Blank slate: When Dave and Mary Williams built a home in Eagan, finishing the dining room was at the bottom of their priority list. "It was the last room we touched," Mary said. "We didn't even want a formal dining room. We have three small children, so we eat in the kitchen." They put their dining set in the room but rarely used it. The room was highly visible, however, right by the front door. After the couple hired Mohr to design their family room, she asked what they were going to do with the dining room. "I said, 'Probably nothing.' I didn't want to spend thousands on a room we use so little," said Mary.

Homework: "She was going to wait until the kids were 18," Mohr said. "That's a long time to wait to enjoy their home. I told her we could find things that work with kids." Mohr knew that the couple's decor budget had already been spent on other rooms. "They needed somebody to work with what they had," she said. So Mohr repurposed items they had elsewhere in the house. A few new things were needed, but instead of shopping for all of them herself, Mohr gave the Williamses "homework" assignments, to keep costs down.

Wall transformation: For the large wall at the back of the room, Mohr proposed painting a mural. "I was a little freaked out," Mary said. "I told her I wanted it to be subtle, not too crazy -- and timeless." That's exactly what Mohr had in mind. She painted the wall an "ashy chocolate" color, then added stylized trees in gunmetal silver metallic paint. The effect is "soft, like hand-painted chinoiserie wallpaper," Mohr said. People assume a custom mural is expensive, she said, but a simple one, like this, can cost only a few hundred dollars -- less than a lot of wallpaper options. "And it's yours and yours alone." The sheen of the metallic trees catches the light, creating interesting effects. "Depending on where you stand, you can barely see it or it really sparkles," she said. The Williamses loved it. "It's really cool! When the lights are off, it almost glows," Mary said.

Furniture: Mary contemplated getting rid of their dining set, which she'd bought years earlier on sale, but Mohr assured her she could work with it. The chenille seat cushions had a blue/green undertone that registered silver gray once the mural was added. "They took on the color of the gunmetal," Mohr said. She also found a bench that the couple already had and didn't know where to use in the new house. "The window was a bump-out, so it made sense to put it there."

Color: The couple had a lot of blues and greens elsewhere in their home. "They felt safe with those colors, but also felt that they were too comfortable with them," Mohr said. She thought the dining room needed a "richer, more layered palette," and proposed a traditional wool rug in plum, with subtle blue and green accents. To carry out the new color scheme, Mohr sent Mary on one of her homework assignments, to find plum drapes, with a little sheen. She found them at Ikea for $19.99 per panel. "I was a little hesitant about purple," Mary admitted. "But I love it."

Result: The dressed-up dining room makes a good impression, Mary said. "It's the first thing you see when you come in the front door." But it's also changed the way her family interacts with the space. "Ironically, we use it now, because it's nice now," she said. With three small children, they still eat most meals in the kitchen, but now they enjoy using the dining room for entertaining. "We hosted Easter this year."

The designer: Jeralyn Mohr, Full Nest Inc., St. Paul (

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