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Lea’s Open Concept Pass-Through Dining Room Design Agony – SOLVED!

Hey friends! It has been such a looooong time since I first started working on the dining room dilemma. It’s been so long in fact I thought I’d start by sharing my design agony here so you can catch up on all my struggles with this space. If you have a  good memory, you’ll remember our dining room is an open concept and a pass-through space from the living room (which had its own problems that Emily helped me solve, thank you Em!) to the kitchen. Here is the floor plan so you can visualize the space:

As you can see we don’t have a lot of space here to work with and only have two walls on either side. The wall with windows has piano windows installed, not because we have an upright piano but because we live in the city and houses are placed within an arm’s length of one another. Trust me, we love our neighbors. Remember this post? But….we also don’t want to stare into their windows through our windows, ya feel me? Awkward.

Sometimes projects, however well intended, create a snowball effect that maybe you or I didn’t foresee. That’s what happened to us in our dining room. I loved our original dining room design and I especially loved our antique corner cabinet (ahem, I mean I did haul that thing from house to house with us as we moved), and I also really loved the table (still do, it’s been moved to the basement as my work surface). But when I re-designed the living room, we LOVED the way it took shape and how it started to vibe and feel organic. Which is great, except our dining room didn’t have that same FEEL.

The Living Room Now:

Wall Sconce | Sideboard | Stump Table (similar) | Arm Chair | Rug | Coffee Table | Round Ceramic Tray (large) | Modern Bowl   

The Dining Room Before:

Both are very pretty and feel very us, but they didn’t flow together and complement each other, especially when they’re a mere two feet away from one another and in the same visual path.

For context with this project, this all began during the pandemic and just as the world started to open back up. So if we were going to tackle a dining room makeover, some of my must-haves were:

  • Cozy aesthetic
  • Cohesive with the living room 
  • Thoughtfully curated
  • Bespoke
  • Designed with intention
  • Functionality and flow

Before we get into the reveal, you should know a lot (and I mean a lot ) of planning went into this space – keeping in mind, that we didn’t make one structural change. It was actually quite a few readers and Instagram friends who suggested banquette seating under the piano windows. (I’m always listening, folks!). Sadly, that would mean I would lose the corner cabinet I’ve held onto for 15 years but after much debate, it was time to let her go. This time, instead of retiring her to our storage unit, she found a new life with a new family who was looking and looking for a piece like her to complete their space.

So now that the idea of a banquette was heavy on my mind and since I was still grieving the loss of parting with my beloved corner cabinet, I knew something equally special had to replace her. So I began sketching out my ideas of bench seating and landed on this:

Don’t judge my not-so-3-D attempt at drawing. Yes, this is what I turned over to my friends at Traditional Cabinetry. Andrew and Liz both came out to measure (because you can’t take my word on measurements) and talk through the project. They really listened and we had really good chemistry right away. If you’re ever commissioning a custom-built piece just be aware that 1) it’s expensive (and rightfully so) and 2) you really need to have a good communication plan and relationship with your trade partner so that a drawing like this can actually be delivered. 

Insert Megan (not thee Stallion) – who took my chicken scratch and turned it into an actual buildable rendering.

Then the magic happened:

I just have to over-share because the amount of work and attention to detail that actually goes into a custom piece is remarkable and the Traditional Cabinetry team deserves their flowers.

Finally, it was install day!

Our very own in-house Quality Assurance Tester (AKA my husband) tested it thoroughly. And it was so good I could’ve stopped here.

Table (similar) | Chairs | Vase (similar) | Candle     

However, while all of the hard work and heavy lifting was going on I was literally holding meetings with Calico Corners to partner on phase II of the bench – the upholstery. Then we landed on these fabrics to complete the bench:

Calico Corners Stripe Fabric | Calico Corners Green Velvet Fabric

The Calico Corners team stopped out to measure the bench in person and off to the workroom they went to create the perfect complement to the white oak bench while also keeping within my organic aesthetic.

I’ve worked with Calico Corners on 4 projects now and every time, they exceed my expectations.

