How I Transformed an Oversized Hallway Into a True Dining Room

dining room with round table

Courtesy of Lauren Zillinger for Laura Metzler Photography

If there’s one thing I love about Washington, D.C. and its row homes-turned-apartments, it’s the bizarre layouts. Take my apartment for example. The building was almost certainly a single family home when it was built in 1934, but today it contains an odd jigsaw puzzle that somehow adds up to four one-bedroom apartments. I’ll be honest, when we first toured the space, there was one room in particular that I was thrilled to decorate: the dining room. 

I’m sure other city dwellers can appreciate just how coveted a separate dining space is—I don’t take it for granted! But the thing about my dining room is that it’s not really a room at all. It’s what I like to call a fat hallway

empty hallway
Dominique Gebru

To get from the front door to the kitchen or living room, you have to walk through a narrow hallway, and then the fat hallway. Remember: it’s a jigsaw puzzle of an apartment. As with any pass-through space, I knew I’d have to be cognizant of the fact that my partner and I would need to move through the dining area with ease. Sure, we love hosting dinner parties (well, when we aren’t living through a pandemic, anyway), but no one wants to be trapped in their seat.

So, I made a plan! First up: painting the gray walls with Clare Paint’s Whipped, my favorite warm white. The space has south-facing windows, but they’re mostly obscured by our neighbors’ row house. The warm, bright shade helped the light bounce around the room, making it feel a touch bigger. I swapped out the basic flush mount light with a $40 pendant from IKEA (yes, renters can swap out light fixtures), added a few pieces of art, and set up a small bar cart. 

dining room
Dominique Gebru

Our dining area is long and narrow, so I decided to try a narrow, rectangular table. It was...okay. But something always felt a bit off. If the chairs were pulled out on the walkway side, it was tough to move through the space. Sometimes the hardest part of designing or making over a space is knowing when it’s time to shift course. That was definitely the case with table number one. 

dining room
Dominique Gebru

Then, Covid-19 descended on the U.S. and our fat hallway got a whole lot busier. My partner and my dog were suddenly my “coworkers” and the “okay” setup no longer felt quite right. Staring at those walls and that oddly configured space for the majority of the day really got my wheels turning, and like many folks seem to be doing lately, I started to redesign my space around my new needs. 

Perhaps the best way to understand just how you’ll use a space is to actually live in it for a bit. It’s decidedly human to want to forge ahead with your plans, as I did with my initial design for the room, but I’m so glad that I granted myself permission to pivot.

Function felt like the most pressing need. With the addition of the bar cart, I’d inadvertently turned the long, narrow space into more of a square. As the wise Emily Henderson says, a round table really is a better choice for a square room. I was a little apprehensive at first (remember, Covid meant things like browsing at a store or making returns were exponentially more difficult), but the moment I set up my tulip table, it was like the puzzle began to make sense. 

dining room with round table
Courtesy of Lauren Zillinger for Laura Metzler Photography

The gallery wall came to be after I’d spent one too many Zoom calls staring at my near-blank, white-walled background. I needed something more visually stimulating! I gathered the various pieces of art from around my home, laid everything out on the kitchen floor, and got to work creating a layout. The result is delightfully Instagrammable and has made for some great pre-meeting small talk with my coworkers. 

gallery wall
Courtesy of Lauren Zillinger for Laura Metzler Photography

I also finally came to terms with the fact that my layered rugs were too big for the room. Rugs can be a great way to anchor a space, but size matters. Subtracting the larger rug somehow made the room feel even bigger, which is always nice. Admittedly, the vintage Heriz is a touch too small on its own, but I wanted the walkway to be distinct from the rest of the space. 

dog sitting on a vintage rug
Courtesy of Lauren Zillinger for Laura Metzler Photography

Et voilà! So much of this makeover came down to editing items out, like the larger rug, and shopping my home, in the case of the art I rounded up for the gallery wall. Perhaps the best way to understand just how you’ll use a space is to actually live in it for a bit. It’s decidedly human to want to forge ahead with your plans, as I did with my initial design for the room, but I’m so glad that I granted myself permission to pivot. The fat hallway went from my biggest pain point to one of my favorite rooms in the house. 

Related Stories