Mike and Mary-Anne recently upgraded to a larger home. They’re excited to have more space for themselves and their two kids. Plus, they both come from extensive families and love to entertain big groups.

But the couple was running into trouble accommodating everyone in their combination living room-dining room, a space that lacked both personality and functionality. To provide enough seating for family dinners, tables had to be dragged in from elsewhere in the house to supplement the main dining table. Chairs had to be scrounged up from every room in the house. The result? No matter what was on their dinner menu, Mike and Mary-Anne’s main course was always frustration.

Change was sorely needed, but the homeowners’ budget was extremely tight. The good news was that their living /dining room had a lot of potential, and even with a limited budget, I knew it was possible to create a functional and beautiful space.

We began by ripping out the wall-to-wall broadloom and replacing it with tongue-and-groove hardwood. To give the plain ceiling in the dining room some pizzazz, we installed a T-bar framework and then fitted each square with white-coffered gypsum tile inserts.


Recessed lighting was added to the ceiling to brighten up the space. The cost was minimal, but the effect is classy and rich-looking. It just goes to show that your basement ceiling can be updated the same way, for a small investment.

In addition to the ceiling lights, we added two sconces and a classic chandelier in the dining room, along with table lamps behind the sectional sofa. The lighting fixtures in this room combine to brighten the space while providing the ability to dim it down when a more dramatic effect is needed.

My plan called for drapery panels to run the length of the dining-room wall, but we couldn’t afford designer fabric. So, to create the illusion of custom draperies, we purchased plain ready-made panels off the shelf. Then we bought just enough gorgeous, rich-looking fabric to edge those panels. The effect was amazing — and we repeated the same treatment on the living-room window.

Family is important to Mike and Mary-Anne, so we used an easy-to-hang photo wall kit to showcase some of their favorite pictures. Framed in a combination of silver and white, the photos — each one an individual work of art in its own right — combine to create a dramatic conversation piece along the back wall of the room.

With a larger home comes a bigger mortgage, and Mike and Mary-Anne didn’t have the budget for an expensive renovation. Nevertheless, it is still really important to splurge on classic “investment pieces” that you will enjoy for years. In this case, those pieces were a custom dining table with a double-pedestal base and a spacious sectional sofa.


Together, they make the room cozy and comfortable. Guests are easily accommodated around the large table, complete with extension leaves. And the expansive sofa and additional seating practically beg everyone to move into the living room to relax after dinner!

After we invested in those classic pieces, though, we had next to nothing left to buy accessories. The solution was to sift through the wares at local antiques and rummage shops, in search of the perfect finishing touches. A wooden magazine box, some stackable old suitcases and even old trophies were just what the decorator ordered. We also breathed new life into a vintage sideboard with a fresh coat of white paint and a custom stone top. The couple’s original wooden china cabinet, a marble-topped coffee table and a complementary area rug completed the transformation.

Mike and Mary-Anne’s living/dining room is ready to serve up classic elegance to family and friends. It’s a warm and inviting space sure to be the scene of many gettogethers.

Best of all, we were able to provide that classic elegance on a shoestring budget, which goes to show that creativity and resourcefulness play a very important part in decorating on a dime.

Interior decorator Candice Olson is host of HGTV’s “Candice Tells All.”