Did you know velvet is a wonderful performance fabric? So easy to clean and remove pet hair. I see you Remi and Mister! Also, these soft-close drawers feel so buttery.

Clearly, you can see how much I’m over the moon with this whole bench. The table and chairs really helped bring in warmth and comfort as well as the legs on this table are just well…sexy.

Now it’s been such a long time coming so I am so thrilled to share the reveal!

Calico Corners Striped Fabric | Calico Corners Green Velvet | Dining Table (similar) | Chairs | Chandelier | Counter Stool

Since we’ve snowballed here, I made a very simple swap of lighting and stools in the kitchen to also carry the flow of the dining room through to the kitchen a little bit more because we are SO not ready to look at a kitchen remodel.

Pendant Lights | Counter Stools | White Fruit Bowl

And now that we are older, I VERY much appreciate a stool with a back and these are so comfy while contrasting a bit more than their predecessors against the all-white cabinetry.

Cabinets | Armchair

I know I shared a peek of them before in my build-up to this post but I have to share again how these cabinets balance out this space while also providing much-needed storage and display space because as a stylist well….let’s just say I have a lot of stuff 🙂

Visually, the weight of the cabinets works so well with the adjacent wall where the bench and windows are. It’s a narrow room so shifting the seating to the window wall really helped define the walkway. See those sexy table legs I’m talking about? Also, your eyes aren’t going crazy, the table has a slightly irregular shape as well which made me fall even harder for her. Thank you, High Fashion Home.

And although I wish I had moved this chair for photography, it really is this beautiful and comfortable.

Back to those beautiful cabinets that so many people swoon over on Instagram.

I do get a lot of questions about how I styled them but truly I filled them with the pieces that I love and since I am a very earthy color pallet lover, well, it all just meshes on its own. Sure, I play with heights and arrangements but keeping within the same muted color family makes life easier when you have this many shelves and glass doors. Play with textures, glass, pottery, wood, etc. If this speaks to you as it does to me, I also gravitate towards artisan handmade items for their organic shapes and irregularities. Most of the items here have been thrifted and if you do choose to thrift, understand patience and persistence are your best friends because it takes time. But anyone can do it so don’t be discouraged. If this is where you find design paralysis within your own home, you can help narrow down what you like by saving inspiration photos from magazines (yes, I still do that) or of course, Pinterest. Now just pay attention to the photos you save. Something about those images even if they’re not matching your exact vision caught your eye. Study the image to find what is it that your eye is drawn to. The color? Shadowing? Textures? Does it spark a feeling you long to feel? The shape or silhouette of an object can also be alluring to the eye. 

Stylist Tip: Vary heights and scale so that your eye dances around to look at everything but leave enough visual breathing room for your eyes to rest. AKA – don’t cram all of the things into a cabinet just because they physically fit.

Dinner Plates (similar) | Pasta Bowls (similar) | Ceramic Cups (similar)

Like anything, styling takes practice and everyone works through design dilemmas and paralysis. 

One tip I learned with open-concept floor plans is to design them in a way that all of the spaces feel like they’re in the same relationship even though some may have different personalities. You can achieve this through color, textures, pattern-play, etc. Did I check off every single one off the must-haves in the dining room? No. But it finally feels juuuuust right. I think it feels cohesive with the living room now and that was one of my end goals. I like that the two spaces don’t match but they do complement one another and tell the same story. I get it, open-concept floor plans are tough! But, that doesn’t mean they are impossible and if I can do it without any structural changes being made, so can anyone else. The biggest lesson I learned when designing our dining room? Design with intention and purpose and ask yourself those tough questions such as investment vs. expense. Do you truly love it or can you wait until you find that perfect vintage/antique piece? Long story short, taking a scalable design approach really allowed me to thoughtfully curate our home.

*Design by Lea Johnson
**Photos by Sage E Imagery

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Karen
3 months ago

I love the striped fabric. Gorgeous, custom piece.

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  Karen

Thank you very much Karen!

Jessica L
3 months ago

Beautiful!! We’ll done Lea! I’m undergoing my own renovation/redesign and I’m curious if you would consider sharing how much the custom
bench and fabric/pillows cost. It would be helpful to know ballpark what something like that cost so I know if it’s even possible. Thanks for considering!

