Choosing a dining room colour scheme

Cool expanse of steel and glass or lavish fusion of antiques and upholstery? Whichever direction your dining room takes Sarah Cole, director of Farrow & Ball, has the following advice: 'Be brave, very strong colours work wonderfully in dining rooms, creating a really dramatic and intimate atmosphere and the perfect place to entertain.’

Choosing a dining room colour scheme

Choosing a dining room colour scheme

Top tips

  • Always keep the ceiling white when you're using bold colour on walls.
  • Be personal with your choice of accessories. Photographs, objet d'arts from your travels, heirloom crockery… these are the things that turn a show-home into a real home.
  • When you're planning your dining room, do not underestimate the storage you'll need. You can never have too much.
  • There's no rule that says: 'Thou shalt buy matching furniture.' In fact mismatched chairs around a fabulous table can look infinitely more chic.
  • If your dining room is under-used keep fresh flowers on the table. Their fresh scent gives the room a lived-in feel and stops it feeling like a museum.

Set the mood
Rather than picking colours and furnishings at random, begin the process with a mood board: the essential tool of interior designers and stylists. A mood board sets a cohesive tone – harmonising palette, textures and the ‘feel’ of the room. What's more, it’s a doddle to make. Collect pictures from magazines, books and brochures, fabric swatches, paint cards and photographs and stick them on to a large piece of thick card or board (tip: use spraymount and you can reposition them). Once your mood board starts to take shape it’s much easier to visualise the room and it’s also a handy prop to take with you when viewing soft furnishings, accessories and the like.

Colours that work
Red is a hot colour that stimulates the appetite which is why it’s such a favourite in dining room schemes. Sarah Cole of Farrow & Ball recommends Radicchio No.96 (strong red tempered by magenta) and Brinjal No.222 (aubergine) because, as she says: ‘Their richness and warmth make them ideal choices for dining rooms so often lit by candle light. The rich, dark, velvety tones are intensified by the light and take on a wonderful jewel-like quality'. Terracotta tones and earthy browns are also good choices for the dining room. If you’re nervous of using strong colours, try painting just one accent wall and painting the remaining walls in different neutral tones. Continue the accent theme with table linens, soft furnishings and accessories.

Colours to avoid
Pink and violet are colours that suppress the appetite so they don’t bode well in the dining room. Acid brights work well with accents and accessories but on walls are a big no-no. Blue isn’t a colour that occurs naturally in food so it can send the wrong subliminal messages when you’re serving food - exercise with caution!

Let there be light
Dining rooms are frequently nocturnal rooms so it’s important to create an atmospheric feel. Low-hanging pendants or a chandelier add to intimacy, particularly if the table and any sideboards or console tables are scattered with candles (but save your scented Diptyque candles for the living room or bedroom as they'll confuse food aromas.) Down-lighters look effective either as sharp beams of light or providing gentle washes of illumination. Dimmer switches are essential, particularly if you’ll be using your dining room for homework, hobbies or office work.

Furniture v accessories
If you’re planning a particular theme for your dining room try to represent it with your choice of accessories rather than with the furniture you buy. Dining room furniture is expensive to replace when you tire of the trend (which you inevitably will), so instead of committing to that lacquered Chinese sideboard go with a traditional piece and accessorize with bamboo pieces and tealights. Read Choosing a dining table for additional advice.

Upholstery advice
If you have young children think carefully before ordering that slub cream silk upholstery. Chocolatey fingers, felt tip pens (even the ‘washable’ ones sometimes aren’t) and bolognese sauce can be fatal on soft furnishings. Even if you don’t have children sooner or later one of your guests is going to spill something. If you really want upholstery choose chair covers you can whip off and throw in the washing machine. Alternatively leather is an excellent choice for chair upholstery as it’s chic and comfortable yet remarkably resilient.