He said: “No Stuffy China Cabinet Like My Mother Has”

Dear Laurel,

My husband and I are just starting with our home.

We have a large dining room which was used as a landing area for moving in. And, just now, we are beginning to plan our new furnishings for the dining room.

My husband asked me yeeeaaars ago if we could “never have a stuffy china cabinet like my mother has.”

Well, we do have china; I love it and would love to display it. However, in the spirit of marital harmony, I am okay granting his wish and can store the china in a buffet, I guess.


My challenge is this:


What do I do with all of this wall space? I mean, it’s a vast room, and I’m so accustomed to a cabinet along the long wall to fill it out. Therefore, I’m stumped as to how to:

1) have a semi-formal dining space without a china cabinet and

2) fill the walls beautifully.

Thank you so much!





Hi Everyone! Michaela (not her real name) is a genuine reader who recently sent me this dilemma.

As an aside, she sent her email on a Tuesday.

Please make a note: If you want to get me at my worst, write to me on a Tuesday. ;] It’s a blog day, and they can be intense for me—my problem. However, Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday are better.


However, this query regarding Michaela’s dining room is quite interesting to me.


It has to do with the words “china cabinet.”

Let’s go back to Michaela’s husband’s words. We’ll call him “Mike.” :]

Mike said:


“never have a stuffy china cabinet like my mother has.”


Did he say? “I hate all china cabinets and will not marry you unless you promise to never put one of those abominations in our home.”

No, if I’m reading it correctly, he said he didn’t want a STUFFY china cabinet– like Moms. And, undoubtedly, it’s the one that he is associating with his childhood home. I can hear Mike’s mother yelling at him all sorts of things that mothers yell at their little boys to try to maintain some semblance of an orderly home. l


I can imagine how it all began…


One day, Mikey (age 8) was terrorizing chasing his little sister (age 5) all through the house– It began upstairs, and they tore into the living room, family room, kitchen, and finally into the formal dining room.

There his little sister, now exhausted with this game, cornered Mikey with the Martha Washington host chair. Mikey, attempting to avoid impalement with the chair arm, instead crashed into the giant china cabinet. Subsequently, an antique Wedgewood china platter that had been so artfully displayed came crashing down and broke its matching teapot and several teacups in the process.

Uh oh… That china set had belonged to his great grandmother, and it was a cherished heirloom of his stressed-out mama.

Mikey didn’t understand why his mom was so upset. And, he didn’t know why he had to sit out going trick or treating five days later as punishment for rough-housing in the formal dining room. He and his tough little sister were just having some fun on a rainy Saturday afternoon.


Ahhhh… childhood traumas. We all have them. And, yes, to be clear, my little story above is pure fantasy.


Or, is it? ;]

However, this one’s true. I’ll never forget the time circa 1999 that a husband said to me, “Please, no caning. It reminds me of my grandmother’s furniture,” he said with intense disdain as if I had just recommended that we do all of the furniture in pink lucite or something.


I managed to keep my professional poker face with a reassuring, “no problem.”


However, my inner eye roll was screaming,” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? CANING IS GORGEOUS!”

We all have positive and negative associations with certain things. They might not make sense to other people, and we might not even understand them fully.

And, I’m not saying that’s what happened to Mike. Although after raising two Tasmanian Devils disguised in human boy’s bodies, I fully understand how a home can get trashed with minimal effort.

It’s possible that Mike’s mom also had a lot of heavy, fuddy-duddy furniture, and it just wasn’t his thing.

We’ve certainly had some posts which have addressed this type of “ersatz” furniture.


Ersatz Queen Anne


For those just tuning in, “ersatz” or “fake” is furniture that’s given the designation of “traditional” but is actually just a made-up design not belonging to any particular period. It’s almost always referred to as traditional; you might hear the word Queen Ann bounced around or Chippendale. Or, some sort of “provincial.”


chippendale maybe matched dining room furnitureErsatz Chippendale (especially those chairs!)


If this is the case, I don’t blame Mike for not wanting to have a china cabinet like this.


So, Michaela. Mike doesn’t want a “stuffy” china cabinet. But, what about a super-cool china cabinet and some ways to dishes displayed vertically from crashing down?