Meredith
3 months ago
Reply to  Jessica L

I second this request! We are considering a custom dining bench as well but I have never had anything custom made and don’t even know the ballpark.

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  Meredith

Keep in mind I worked on a collaboration partnership so there was a discounted rate given to me and material prices have gone up since it was initially quoted to me, but we paid around $4k.

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  Jessica L

Hi Jessica, I am awaiting to hear from Calico on the yardage that we ended up going with (as this was a partnership deal I don’t have the exact cost break down but at least I’ll be able to get the price per yard (without the labor cost). As for the bench, we paid just over $4k but that was at a discounted rate for collaboration as well as material prices have gone up since. I think it would be dependent on materials and labor for your area but hoping that helps a little.

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Jessica L

I checked in with Calico and we used 7 yards of the Exeter (stripe) fabric and 6 4/8 yards of the Floris velvet/Moss. I hope that helps give you a ballpark idea.

JB
3 months ago

Oh my god gorgeous!

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  JB

Thank you!

Erin Dae
3 months ago

Simply stunning! Love the reveal and glad to have Lea back on the blog 🙂

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  Erin Dae

Thank you so, SO much Erin!

Kristi
3 months ago

This is gorgeous. Bravo. These are my favorite types of kitchens hands down. Less matching (in your face) cabinetry, more wall space for resting eyes…it reads ‘home’ to me (flows with house) not abruptly beating me over the head saying I’m a KITCHEN! I imagine these types of kitchens could be done for less since there’s less cupboards and countertops too. I keep looking for these types of kitchens to pin. ‘Farmhouse’ isn’t quite it to me. Those are casual but can have tons of matching cupboards, etc. It’s a casual kitchen in some ways and some people take the same design features (less matching cupboards, etc) and make it quite funky with almost a coffeehouse vibe (imagine Lea’s space with a rustic steel colorful hutch instead). Help? What do I google to find kitchens like these? Thanks?

Allana
3 months ago
Reply to  Kristi

Try searching “bistro style kitchen”, I think you’ll find what you’re looking for!

Kj
3 months ago
Reply to  Allana

Yes, or “unfitted kitchen.” You can also try your searches on different search engines as that can return different results. Here’s a link to options: https://www.lifewire.com/best-search-engines-2483352

Kristi
3 months ago
Reply to  Kj

Thank you Kj..I had never heard of that term. Grateful!

Kristi
3 months ago
Reply to  Allana

Thank you Allana. Appreciate it.

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  Kristi

Thank you and I’m so happy you have some really great reader responses to help out! Best of luck to you!

R
3 months ago

Your home looks great – you have beautiful taste. The neutral wood tone of the banquette is great, too. It looks very solid without being visually heavy.

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  R

Thank you! It is very solid and it warms my heart to see when friends come over that’s the first place they want to sit.

Allana
3 months ago

Really beautiful! Letting a loved piece go is so difficult, but I love the results here.

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  Allana

I had separation anxiety. LOL! And thank you.

Cat
3 months ago

Stunning!!! Amazing how much bang for your bench (a term I just made up) you got by using two different fabrics. LOVE this.

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  Cat

Yes! My daughter said it’s very Beetlejuice. LOL.

Carla
3 months ago

I love this reveal. The bench is beautiful, and I LOVE the dining table. So good!

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  Carla

Thank you! I love how asymmetrical the table is, it’s one of my favorite details.

Eleanor
3 months ago

Beautiful!

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor

Thank you very much!

Erin
3 months ago

Damn, this is just so special. Really really beautiful and timeless. Stunning work!

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  Erin

Thank you very, VERY much Erin!

🥰 Rusty
3 months ago

Lea, gor-g-eous!!!💗
The mood of the room is cozy, comfortable and also practical.
I’m not a huge dan of banquet-style seating on the whole, but this is inspiring!
Kudos.

🥰 Rusty
3 months ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Fan

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Thank you Rusty! It really made my heart happy you said practical, I really wanted it to be. Thank you.

