Updated: Mar 4
Walk through the step-by-step transformation of a plain green room into an ethereal, elegant Jane Austen inspired dining salon, using thrifted finds, easy designer tricks, and a lovely blue, white and silver color scheme.
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This room is located directly off the front hall of the house, just to the right of the staircase. It had fantastic bones, with a glass French door, gothic window arches, and a beautiful original fireplace surrounded by this vibrant green tile, but you can see that when I arrived, it wasn’t being used to its full potential.
After its makeover, this room became the backdrop for all sorts of literary-themed events, from midnight dinners, to themed tea parties, and even writing & art classes led by local authors and artists.
You can tell why the previous owners chose this green paint for the walls, thinking it would match the fireplace surround, but their choice of decor was a little chaotic, and too busy for my taste.
For my purposes, I needed the space to be more neutral and flexible, so we could temporarily decorate over and over for our events in any theme or color, and not feel like we were fighting against the wall color.
As I’ve mentioned previously, decorating a “blank canvas” of a room happens in five layers:
1. The Background
So the first thing I did to begin the transformation of this room was to paint it a cool blue with grey tones in it. Blue and green complement each other really nicely, so the fireplace blended right in, and the light blue shade contrasted well against the dark brown woodwork and helped to highlight the windows.
I knew I wanted to build this room around blues, specifically because I was inspired by Regency era artwork like this. I love how delicate the light colors are, and I wanted to make good use of silver and white lace to create the kind of gentle, graceful space that Jane Austen would recognize.
This very light and feminine room is a direct and purposeful contrast to the very dark red, more masculine Library across the hall. These two spaces on opposite ends of the spectrum gave me the variety of backgrounds that I needed as foils for the range of different types of events I wanted to host.
So with the walls settled, I moved on to rugs, and added this very large vintage oriental rug with blue and green tones in it. As I mentioned in my last post, I know a guy, so I was able to get a hold of this massive rug very affordably, and I understand that I’m very lucky to be able to do that. Rugs make a huge difference in a room, softening it up and making it so much more welcoming, and a vintage room like this really needed an actual vintage rug to anchor it.
I completed the background layer with these pairs of traditional drapes at each window, hung on rods capped by silver mercury glass balls, and tied back with some classic tassels made of blue and silver cord with some crystal beads. The fabric I chose is simple but luxurious at the same time, with this blue on blue jacquard pattern. The effect says “this is an elegant room” but it doesn’t interfere with any themed accessories that I might want to add for a specific party. I can still add a whole array of - let’s say - pink tea party dishes and flowers for an Alice in Wonderland tea party, without feeling like everything is clashing in the background.
I felt strongly that this room needed actual vintage items to create the Regency atmosphere, rather than things that were perfectly nice and elegant, but not old. Decorating is all about the details, and sometimes the effect of a certain item is subconscious to the viewer, but it all adds up to create a feeling that people respond to. Imagine what this room would have felt like with a plain rug, or more modern curtains. You wouldn’t have been able to imagine Jane Austen visiting, and guests wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the fun of losing themselves in an immersive environment. It is so fun to dress up for tea and pretend you’re in the Austen family home!
2. Large furniture
So, with the background sorted, it was time for the large furnishings. As with the Steampunk Library across the hall, I knew I’d want to rearrange the room in various different ways to accommodate different types of events, so I looked for smaller pieces that could serve more than one function.
As I mentioned in my last post, I couldn’t afford to buy real Regency era antiques, nor did I want to because they’d be too fragile to use every day. But, as I was scrolling through Craigslist, I got lucky. I happened to find two separate sets of the exact same vintage mahogany dining furniture in a reproduction Regency style, and I was able to use them together to fill the room.
This style is known as Hepplewhite, and it was originally produced between 1780 and 1810 in London by cabinetmaker George Hepplewhite. This furniture was everywhere during the Regency era (1811 - 1820), then it fell out of fashion ... then it fell back into fashion in the 1920s and 1930s, and it’s those reproductions that caught my eye. My great grandmother had a dining set that looked just like this, and I had always loved it. Regency style features flat surfaces without carvings on the table-type pieces, contrasted with voluptuous curves on the smaller pieces like chairs. Between the two sets I was able to buy two pedestal tables that could be expanded with extra leaves, two identical sideboards, two glass front hutches, and seven of these traditional lyre or harp back chairs.
By placing the tables end to end, I could seat 12 people around one large table, that could be square or rectangular, depending on how I oriented the tables. Or I could separate the tables and use them to seat two smaller groups, or even push them against the walls and leave the center of the room open.
I dug up a few more of the same lyre back chairs on Craigslist for a total of 16 matching chairs, and I replaced all the seat upholstery with a new blue and brown print fabric so they all appeared to be from the same set.
I love symmetry, and it’s really a cornerstone of Regency style, so I placed the two sideboards exactly opposite each other on either side of the room, then the two hutches went into opposite corners.
What’s amazing about Craigslist, is that it’s the go-to spot for people who just want to get rid of things, and care more about someone taking them off their hands than selling them at top value. I mean, these are all antiques in good condition and they were a spectacular bargain. I’ve found listings on online antique sites for these exact same pieces for upwards of $3500 per piece. Now guess what I paid for the whole thing? $700. For the whole thing. That’s two tables, two sideboards, two hutches, and 16 chairs. At an antique shop, that would have run me over $15,000! And I paid $700. Wow.
3. Accent furniture
Ok, back to our five layers of decor. The third layer is normally accent furniture, but in this room I really didn’t need anything else. Someone donated a beautiful old sewing machine that lived under the window for a while, but otherwise, this room was all about the tables and chairs.
Luckily, accent furniture was a pretty light phase of the project, because lighting was actually much more of a hassle than it was in our first room, the Library.
This room had been rented out as an office for many years, and it had gigantic fluorescent lighting on the ceiling. We had an electrician take that out and re-drywall the ceiling, and I replaced it with a “new-made-to-look-old” glass chandelier that I found on eBay for just $50. This is another one of those details that don’t necessarily stand out when you first look at the room, but your subconscious registers it as “fancy” and it really makes the room feel like “high-class things happen here!”
Finally, it was time to accessorize. I pulled the whole blue/green color scheme together with these lovely blue and greenish artificial hydrangeas distributed around the room in vases and pitchers. This really cemented the connection between the blue walls and the green fireplace.
To fill in the walls, I started with a lovely lady over the fireplace. Now, this is the Jane Austen Salon, so you’d be right to assume that this was a portrait of Jane herself, but it’s not. Unfortunately, the only surviving portrait of Jane is this sketch done in 1810 by her sister. Not really striking enough to hang over the mantel. There are a number of paintings based on this sketch, but none of the colorized ones were available in poster size when I was decorating this room. So instead, I decided to hang this damsel, who is actually one of Napoleon's mistresses, but I loved her dress and the shades of the picture, so here she sits, like a fashionable Regency noblewoman.