. Its large scale can create both drama and just a touch of glam without going overboard. I'm not usually a fan of really shiny, glitzy items but a dining room statement fixture like this can ride the line between glam and elegance perfectly.'

4. Think: low level lighting

Black wooden chairs, white and black cushions

(Image credit: Melanie Hay Design)

'Wall sconces are another great touch for a dining room upgrade – they can be gorgeous and sculptural. They also add a really cozy wash of light to the walls in the evening, further playing into the sense of drama and ambiance that you want while entertaining.'

5. Add pattern with window dressings

Grey dining chairs, wooden dining table

(Image credit: Melanie Hay Design)

'Roman blinds are a great choice for a dining space! Adding playful patterns here is a good idea! Repeating shapes and visual elements reinforces the visual theme and keeps things cohesive.'

6. Make sure chairs are comfortable for lingering

Black dining chairs and light, marble top table

(Image credit: Melanie Hay Design)

'Furniture selections are key in a dining room space and they always need to be highly functional and durable in addition to visually pleasing. For example, choosing fully upholstered high back chairs that ensure comfort for long nights around the table is a great idea – there's nothing worse than an uncomfortable chair (even though they are often beautiful!). 

'You also needed to consider durability. Think of upholstering the seat and inside backs of each chair in a vinyl, which is wipeable and less susceptible to spills and stains.'

7. Keep tablescaping subtle

Grey cabinets and seat cushions, wooden chairs

(Image credit: Melanie Hay Design)

'Don't go overboard with your tabletop accessories! Fresh florals, a lovely vase and some tableware or candles will do the trick. These can easily be swapped out for every season or hidden away when the formal dining room is not in use.'

Lola Houlton
News writer

Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past six years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including practical household advice, recipe articles, and product reviews, working closely with experts in their fields to cover everything from heating to home organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.