3 months ago

It’s gorgeous. I think you achieved everything you were after.

One point, for everyone who writes about design.

Pallet: Big frame to which good are lashed for shipping, or a straw mattress that’s usually laid on the floor
Palette: A range of colors you are considering

The way you feel about visual details? That’s how I feel about words. I’ll stand down now;).

🥰 Rusty
3 months ago
Reply to  Lisa

I like that you stood for that. 👍

Beth
3 months ago
Reply to  Lisa

I feel the same way about words. I’m troubled by the fact that so many design blogs and even magazines spend so much time taking and editing pictures but little or no time editing words.

Lynn
3 months ago
Reply to  Lisa

I think many of would like to stand up for EHD getting a real copy editor!

Lea
3 months ago
Reply to  Lisa

Thank you Lisa! Ha! Also, I did not catch that at all and I’m glad you did because now my eyes can’t un-see it. LOL!

jamie
3 months ago

This room is begging for a long, leisurely dinner followed by hours of conversation. I could sit there forever and stare at all the beauty in the room. Really, really lovely, warm and welcoming.

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  jamie

Thank you Jamie! We had our first dinner party in here a couple of weekends ago and it filled my heart to see this room full and utilized to the max.

Roberta Davis
3 months ago

I love it! Who doesn’t love a banquette? Every part of your house that I’ve seen is just beautiful and stylish.

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Roberta Davis

You are very kind, thank you Roberta!

Andrea
3 months ago

Lea, this is a lovely post. We also have a tuxedo cat, and kitty fits in so well with the stripes and beautiful cabinets.

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrea

Thank you Andrea. We joke all of the time how Mister (our cat) matches our home and so does Remi (our dog) who is fawn and cream. VERY unintentional btw.

MKP
3 months ago

I love it love it love it! So beautifully done and it just feels so warm and welcoming. Great to see you back on the blog, Lea!

Anyone know of similar counter stools for about 1/2 the price (or less) of Lea’s?

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  MKP

Thank you very, VERY much. It feels really good in this space now.

colleen
3 months ago

ive never loved anything more. looking at these pics, i feel so inspired!!

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  colleen

Oh I love that, thank you Colleen!

Deborah
3 months ago

Oh this is beautiful Leah!
It’s so calm, practical, and at the same time very, very special! I love how the stripes add a bit energy to the calm, natural palette and textures going on in the rooms. As others commented – gorgeous!

Deborah
3 months ago
Reply to  Deborah

I forgot to say, I love the portrait in your dining room, it’s beautiful! 🙂
Also, the new layout with the banquette really defines the space so much better because the walkway area through to the kitchen is now intentional!

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Deborah

Yes, I loved the stripes too for a bit of energy, my daughter instantly said Beetlejuice! Ha! Thank you for all your kind words. I thrifted that portrait, as an Asian-American it seems hard to find vintage Asian portrait paintings so I hold her dear to me and whoever she is, I hope she’s happy here.

Leslie
3 months ago

Can you show a new floorplan with the measurements of the banquette, table, open space, cabinet? I have a situation where the aisle from the kitchen to the backyard is between the dining area and the living room. I have 6’ for the banquette and table and then the walkway between any furniture I think would be the same as you have whereas the living room furniture starts where the cabinet is. The dining chairs would encroach on that aisle when in use. I’m curious how much space you have for your aisle between the dining table and the cabinet and how much space did you use for the banquette and table?. Thank you! Lovely home.

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Leslie

HI Leslie, I don’t know if I can upload one but the bench is 8 feet long without the little cabinet. With the chairs pushed in, there is about 50 inches of walkway space between the chairs and cabinet fronts. I hope this helps.

Stephanie
3 months ago

This is BEAUTIFUL! Did you move the chandelier closer to the wall to fit over the table?

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

Hi Stephanie, yes, we had to move the chandelier over towards the window and now we need to eventually patch the ceiling from where the old electrical box is, so the medallion sort of hides that for now but looking closely you can still see a bit of the patch sticking out.

