0 In How It Looks

Getting the skinny on decorating
a long, narrow room

karl lohnes narrow dining room

Design expert Karl Lohnes’ home is on an handsome historic street (press baron Roy Thomson was born next door) in downtown Toronto, with a large south-facing front window looking onto a lovely park, and a small, tree-shaded patio at the back of the house.

What’s not to like? Almost nothing, which is why Lohnes refuses to complain about one of the few features he considers a minus — a dining area just nine feet wide and 11 feet long — with 9.5 foot high ceilings. Instead, during its redecoration, he simply gave careful attention to avoiding what he calls the “bowling alley effect”.

karl lohnes narrow dining room

Lohnes chose to soften the window with stationery panels made from Wedgwood’s “Fabled Crane” fabric — using about a third of the material required for full draperies.


“With any narrow room, you don’t want to eat up the longest wall with anything deep or bulky,” explains Lohnes. So he stacked 12-inch deep standard upper kitchen cabinets (Martha Stewart’s line from Home Depot). “It gave me lots of storage, gave a custom look, and makes an impact without taking away too much floor space,” says Lohnes.

dining room sideboard using martha stewart cabinets

Slim horizontal hardware helps balance a tall skinny room.


That was just one of the designer tricks used in this well-executed, affordable redesign. Another — instead of having a recessed kick plate, cabinetry was brought flush with the flooring, and moulding was added at the top to make the units look more like fine furniture.

Uppers don’t go all the way to the ceiling so that existing nine-inch crown moulding remains exposed. “I really love the look of it, and if I ever decide to take the cabinetry away I’ll still have the finished room with moulding.”

Painting the walls and all moulding in the same colour as the cabinetry (Behr’s “Sharkey Gray”) contributed to a seamless look. Only the ceiling was treated with a different shade — a light-reflecting cloud blue.

Lohnes estimates he saved about 40 per cent of the cost of a custom built-in unit, and that he shaved several weeks off the project by using standard cabinetry installed by Home Depot.

Lining the back of a small serverey with mirror ups the shine quotient, as do glass doors on upper cabinets, which also allow Lohnes to display his extensive collection of tableware.

Lohnes used Silestone quartz surfaces from Cosentino — in varying shades of grey and in different finishes — to help tie the room together.

His dining table — a Craigslist find — “was inexpensive, but it was also quite precious — it has a mahogany flamed top. So I had a pad made and always used a table cloth. But I wasn’t enjoying the table — and it always looked kind of heavy.”

dining room table scape

Matte finish stone panels on the dining table compliments Lohnes’ collection of white, silver and glass tableware.


To protect the table, Lohnes had a piece of grey-toned Silestone quartz cut to fit. “I had it honed to a leather finish, which means there is no shine. I had enough shine in there and I didn’t want a really reflective surface for dining,” he explains.

“You want elements to be similar, but you have to break things up thoughtfully to make the space work as a whole,” says Lohnes.


karl lohnes, designer

After dealing with some “boring” structural issues, designer Karl Lohnes can now “have some fun doing the décor and making the rooms work.”

Four Tips from Karl Lohnes

  1. Never try to match new cabinets to older ones. If your existing cabinets are wood, choose additional cabinets with a different (but complimentary) finish — such as a painted style. The same rule applies when adding a new island into an existing kitchen.
  2. Adding bevelled glass door-panes to standard cabinets is a relatively inexpensive way to get a custom look.
  3. Hardware is like jewellery for cabinets. Depending on your budget, it may be well worth splurging to get a custom look.
  4. Limiting the room’s decorating scheme to three colours will help ensure the finished space doesn’t appear too busy or “fuzzy”. For his dining room, Karl chose pale but warm grey paint, burnished brass and a walnut wood colour as his main elements.


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Dining room photo credits: Yvonne Duivenvoorden

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