Don't be fooled by Susan Voitik's cheerful disposition and equally warm decorating style -- the Glen Ellyn homeowner still has a case of the blues. Luckily, her "condition" manifests itself in a beautiful collection of Blue Willow and Flow Blue china. She and her husband, Dan, have enjoyed gathering pieces together for years, but Susan credits an even earlier source as the inspiration for her hobby.
"My grandma got me started on collecting Blue Willow," she explains. "She would ride the street car around Chicago and gather her china. She gave me my first pieces before she passed, and I inherited her berry bowls."
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The Voitiks' collection has come a long way from those first few additions. Susan boasts that she has collected enough dinnerware to serve her entire family -- quite a feat, considering that she and Dan have six children and 15 grandchildren. The whole clan is rarely all together at one time, but Thanksgiving dinner gives Susan the opportunity to stretch her home's entertaining capacity to the limit. "We have to add a tabletop onto the dining table to fit 12," she says. "And, we put a similar-size table in the living room."
Although the living room helps accommodate overflow diners, the dining room is the real center of activity. Appointed with several furnishings that pre-date the 1940s Cape Cod-style home by a century or more -- including an 1820s grandfather clock and an Amish-made pine hutch that dates to 1842 -- the room also radiates warmth thanks to cranberry upper walls and ivory lower walls.
The perfect complement to the cool-toned china displayed throughout, those hues also happily host harvesttime additions of orange and yellow accents. Susan loves to bring out and arrange autumnal elements throughout her home, but she also welcomed Country Sampler stylists Sally-Jo Enstad and Catherine Parker to offer additional suggestions for enhancing her dining room for the season with nature-oriented decor. Read on for their 20 fresh fall fix-ups!
Time to reflect
1. Stick with simplicity. To highlight the beautiful lines and rich finish of the Voitiks' 1700s shaving mirror, the stylists adorned it minimally with unfussy garland and placed a solitary pumpkin nearby.
2. Turn things around. "Sometimes the easiest way to get creative in your decorating is by turning accents around or upside down," Parker says. "We flipped pedestal candleholders over and they became cloches for wax pinecones and supports for some of Susan's china."
Dry sink or swim
3. Let it sink in. The Voitiks prefer honey-hued pine furnishings, such as the 1820 grandfather clock seen here, but the stylists recommended mixing finishes by introducing a contrasting black dry sink. "Black is the ultimate neutral," Enstad notes. "And, if you pair it with the right orange accents, you give a hint of a Halloween feel that won't look out of place on November 1."
4. Sign on. One such harvest-hued accent, a distressed sign that simply says "Pumpkins" breaks up the dry sink's front. Don't be afraid to hang signs and other decor on your furniture--try using clean-release hanging strips for damage-free displays.
5. Be a pillar of strength. "When you repurpose common pieces, it makes displays feel more exciting and unexpected," Enstad says. Similar to how they reinvented glass candleholders in front of the shaving mirror, they stylists also rethought a trio of pillar candlesticks on the dry sink, topping them with saucers and items from Susan's china collection. A mix of black and silver finishes makes the grouping even more interesting.
6. Feather your nest. "Fall is a time when dried elements and other less-perishable fillers start replacing fresh florals," Parker says. "Instead of flowers that need to be watered, try dried hydrangeas, wheatstalks or feathers." Here, the stylists inserted pheasant feathers into floral foam with a few sunflowers for color and then settled the arrangement inside a hollowed-out pumpkin. For an arrangement that can be brought out year after year, use faux flowers and an artificial pumpkin.
7. Wreath all about it. To give a display more visual oomph, rest it inside a colorful wreath.
8. Dry new things. Top off a tower of graphic stacking boxes with a texture-rich bouquet of dried yarrow, bright-hued leaves or other season-appropriate fare.
9. Gather 'round. To spotlight a cherished 1850s wood bowl with a braided lip, Susan constructed a cornucopia-inspired centerpiece. A vibrant combination of classic bittersweet, gourds, berries and branches surround a single pumpkin that balances out the busyness of the other elements. The self-contained grouping is easy to relocate to a sideboard or another room when it's time to set the table for 12, which the Voitiks do for family dinners.
10. Fill in. An extension of the centerpiece's natural character, fragrant fall potpourri surrounds cute pumpkin-shaped mugs that Enstad and Parker stocked with votives.
11. Be on gourd. Need a conversation-starter for Thanksgiving dinner? Try playing with your food! Carve a hole large enough to fit a taper candle in the top of an acorn squash, insert the candle in the hole, and cover it with a glass hurricane globe. Secure the globe with U-shaped floral pins.
12. Compare and contrast. "Blue isn't a color often associated with autumn," Parker observes. "However, because it's opposite orange on the color wheel, it really pops in a harvest setting." Susan's blue goblets bring out the cobalt shades found in the Allerton Blue Willow plates that the stylists sandwiched between round black chargers and square dessert plates. "Feel free to use a different-shaped plate if you think your tablescape has too many round elements," Enstad advises. "Try square or leaf-shaped dishes."
13. Spread out. Instead of one big tablecloth or individual place mats at each setting, try spreading runners out in a grid-like pattern to denote each seating spot. "Stick with neutral colors so it doesn't look too crazy," Parker says. "If you need more dimension, layer another runner on top that has a similar color but a different texture."
14. Go long. With its doors open, Susan's Amish-made hutch -- which she and Dan purchased when they were first married and paid off in $25 monthly increments -- provides a warm-hued display spot for her cool-toned china. For added interest, the stylists hung a long, bittersweet-adorned basket from one of the doors.
15. Plant ahead. Twiggy pocket-style planters attached to the back of each chair with orange ribbon host hearty coleus. "If you're going to do something like this, protect each plant's roots and soil with plastic wrap so that you can water them without moisture dripping on the chair," Enstad notes.
16. Hang on. Even if your dining room's main event is the tablescape, round out your room's autumn makeover with festive framed prints hung in place of your everyday artwork.
17. Open wide. With its desktop down, the Voitiks' early-1800s secretary desk opens up a world of possibilities for vignettes in the couple's entry. To soften the wood surface, the stylists spread an appliquéd runner beneath a handful of accents. The black runner's stitched details provides just enough graphic punch beneath a battery-operated candle, a vintage children's book and a glass paperweight.
18. Join the cubby. Once tasked with the unglamorous job of sorting mail and other workaday paperwork, the desk's cubbyholes now give individual attention to a variety of delicate teacups, creamers, teapots and more from Susan's extensive china collection. Miniature pumpkins in alternate slots, a sprinkling of greenery and leaves on the shelves and a coleus potted in a rustic mug enliven the area with their natural charm.
19. Don't fuss. In an action-packed vignette, sometimes a quiet moment can have the most impact. Outfitted simply with just a few dried wheatstalks, a lineup of Susan's cobalt-blue bottles (just a handful of her 35- to 40-piece collective) brightens the secretary's top shelf.
20. Go soft. "It's fall, which means your decorating should emphasize coziness," Parker says. "Work in warm, soft elements to make yourself and visitors feel extra comfortable." When not being used to seat a guest, perk up a dining chair with a burlap-wrapped pillow. Or, situate a chenille pumpkin at ground level, as the stylists did to accompany an antique water bucket.