Kathleen
2 months ago

OMG…Gorgeous!!! I love this so much. Incredible vibe to the entire living/dining/kitchen area and I love your kitchen backsplash tile too.

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Kathleen

Thank you VERY much Kathleen!

Korin
2 months ago

Don’t feel bad about the chair in the foreground. It helped me understand so much better how the two spaces connect.

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Korin

Thank you! I always notice things to edit when it’s too late. Ha!

2 months ago

Many many thanks for the Newsletter I like your post very much good to know that we encourage eachother and move forward in the positive direction through discussion which is essential to understand eachother it is an excellent platform to share your best ideas. Best Regards Khurram

Patricia
2 months ago

Jazz hands. Love it. Banquette is stunning.

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Patricia

Thank you so so much Patica!

Mara P
2 months ago

Such a beautiful space! The artwork, the layout, the styling- all incredible. It looks so inviting.

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Mara P

I truly was hoping it felt inviting, thank you Mara!

TIMMI
2 months ago

Truly a comfortable, stylish HOME.

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  TIMMI

Thank you Timmi, this means a lot to me.

Lindsay
2 months ago

The cabinets are perfection, so glad you built the custom piece, and I love the vintage portrait! However, here comes the, “but”… I would personally change out the chandelier. The milky white of the chandelier does not match the walls, and it is too busy with the black and all the wires. It clashes with the other lighting in the kitchen.
I am thinking something simpler, warmer–glass, copper, bronze, wood, something along those lines.
Hate to criticize as I adore your projects, but that element stuck out to me through all the images. I am guessing you could find something perfect that is simple and/or vintage, and would vibe with all the other elements.

mouseface
2 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay

Agreed.. for me the ceiling medallion with the chandelier does not help – it was just one too too many period and styles references in the same roomStarted to feel like a ceiling fight …

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay

Thank you Lindsay and I agree with the medallion we had to move the electrical over from the center of the room towards the window and I forgot to talk about that in this post. It left a big hole that the medallion juuuuust barely hides so we need to patch and then I’m debating a more clean lined medallion for a little detail. BUT the chandelier means a lot to me so I have sentimental value there. Ha!

Julie
2 months ago

What a beautiful space. Love the floors, tile, and cabinets!

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Julie

Thank you very much Julie and thank you for reading!

Denise k
2 months ago

This is stunning!!!

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Denise k

Thank you Denise, I’m happy you enjoyed!

Reanna
2 months ago

Giving me all sorts of inspiration!

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Reanna

This means a lot to me, thank you Reanna I’m so happy to hear it was inspiring to you.

Erin
2 months ago

This is insane. So good!

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Erin

Thank you very, very much Erin!

Casey
2 months ago

Can you speak about the beautiful art piece? I love the portrait and would love any link to similar

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Casey

Thank you Casey, I found her at the Goodwill (the online auction) and bid on her. Her name along with the artist’s name and date are on the back, it was from the early 50’s and I’m guessing originated in California based on what I could find out and where I found this. As an Asian-American myself, I don’t often find beautiful vintage portrait paintings of other Asian-American’s so this holds very special to me.

Vera
2 months ago

This is all so gorgeous!! I just love your style Lea. Earthy colours, enough white and black, organic shapes, tons of texture. Every vignette is super interesting without being too busy. Ahhh so good. I could stare for hours. Congrats and thank you so much for sharing! What a treat for us all!

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Vera

Vera, thank you so so much for all of your kind words, I am so happy to hear you enjoyed this post and thank you, thank you, thank you for reading.

Julie
2 months ago

This banquette is PERFECT. The details, the execution, it’s SO good! The entire dining room looks comfortable, intentional, interesting and well designed!

Lea
2 months ago
Reply to  Julie

Thank you Julie, I was truly hoping that others would feel the way the space was intended and to hear this from you means more to me than you know. Thank you.

MJ
2 months ago

Loooove this, Lea – great job! It feels earthy and cozy without being boring.

Crissy Perham
2 months ago

WOW!!! Just beautiful and I really love the craftsmanship from the carpentry team and upholstery team!! Great job, everyone!!

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