However, even if Mike eventually comes around to a cool china cabinet.

We still have the issue of the actual design of the space.

In other words, whether or not there’s a china cabinet, we need to address the wall or walls.

You might enjoy this post with some ideas for addressing long, unbroken walls in the living room. Perhaps some of these ideas will be helpful.

However, I have no idea what their dining room looks like. But, that’s okay. I can create dining room layouts based on several dining room configurations. And, I’d love to do that, just like I did for these living room configurations.

However, for today, let’s concentrate on some cool ideas for china cabinets for a new-trad style dining room.


So, first, some china cabinet and dining room inspiration. Maybe if Michaela likes some of these, she can share them with Mike, changing his mind.

And, then, I’ve found some wonderful china cabinets in several styles, including authentic 18th-century pieces and reproductions.


But, first, the china cabinet inspiration.


blue walls-traditional-dining-room-miles-redd-greenwich-connecticut

Miles Redd and Gil Schafer beautiful dining area. The black china cabinet is stunning against the blue walls, I think.

Please check out a post from last year featuring many gorgeous shades of blue paint.


Benjamin Moore Twilight Dining Room

Above is one of the 40 mood boards from the Laurel Home Paint and Palette Collection. I love deep rich wall colors if there’s a sizeable brown cabinet. It creates a greater balance in the room, I think.



Above the Bronxville dining room is a china cabinet we designed and was created by Englishman’s Fine Furniture.


An apartment I did several years ago with a painted reproduction china cabinet.


one kings lane_timothy corrigan_DINING ROOM decorating above cabinets with blue and white porcelains

Fabulous dining room by Timothy Corrigan with a china cabinet that looks to me like it grew here.



Photo removed due to copyright trolls.

via House Beautiful

Stunning beauty by Suzanne Kasler and featuring some of her product line from Hickory Chair.


richmond gray dining room - LH Paint and Palette Collection

Another moldboard from the Laurel Home Palette Collection. I love the colors and how the painted china cabinet creates both harmony and tension in the design.


Douglas Vanderhorn Architects - classical architecture - stunning dining room - French doors

I adore this dining room by Douglas Vanderhorn architects. And, one of my favorite parts is how artfully the French Doors mimic the china cabinet!


via One Kings Lane Madcap Home Tour_Turquoise interior mahogany china cabinet - Granny chic decor

Always delightful by Madcap Cottage. We first saw this on one of my favorite posts about the granny decor mistakes you might be making.


chinoiserie cabinet antiqued before & after

Another idea I featured last year was about taking a new Chinoiserie cabinet and antiquing it to look more believably old.


@jamestfarmer design - photo @emilyfollowillphotographer - on instagram - analogous color schemes

The always fantastic designs of James T Farmer!


Katie Luepke Chinoiserie china cabinet and porcelains

Katie Luepke


If a cabinet is brown and not a rare antique, then painting it is a great option. This piece is fun, and painting always knocks back the formality of a big brown china cabinet. (Find out how to make it classic and fresh.)


Darryl Carter via One Kings Lane blue and white china

Above and below by Darryl Carter


Darryl Carter Home_dining room china cabinet

Yes, there’s a bit too much furniture here, but I adore this dining room and especially those twin china cabinets.


Darryl Carter via Southern Living - photo: Laurey W Glenn

Darryl Carter via Southern Living – photo: Laurey W Glenn


via Elle Decor

I didn’t realize until now that this is the same dining room, but the cabinets were obviously painted black. I love it both ways!


Natasha Habermann - timeless kitchen - North Salem - Gustavian cabinet - fireplace

Natasha Habermann

I’ve long admired her fantastic kitchen/dining area and her Gustavian-style china cabinet. There’s nothing stuffy about this!


If you’d like some styling information for your china cabinet:


I found an excellent video of Martha Stewart explaining how she styles her gorgeous china cabinet.


Martha: “With the handles all in one direction. Don’t make a mess.”


How delightfully OCD!

In my house, that stands for Obsessive, Compulsive Disarray.  haha

Okay, and now it’s time for the widget mentioned above of 24 china cabinets.

