Dear Debbie: My partner and I have just moved in together, and we are having a debate over how to mix our tastes in decorating. He likes the traditional look with lots of wood, and I prefer a more modern design. I'd like a glass-top dining table; he's not so good with that. Is there any way to blend the two so we can both be happy with the outcome? - Melanie
Dear Melanie: Your dilemma is a common one; it's not always easy to combine two homes or to blend two design aesthetics. But today's trend is to do just that. The modern classic look is the perfect solution. With a little compromising on both sides, I'm sure you'll both be delighted with the outcome. You have many surfaces to cover -- walls, floors and windows. Walls can be repainted easily, so experiment with color. There's furniture and dishes, lighting and table accessories. You might be surprised by how well your pieces can fit together.
I would begin with the walls; build a traditional background by adding wood panels. It's not necessary to go to the expense of real wood. You will find wainscoting and molding at your lumber store, and it's not difficult to apply this detail around the lower walls of the room. Crown molding, deep baseboards and wood panels are classic details that will transform the space. You could paint the wainscoting to replicate the look of real wood, but for a more contemporary look, pick paint colors that are fresh. A combination of white walls and gray paneling is a good choice.
Hardwood floors are ageless and a traditional favorite. There is plenty of variety in laminates, which are available in a full range of colors, including the glossy patina of fine wood. A laminate floor is less costly and convenient to install, as they come stained and sealed. A patterned carpet is a natural accessory to add some texture and color to an otherwise simple decor.
Now it's your turn. Go for that glass-top table, or check out the newest in mirrored pieces. It will be the focal point of the room, and surround it with upholstered chairs that have a more formal design. Dining-room furniture no longer needs to match. Mixing styles makes an imaginative setting. This freedom goes for dishes and serving platters too - be adventurous and mix family heirloom china with everyday crockery, fancy patterns with solid colors. Look for interesting pieces for the table center: oversized candy jars or identical rectangular glass vases filled with pebbles, colored stones or marbles, a row of single flower blossoms, even a pretty photograph that suits the mood.
Full-length draperies suit a formal dining room; they add a sumptuous layer of color. Hang sheers and drapery panels simply from a decorative rod. Swags and pelmets are too Victorian to suit this classic modern style.
Look for lighting that swings both ways; install tiny spots positioned to brighten the room when you are serving, and a chandelier or modern pendant light over the table.
Buy a few new items together that you both love, such as a set of wine glasses or a piece of art. Invite your favorite friends to dinner, and celebrate your enchanting new dining room with lots of good food and laughter.