From paint tips to upholstery ideas, interior designers share their advice.

Nothing puts a damper on a dinner with family and friends faster than an outdated dining room. "When your dining room looks tired and feels heavy, it's probably time for a change," explains Liz Wilson, co-founder and creative director of MC1R Studio. "Poor lighting, dingy paint, and worn-out upholstery are often the culprits, but they're also easy to update."

dining room furniture in forefront of wallpaper
Credit: Lennart Weibull

Fortunately, a few small but thoughtful upgrades can make a big impact in an out-of-date dining room—without breaking the bank. "Instead of overhauling the entire room, focus on the elements you dislike the most, and plan to revamp just those parts," advises interior designer Isabel Ladd. "Mix-and-match styles, materials, and play with high-low pieces. Not everything has to blow your budget."

Curious what kinds of minor changes you can make to quickly modernize a drab dining room? We asked a handful of our trusted interior designers for their suggestions, and here's what they had to share. 

Reupholster dining room chairs.

Few things make a dining room feel more old-fashioned than a dining table set with frumpy and dated chairs, which is why Ladd recommends updating the upholstery ASAP if you're looking for a quick and affordable fix. "If you choose to keep the chairs, reupholster them all in one fabric, and then upholster the chairs placed at the two heads of the table in a different material altogether," she says. "Dining room furniture that's overly matchy-matchy often looks out of date."

Paint the walls.

Make no mistake about it: Our experts say a fresh coat of paint can make a big impact in an outdated dining room. "One of the easiest and least expensive ways to give your dining room a tremendous update is paint," says Nina Magon of Contour Interior Design. "A new coat of paint on your walls can go such a long way and give your space a sleek and updated look with minimal effort and time." Try a warm neutral, like khaki or gray, to create a clean but welcoming atmosphere for guests, or opt for a bright, cheery shade of blush or coral to make a modern statement that will get the dinner party conversation started.

Or, simply paint a piece of furniture.

If you're on too tight of a schedule or budget to paint your entire dining room, Julie Kleiner and Melissa Warner Rothblum of Massucco Warner suggest updating an outdated piece of furniture with paint instead. "Painting an existing sideboard or china cabinet helps to break up anything that is reminiscent of an old-fashioned 'dining room set' and can be a relatively inexpensive project," Kleiner says.

Apply patterned wallpaper.

Virginia Toledo and Jessica Geller of Toledo Geller Interiors say that patterned wallpaper is a great way to bring a bit of whimsy and drama to an out-of-date dining room. "However, when we think of a dramatic wallpaper in a dining room there is a very thin line between Grandma's muddy florals and today's fresh and crisp florals," warns Geller. "Look for bright colors, happy patterns, and whites that are crisp white."

Swap out old light fixtures.

According to Magon, installing a new lighting fixture above your dining table is stylish update that will instantly add depth, interest, and a refreshed look to your home without breaking the bank. "Old light fixtures can be a huge eyesore in a dining room, so by switching them out with new pieces, you can dramatically enhance the overall feel of the space in an updated and modern way."

Add wall paneling.

Gabrielle Santiago of Gabrielle Santiago Design says you can always count on interesting architectural details to infuse a bit of sophistication and charm into a dated dining room. "DIY wall paneling is a chic and affordable way to enhance your dining room walls," she explains. "When done professionally they can be pretty expensive, but if you're on a budget there are plenty of online tutorials to help guide you."


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