Jo Ann Alston: From Formal to Fabulous

The clients wanted to change their seldom-used dining room into a flexible, relaxing space yet still operate as a dining area on special occasions.


Interior designer Jo Ann Alston of J. Stephens Interiors in New Jersey was tasked with transforming a formal dining room into a family sanctuary with Asian influences.  The clients – two doctors with pre-teen children – wanted a space where their kids could gather day or night to work on computers, read books, or enjoy a formal family meal from time to time. Alston took her lead from some inspirational Manhattan apartments she had seen and suggested a modern library.

The new area was to be comprised of a central table, built-in bookcase, secondary table with chairs, and a separate area for lounge chairs. Additional lighting needs were also addressed. One of the first steps was to remove the traditional moulding in the room and create new crown, base, window, ceiling, and wall moldings. The bookcase – which affords space for storage as well as an opportunity to display books and decorative accessories – boasts strong horizontal lines that set the tone for a clean modern design and incorporates a buffet with Asian-style hardware plus a niche for an abstract painting. Halogen lighting fixtures highlight the artwork, making it a focal point in the room. (On the base of the buffet is a light switch for the art.)

The clients preferred a modern sensibility for their décor, with a mixture of styles and textures to make the rooms interesting. To complement the bookcase and provide texture, Alston chose a horizontal pleated grey silk fabric and upholstered the walls with it. The result is a luxurious look with the bonus of sound absorbency. The selection of a cream-colored wool area rug contrasts with the dark millwork and accentuates the moldings on the ceiling as well as the detail on the Chinese fretwork chairs.

Transitional-style lighting fixtures with shades are mounted on the bookcase to softly illuminate the books and to complement the central satin brass ring chandelier over the table. A modern rosewood dining table – which doubles as work space when not being used for dining – balances the strong linear statement of the bookcase with its circular shape. The four grey linen velvet tufted chairs are in a slightly more traditional design to anchor the look. Attention to detail is evident throughout, including the brass nail heads on the back of the chairs that coordinate with the Satin Brass finish on the Poelhmann chandelier customized by ILEX Architectural Lighting for the project.

When it came to the lighting, Alston selected a chandelier from ILEX to be the centerpiece and main source of illumination over the dining area. The eight-light Poelhmann fixture measures 31.25 inches in diameter and delivers soft illumination by using either 60-watt incandescents or 50-watt CFLs.  Alston requested that the standard measurements of the glass cylinders be adjusted to better work with the overall mounting height of the chandelier. The production team at ILEX was able to customize the glass height to suit the parameters exactly.

To create maximum flexibility for the 200-sq.-ft. space, two additional areas were developed for reading. One is outfitted with two modern grey leather wing chairs and ottomans with oversized nail heads. The other has an interesting origami-shaped table next to the chairs, which receive reading light from the wall sconces. Furthermore, a grey and cream marble top table with an iron base juxtaposes two traditional Chinese fret work chairs near a large window. These chairs boast a jolt of color in the form of a rich dark red-orange satin, which is repeated on the lampshades. Instead of sitting vacant, the newly transformed area is now used regularly as a spot for family members to enjoy morning coffee or to read. The children use the dining table and the marble top table for homework at night, and the parents often curl up with a book on the comfortable lounge chairs. The clients now use this space every day and consider it a favorite room in their home.





Project: Private Residence Modern Library /Dining Room

Award Received: 2012 New Jersey Chapter of American Society of Interior Designers

Bronze Award for Design Excellence in a Residential Single Space

Square footage: 201.50

Designer: Jo Ann Alston, J. Stephens Interiors, Far Hills, NJ

Lighting Fixtures:  ILEX Poelhmann Pendant in Satin Brass customized to accommodate specific glass height required

Photographer: Peter Rymwid

2 thoughts on “Jo Ann Alston: From Formal to Fabulous

    1. Hi Joan! We now have the proper corresponding images in place to go with the article. Thank you for making us aware of the switch. I hope you enjoy the article and will consider subscribing to our magazine.

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