A Break from Tradition – From Traditional to Transitional in five Easy Moves – Part 2

By Marni Jameson  

I’m on the phone with Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design for The Home Depot, one of the best jobs ever. She literally gets paid to travel the world and go furniture shopping. Where did I go wrong?

As we chat, I email her half a dozen photos of my home. The aim is to ultimately get her opinion on how to update my dining room, which is stuck in a time warp, an era of big sideburns and wide lapels.

“The rest of the house is transitional,” I say, using the industry buzzword for a style that bridges old and new, or traditional and contemporary. “Then you get to the dining room, and EEEEEEEKK!” (I make the sound of screeching breaks.) “It doesn’t flow,” as if she can’t see that for herself.

As we speak, she clicks through my pictures.

“This is proof that in design there really are no rules you can break,” she says.

I try to decide if that’s an insult.

“I’m updated traditional, too,” she says, recovering quickly. “I love that you have old pieces mixed with new. It shows a lot of personality, the story of your life.”

Oh Lord. If she only knew! I have issued a gag order on my furnishings. They are not allowed to tell any stories about my life.

Suddenly she’s quiet. I can tell she’s hit the dining room photos and is fishing for something diplomatic to say.

I give her an out. “See, when DC and I got married and combined our households a little over a year ago, and moved into the happy yellow house, our lives fell into place, but our furniture not so much,” I say. “We’ve been updating the other rooms, but the dining room hasn’t changed since the day we moved in. It needs a refresh.”

Transitional decor, also called updated traditional, is an increasingly popular design style because when done right, you can hold onto your classic traditional furniture and fill in with more contemporary items. In other words, you don’t have to start from scratch. Overall, the look is cleaner and less fussy, but not stark. And it’s just what my dining room needed.

“The room leans European, and has a French country feel, with traditional lines,” says Fishburne, sizing it up. “The bones are good, but…”

I spare her from going there, and say, “I’m hoping I can update it and make it look more connected to the rest of the house by just changing the accessories, without, errr, buying new furniture,” I add to be clear. I hope she doesn’t think I’m just being cheap, which I am.

“You absolutely can,” she reassures me.

I breathe audibly.

She tells me about her own dining room, where the Drexel Heritage walnut dining room table that belonged to her grandparents sits on a modern rug.

Then together we deconstruct my dining room. We agree, we need to make several moves.

“The mistake people make when inserting something modern in a traditional space is they don’t go far enough,” she says. “One contemporary piece in a traditional room looks like a misstep. Three to five, and the style shift feels intentional.”

Here’s how Fishburne and I rejuvenated my dated dining room in five easy moves — without changing the furniture:

  1. New wall color. By repainting the buttercream walls Sherwin-Williams Bunglehouse Blue. I tapped a current color trend and tied the room to the rest of the house, which incorporates shades of deep blue as a color thread. Using deep colors on dining room walls makes the space feel more intimate. ($350, including materials and labor)
  2. A new rug. Fishburne approved a transitional wool rug I found that was a welcome change from its boring, beige predecessor. Transitional rugs often incorporate a fresh take on an old pattern by enlarging the scale, eliminating elaborate borders (so the pattern looks less structured), and replacing dated colors, like gold and burgundy, with current ones, like terracotta and peacock. “This rug is a great example of all that,” she said. ($578)
  3. Modern mirrors. Because the dining room is small, I had hung round mirrors, rather than artwork, on either side of the window. The reflective surface made the room look more spacious, and the round shape offset the room’s many rectangles. Fishburne liked the idea of round mirrors, but not these, which had ornate carved gold frames. The new mirrors feature chunky prism-sculpted contemporary frames finished in champagne gold. ($399)
  4. Edited accessories. While we kept the open French country china hutch, at Fishburne’s suggestion, I thinned and rearranged the visible china and crystal, so they looked more organized — everything of a kind together, not spread out, with no pieces overlapping. “That will help contemporize the space,” she said. I also replaced the loose dried floral arrangement and antique tray on top of the cabinet, with a modern blue plate on a stand, and tall vase of blown cerulean-colored glass. ($0)
  5. New light fixture. I’d long wanted to replace the Mediterranean-style oil-rubbed bronze light fixture, but didn’t know with what. The original fixture matched those in the rest of the house, so I felt constrained. While matching is always safe, Fishburne gave me permission to mix metals. Injecting a champagne gold chandelier with clean, modern lines lifted the room from its rut. “So often, this one change, which is easy and not hugely expensive, can make the most significant difference.” ($429)


When all the changes were in place, I sent Fishburne a photo. “Yes!” She wrote back. “This is proof positive that you can make a few updates, compliment the pieces staying in the room, and refresh it while pumping in new light.”

Which is just what I had in mind.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.