To find out more, please click on any image. These are all vintage and antique pieces. Some are expensive, and some are pretty reasonably priced.



I’m closing with a board I made last year from this post about another reader’s dining room.

red dining room is not as formal and drab




This might be too much Chinoiserie, but maybe if the design were very faint or there were different chests on the opposite wall.


Or, I could also see a beautiful Chippendale breakfront along the lines of the piece Gerald Bland is selling. (below)


gorgeous English Chippendale breakfront nothing bland decor about this- Gerald Bland Antiques - NYC

What a beauty!


24 cool not stuffy china cabinets

please pin to Pinterest for reference


Happy October, everyone!


Please remember that the Serena & Lily 20% off sale ends at 11:59 PM on October 5th.

Also, please check out the rest of the HOT SALES.

And, If you’re looking for some custom Roman Shades, you’ll find an exclusive promo code for 20% off. These are wholesale-level prices for Laurel Home Blog readers! How cool is that!

You can find it here.

Getting very excited about the Boston Marathon. Did you know that the finish line is around the corner from where I live?



19 Responses

  1. This post reminded me of another interaction with your wonderful blog: My mother had a 50s era, “ersatz” French provincial china cabinet that nobody wanted. Awhile back, while scrolling through your post “How to Mix Dining Room Chairs like a Pro,” I spotted the EXACT SAME PIECE in one of the photos, but painted a pale turquoise and looking fabulous! It’s amazing what a coat of paint can do. It inspired my daughter’s decision to refurbish a secretary desk she inherited for her own dining room. Thanks as ever for all your wonderful inspiration…

  2. Hi Laurel, Circa 1986 I worked as an intern at the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities in the office of Anne Hawley. Anne later became the executive director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and was e.d. when the theft happened. The museum is also one of my favorite places too. I remember Anne as being very strong and intimidating (I was shy) and she wore a cape. Lol the things we remember.

  3. Love your article. My home is 3/4 mile from road and is on 2000 acres. Open floor plan. Question on window treatments, lots of windows with little wall space. One area is living room with 3 windows which face pond and deer truth. Enough space for long semi sheers. Behind sofa is space for my office, 2 windows and a beautiful door. But had 6″ of wall space and is in corner. Can I use long sheers in living room and valances in office area and dining area with same fabric? I will paint walls same color. Fabric is with a soft simple
    Leaf design. Which works well in my surroundings. Help please

  4. Wonderful advice and inspiration to go hunting in unique places for the cabinet of my dreams. Thank you!

  5. I had two thoughts: 1) a library, where you could sneak in some china, glassware, and/or silver pieces to display, and 2) a buffet or more than one, with some simple wall mounted shelves above.

  6. THANK YOU .. THANK YOU! Laurel, this post reminded me that I needed to thank you for your post on SISAL RUGS. I promptly ordered a PUEBLO SISAL RUG (and a few extra since you guy a length and have it serged) for my home. It is gorgeous! One of my cats has already tested it! The vomit came out easily with club soda. I can’t thank you enough.. really! Cindy

  7. They are all wonderful choices, and I love Martha’s way of displaying the tea cups on top of their saucers. I especially love the Louis XVI style gilt/gold china cabinet at Chairish.

    I have an addiction to porcelain, china and vintage linens. I have my late mother to blame for this. When I was in my late teens she would come home with these beautiful treasures that people would just give away to second hand stores. Now you pay a fortune for them, and that’s if you can find them.

    I never grow tired of looking at your Bronxville dining room, Laurel. I think it’s just perfection! How did you go about sourcing an excellent cabinet maker to make the china cabinet?

  8. Timely and great post, as usual. I wanted a china cabinet for years. I finally found a lovely Thomasville one a few years ago. Now my children think it’s too old fashioned! They don’t want to inherit anything in it, either!
    But as too this reader, her husband might mean stuffy, as in “old fashioned,” so a modern looking cabinet with clean lines in black or grey instead of dark wood might convince him.
    Or he might mean stuffy, as in overstuffed. Many people have china cabinets crammed full (with additional holiday themed decorations added and perhaps not removed in a timely manner post-holiday) of tchotchkes hiding the timeless china and crystal. At least that describes my mom’s and my aunts’ china cabinets! Even the one in the Martha Stewart video, though gorgeous, looks overcrowded to me. If that’s what he means, she may satisfy him by carefully editing her the items displayed.
    Laurel, you have also shown some beautiful dining rooms with plates on the wall over a sideboard; they act like art, but can be used as needed. That’s another option.

