When it comes time to put your dining room together, placing the furniture is usually a breeze. The dining table goes under the chandelier, "duh," the china cabinet is usually on the largest wall facing the entrance so your pretty china can be displayed, and the buffet is on whatever wall is left.
The hard part about decorating a dining room is how to accessorize it. My feeling is that nothing is more inviting in a dining room than having the place settings set up as if dinner is on the way. I don't have a problem with up to four place settings at a table for decoration. This adds some softness, pattern and color to a room full of hard surfaces.
You don't even need to use the flatware if you don't want to. A placemat or runner, a dinner plate or charger and a soup bowl with a pretty napkin in the bowl or to the side makes a lovely display. Add some pretty glassware for sparkle, and now the dining room looks complete.
I must admit that over the years I've heard arguments for both sides of the table story. Some folks love the idea of adding place settings to the table for decoration. Others believe it's improper to bring out the utilitarian items as accessories.
Now, there are other areas of the dining room that can use some help in the area of decorating. For instance, don't leave that buffet top bare. A couple of buffet lamps are fabulous for mood lighting. They are the tall, skinny ones with all sorts of interesting shades available. A canape server, some candles, a collection of small figurines, any display or grouping that adds interest to the room is a good idea. Don't forget to add some artwork to the wall between the lamps.
The toughest decorating project in the dining room has to be the china cabinet. Please, please, please, don't just stack your good china in piles and place them on the shelves. The whole purpose of the upper portion of your china cabinet is to display things beautifully and proudly.
Select the most intriguing shapes, like the creamer and gravy boat, and give them center stage. Use the plate groove in your shelves to actually set up plates. Once you have your best china and some of your prettiest glassware, porcelain figurines and accessories arranged in a pleasing display, consider adding some silk flowers or berries, pretty crocheted doilies or lace to give the cabinet even more dimension.
Another idea is to create new uses for our dining rooms. It could become a fun game room since it's equipped with a table, good lighting, and places to store puzzles and board games. If you can creatively hide a computer in your dining room, why not use it for school projects. Protect the table with a felt backed vinyl tablecloth, and even messy projects are possible.
Shari Hiller writes this column with Matt Fox. They also co-host the Home & Garden Television show "Room by room." For more information, visit www.hgtv.com.