Designer Brady Tolbert Doesn’t Think Your Dining Room Needs to Be Formal
His advice for creating a casual, comfortable space.
Published Aug 27, 2021 6:00 AM
In his Los Angeles home, interior designer Brady Tolbert is a master at mixing the old with the new. Dubbed The Treehouse, the 1958 space has loads of natural light, high ceilings, and special touches like wood built-ins, an original staircase, and stained-glass windows. Over the past few months, Tolbert has been making his way room by room, adding modern touches to the house while maintaining its original charm.
He will be the first to admit his style is more neutral than chaotic. He’s not afraid to say that your formal dining room should actually be “as casual as your kitchen.” And when it comes to setting the table, he suggests thinking about the process the same as making your bed. It should feel welcoming and comfortable.
Because the best rooms are ripe with juxtapositions, Tolbert leaned into his knack for pairing high with low. He used items from the Gap Home collection, available exclusively at Walmart, and each one contributes to the creation of a unique and inviting environment where everyone can have a seat at the table.
Don’t Be Afraid to Mix and Match
“Get a good set of dinnerware and a few different glasses or dessert plates that you can swap in and out easily,” says Tolbert of finding a starting point for your tabletop. Using Gap Home’s 16-piece stoneware in black, blue, white, and yellow together, rather than separately, adds depth (the four colors clash in perfect harmony and offer endless tablescape combinations). To further create that perfectly imperfect look, Tolbert suggests playing around with varying sizes, shapes, and textures: He added black flatware, white cloth napkins, and a glass pitcher for balance.
Embrace the Old, Try Some New
What primarily drew Tolbert to this home was that it has lots of fun quirks and character. But that admittedly isn’t easy to design around. “The dinnerware isn’t overly ornate,” he says. “It grabs its detailing from classic, timeless styles, which lends itself to being integrated into different looks.” Offsetting the old-world charm of the black-and-white checkered floor and stained-glass window are modern touches, like semisheer organic cotton curtains by Gap Home above the sliding doors.
Think of Your Dining Room as Your Kitchen’s Other Half
“A lot of people say the heart of the home is the kitchen,” says Tolbert, noting the dining room is typically adjacent to it. “For so many years, people have designed very formal spaces and only eat there during holidays. But I love being in the dining room—almost every single day.” Since it’s the only real place to sit down for meals (there is no kitchen table or banquette), he sought to create something casual not stuffy. “Every area of your home should feel inviting and comfortable,” he says. “For me, a formal dining room just doesn’t make sense. It should be a place you can do anything in.”
To achieve the look, Tolbert mixed and matched different chairs at his white oval table, rather than choosing a full set. “It feels more collected and curated than uptight,” he says. “It’s also a fun way to show that, though everybody may be a little bit different, they can all sit, eat, and work around the same table.” For a winning combination, Tolbert suggests sticking to a neutral color palette and using no more than two different shapes. “Here, I added an angled flat-back chair, as well as an option that mimics the original wishbone style,” he explains. “The result is something that complements without competing.”