How to Add Major Style to a Dining Room on a DIY Budget


If you have checked out the progress pictures of our fixer upper (on the ABOUT page!), you have seen the original state of our 1925 Tudor in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The home had been rented for almost a decade and was in SERIOUS need of attention. It was NOT move-in ready, and I was pregnant with a three-year-old in tow, and so we spent 4 months before we moved in undertaking a major renovation project to inject style, function (and love!) into this forgotten gem of a house. Here is a quick glimpse at the kitchen cabinets (falling off the walls), sunroom with leaking windows and moldy carpet, original master bathroom (it was SO TINY!) and main living room. The home screamed potential, but just wasn't a good fit for our family.... YET.

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 Hi! I'm Alyssa Turner Cairns.  Welcome to my site- where I hope you find inspiration, motivation, and education to help you create the home of your dreams! I believe that you deserve to live in a space that is perfect for you and your family. I'm looking forward to seeing your projects and working with you in the future!

Hi! I'm Alyssa Turner Cairns.  Welcome to my site- where I hope you find inspiration, motivation, and education to help you create the home of your dreams! I believe that you deserve to live in a space that is perfect for you and your family. I'm looking forward to seeing your projects and working with you in the future!


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The old kitchen was converted into a mudroom, half bath, and dining space. Function was the name of the game when I designed those spaces, and style took a backseat. The dining room ended up being a VERY narrow space due to the placement of the back door, the refrigerator in the kitchen, and the plumbing components we needed to hide in the walls. We relocated the half-bath so it is tucked away out of nightlines from the living space, and added a wall to create the mudroom. That space is a lifesaver and one of my favorite places in our house.

You can see how the dining room has one small window and opens at one side to the stairway as well as the entrance to the mudroom and back door on the other side. The radiator forces me to keep the table offset in the room for the safety of our diners. This room is also open to the kitchen. It just felt like a big hallway with a table plopped in the middle.

While the function of the mudroom and half bath are perfect for our family- I just wasn't in love with the dining room! I love the chandelier, the exposed banister we added, and the windowsill trim. It was time to take it further and get inspired..... You can check out all of my inspiration links as well as some great tutorials on my Dining Room Style Pinterest board.


Introducing: Board and Batten! This is a traditional wall paneling look that usually involves boards (large panels on top of your wall) and battens (the strips that cover the seams and hold it all together). When I asked my contractor for a quote - he came back with an estimate for over $4,000 to finish the dining room and the kitchen island. (NO THANK YOU!) Back to the awesome resource that is Pinterest and the experiences of other home improvement DIY bloggers.

This isn't a DIY Tutorial blog- there are countless ways to achieve style in your home that fit your budget, your home, and your skill level. Thanks to the tutorials from other bloggers I have saved on my board- I decided on a plan. I opted to skip the panels because our walls are in pretty good shape, and go for a faux-board-and-batten by adding the trim pieces and painting it all white.

Thanks to the stories of the bloggers I have pinned, I knew some complications to look out for and a general idea of the look I wanted to achieve.  (I still spent WAY too long at the home improvement store trying to decide on the material that would be the best for our home!)

Ultimately, I chose to use pine boards in several widths that would mimic the look of our original window sills and trim in our 1925 home. We have tried to stay true to the original details of the house throughout our improvement projects, and the dining room was no exception! I had to use dry wall screws to attach the pine boards to the wall because nails were NOT going to work- our walls are not 100% straight, and the pine was so hard and brittle that it pulled away from the walls almost immediately. I compensated for gaps with liquid nails, sandable putty, and silicone caulk, and covered everything in 3 coats of paint! (whatever gets you to the finish line is OK by me!) I opted for WHITE semi-gloss paint because I want to be able to scrub it in case it gets food/paint/crayon/chair scuffs on it (which it will!). 

The whole project costed LESS THAN $200, and took me 4 days- 2 of those days my husband was able to watch our kiddos, the other two I relied on preschool and a play date to help me steal away a few hours to work :) I also had to go to the store 4 times, which added some hours to the total project time. In the future (when I apply this same treatment to our kitchen island!), I will be much quicker at the store, I'll save time figuring out what hardware will work best, and I'll be more confident with my saw cuts. Here's hoping my next board and batten adventure is even quicker and just as satisfying. 

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I am SO happy with the finished product. Our dining room has the foundation of the farmhouse/1920's style that we want to be consistent throughout the space. My next details will be to paint the walls a darker shade of gray (likely Sherwin Williams Dovetail), swagging the chandelier over to the left to create a larger walkway on the radiator side of the room, and adding an upholstered bench (where there are folding chairs in the photo) for more comfy seating against the wall. The room feels bigger, more grounded, and so much more intentional than before. Bye-bye hallway, HELLO gorgeous formal dining room!

Have you struggled to help a room figure out its purpose? What room in your house needs a quick injection of STYLE to make it really come into its own? Share with me in the comments, or head over to our Facebook Group and show us your Before&Afters!!!!!  

If you're looking for some guidance and support as you work through home improvement projects- check out the FREE course: Design the Home of Your DREAMS. This course will help you get super clear about what you NEED and WANT in a home, and show you how to make a plan to make your dream home come true. Enroll TODAY!

much love,