From the October/November 2018 Issue  

Casual Affair

Writer Ren Miller  |  Photographer Vic Wahby  |  Designer Lisa Cloughen  |  Location Morristown, NJ  |  Interior and Tabletop Design Lisa Cloughen

While some people use their dining rooms only for holidays and other special occasions, designer Lisa Cloughen and her family enjoy their’s year-round.

Dining rooms: Make them inviting, fun and user-friendly

Mealtime is family time at the home of designer Lisa Cloughen, owner of Melone Cloughen Interiors LLC in Morristown, New Jersey. Rather than grab-and-go food, Cloughen, who enjoys cooking, makes sure her family takes time to sit down together for meals, sometimes in the kitchen eating area but often in their comfortable dining room.

The dining room is a versatile space thanks to a table that expands with perimeter leaves for larger crowds and accommodates smaller family meals with the leaves removed. “We use this room a lot—from breakfasts and luncheons to casual family dinners and dinner parties,” Cloughen says.

The room wasn’t always so welcoming. When the family moved into the 1980s center-hall colonial-style home, the dining room was an “overbearing persimmony-orangey color with bad wainscoting and lots of tiny dentil molding at the ceiling,” Cloughen recalls. She ripped out the wainscoting and molding and replaced it with new baseboard, window casing and bigger crown molding. She was advised not to use larger crown molding in a room with only 8½-foot-high ceilings, “but the new molding is cleaner and simpler and actually lifts the ceiling visually,” she says.

For the walls, she engaged decorative painter Judith Machmer to create a wide stripe pattern that seems to increase the scale of the room. “I like the regimentation of the stripe, but I didn’t want it to be too harsh. We started with Benjamin Moore’s Mesa Verde Tan and then worked with it so we ended up with a glazy, striated, shimmering look.”

Most of the furniture came from her previous home in Summit, NJ and is arranged symmetrically. “The room is fairly square so it lends itself to a symmetrical design,” the designer says. “Symmetry has a way of unifying a space.” She also updated the chair seats with deep pink cut velvet on a taupe background. She added a hit of color with lime green and red/orange/gold pillows on chairs flanking the buffet as well as a colorful bouquet of tulips on the buffet. “The buffet harkens to older styles, but this one has cleaner lines,” she says. “It has a lot of storage and some great memories based on how much we use our dining room.”

The room almost has two characters, depending on the time of day, Cloughen says. For breakfast and lunch, large windows (not shown in photos) admit plenty of daylight. In the evening, the chandelier and lamps on the buffet reflect light on the dark finish of the table, chairs and buffet for a dramatic effect. While the symmetry and furniture style might suggest formality, the softly shimmering walls, the starburst mirror and contemporary art (not shown in photos) add a modern touch. “I’m not a slave to older styles,” Cloughen says. “But I think there’s a place for taking the best elements from them and incorporating them into a more modern room.”

Cloughen assembles her table centerpieces so there is something interesting to see from every angle.

The table setting itself, casual yet elegant, began with the place settings. The Renaissance plates by Fitz & Floyd (white china with a wide black border and gold trim and now out of production) sit on gold foil chargers on a placemat with a pattern at the top. At each place setting, gold-tone star napkin holders wrap around the base of two napkins: one made of solid black fabric and a slightly smaller one made of brown and gold plaid fabric. Crystal glassware and simple sterling flatware complete the place settings.

The tablescape began in a freeform manner, Cloughen says, as she played with proportion and scale. The centerpiece features a blue and white Chinese figurine overlooking a garden of silver patterned boxes, tiny antique silverplate cigarette holders filled with greens, and votives and slender white candles in block crystal holders that create a warm glow. “I love candlelit dinners,” Cloughen says.

It’s important, she notes, that everyone around the table has something interesting to look at. She added a nut dish by Lynn Chase Designs, pomegranate salt and pepper shakers by Michael Aram, a crystal star by Rosenthal and other small crystals and treasures she found around the house. “You don’t have to go out and buy things every time you are planning a dinner,” she says. “In spring and summer, I cut peonies and hydrangeas from the yard. In the winter, you can just walk around your house and grab some things. Have fun with it.”