  9. Hi Laurel,
    Maybe the hubby would like a china cabinet if it were used to display bar essentials…top shelf, etc.???
    Just a thought. Love your Sunday post!

  10. Dear Michaela: Please find a beautiful cabinet that your husband also likes and display all your china and crystal — both what you already own and what you collect in the coming decades. Every time you walk through the room, your happy memories of buying and using the pieces will come back to you and fill you with gratitude — they do with me. Three years ago, I walked into the musty back room of a little antique shop and found a perfect 1950s Baker china cabinet for $1500. I couldn’t believe it. In the ’80s, it would have cost ten grand at least. I bought it and love it, but if I hadn’t, I would have been tempted to get one of the black steel and glass cabinets you can find at Crate and Barrel and other places. They look really great filled with all your treasures.

  11. What about some built-in cabinets(depending on the room of course) that way you can display some china and avoid the dreaded china cabinet. I also like the idea of making it like a library.

  12. Hi Laurel,
    I hope your reader’s husband relents after seeing your beautiful suggestions for cabinets.
    But if it was my husband, I would have him take me to see the cabinet his mother has & have him articulate what is “stuffy” about it. Because they may inherit the cabinet one day.

  13. Laurel, I first wanted to say how much I look forward to your Sunday morning posts. I really enjoy them. Second – is it possible the husband was reacting to an over crowded China Breakfront? I know it is a temptation to display everything – that which you inherit from family along with all those wedding gifts (you would never buy for yourself). I was married in 1987 and at the time was in love with everything Shaker and French Country. But we were very budget constrained at the time, making purchasing antiques impractical. So I purchased a quality reproduction tiger maple stepback cupboard for our kitchen from Eldred Wheeler (now out of business). My husband and I inherited antique delft pieces from both sides of the family, which now are on display in the cupboard. To this day we still receive compliments – not on the delft collection but on the tiger maple cabinet. And what is really amusing is that the compliments are from men – my plumber, electrician, and the carpenter who installed my new kitchen all have asked me about the tiger maple. So not all males have issues with “fussy” china cabinets.

  14. Hi ! My husband and I visited the Gardener Museum last Thursday !! Talk about a collector! We have a large dining room and have an antique sideboard and an antique Bow Front chest . Both hold enormous amounts of china and silver , serving pieces. I like that arrangement since I like it more streamlined. Over each of those we have beautiful paintings which are lit from the ceiling. Art work is actually the focal point. I was looking for you when we were walking in your neighborhood!! I was actually telling my husband about how much I enjoy your blogs and why!
    Have a beautiful day !

  15. Yes, thumbs down to formal china cabinets.
    Can paint them, or remove doors or change door pulls. And put something in them other than china, crystal, etc.

  16. I wonder if the “stuffy” adjective isn’t about a cabinet that contains never-used, more or less precious items — and is thus for nothing but display. The Martha Stewart video does suggest that you can remove items for use without ruining the display, although I do think the risk of chipping is higher with her system for cups and saucers. Also, the MS system requires china using one single colour — it would be less cohesive with multiples.
    Another idea is to use a cabinet for glasses (no stacking required) and put framed prints and/or plates on the same theme behind them here and there. Keep the stacks of plates in a sideboard.
    I’m inclined to think that Michaela’s problem would be best solved with a Gustavian style cabinet (less stuffy, not brown and not on curvy legs), but it’s impossible to advise without knowing more about the room and how it’s going to be used.

  17. I recently read an article [AS or WSJ?] about furnishing the formal dining room as a library. Maybe it is because mine is so rarely used and introverted, booknerd that’s I am the word library just makes me happy but I decided to go with it. Definitely a work in progress but so much cozier and gets used much more.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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