This Historic Home’s Dining Room Got a Modern Makeover—With a Timeless Twist

Sarah Madeira Day and her husband made thoughtful adjustments.

<p>Maura McEvoy</p>

Artist Sarah Madeira Day calls herself and her husband, Wes Day, two “crafty parents.” For the past several years, the couple has been slowly remodeling and preserving a home in Cumberland, Maine, where their two young daughters are growing up—and with every project, they’re honing their DIY and design skills.

“We are mindfully evolving the house to fit our modern life,” she says. “We feel lucky to be a part of this neighborhood, which is in a family-friendly area with ocean and farms, depending on your location.”

In the case of their dining room, it was particularly important that they strike a careful balance between timeless style and current trends. The space was built in 1729 and used to be the main kitchen on the property, but it was split into two rooms with low ceilings that didn’t have access to electricity—and enough water damage to make that seem like a silver lining. “It still had a beautiful built-in glass cabinet and fireplace that were main features of the original home,” Day says. “We wanted to keep these aspects intact and highlight their unique charm.”

The biggest challenge the pair faced was identifying the source of the water leak and hiding the new plumbing within the walls. They figured out that a drain was malfunctioning in an upstairs bathroom, fixed it, and then added electricity overhead. The couple decided to remove the ceilings so that the wood beams beneath would be exposed, and they also nixed the wall that separated the two rooms so that there would be one large spot for a table. “We added sheetrock between the beams to hide electrical work and dampen any overhead noise,” Day continues. “And we refinished the original wood floor.”

<p>Courtesy of Sarah Madeira Day</p> The hutch before the makeover.

Courtesy of Sarah Madeira Day

The hutch before the makeover.

If all that doesn’t seem like enough work, they also took the plaster off the fireplace to showcase the hidden brick and widened the door to the kitchen. “We were unable to add additional storage, so we refreshed the original hutch,” she says. “We cleaned, repainted, and rehabbed the existing hardware to make it functional.”

Once it was time for the design, Day chose practical pieces within a rustic yet of-the-moment palette. They painted most of the surfaces in Benjamin Moore’s White to bring light into the room. A long wood table sits above a navy rug, and a mismatch of chairs with black accents match the raven-hued fireplace.

“The oversized shade pendant above the dining table was chosen in an effort to create scale in a soft way,” she says. Selecting a fabric shade rather than metal was a choice to balance the heaviness of the low beams. The black chairs were chosen to mimic the dark navy of the fireplace mantel and to hide food spills and stains over time. “Choose items that make sense for your life!” she says.

While the pair completed this dining room DIY in 2015 over the course of four months, they recently refinished the floors and updated the furniture. It’s a project Day is proud to have accomplished, for her family and for her home.

“Keeping the walls and trim white allows the heavy beams to seem less overwhelming and more the highlight of the room,” Day says. “Additionally, playing with the balance of clean and new and rough and raw shows an intentionality of embracing the old features of the home rather than working to cover them up.”

For more home decor inspiration featuring Maine’s rustic charm, check out The Maine House book.

<p>Maura McEvoy</p>

Get the Look:


Charming Chairs

A simple, black wooden chair is the perfect marriage between rustic and modern. The dark color and sleek design looks updated, without feeling out of place in an older home.


Accent Rug

A dark, vintage-style rug accentuates the earthy tones and wooden accents in a room, while hiding everyday wear and tear.


Soft Lamp Shade

A fabric lampshade softens the look of a room and casts a flattering glow.

<p>Benjamin Moore</p>

White Walls

White paint never goes out of style. This neutral hue balances out dark accents and wooden furniture.