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Behind the Design of This Opulent Dining Room at Merchandise Mart

Interior decorator Anne Coyle dishes on her dining room design for the Merchandise Mart’s new DreamHome, choosing function over formality.

Dining room designed by Anne Coyle
1. “The zebra stool from Heritage Home adds a dark, more masculine contrast to the feminine wallpaper.” 2. “The floral upholstery and wallpaper from Schumacher make the room come alive with color.” 3. “The rock crystal chandelier from Ebanista sets a pretty, formal tone.” 4. “The carved-elephant table from Mike Bell establishes the African tribal vibe.” Photo: Dave Burk

The year is 1932; the place is a small town just north of Copenhagen; the subject, a Danish baroness named Karen von Blixen. She sits, brooding, at her carved teak writing desk, recounting nearly two decades spent in Kenya, dutifully dictating her sad tale of a love lost, a coffee company falling victim to the worldwide economic depression, and a fatal disease finally taking hold—sentiments that will eventually become a best-selling memoir, Out of Africa. Thankfully, she’s able to reminisce amid various beloved African artifacts and antique treasures salvaged from her former life on the plantation before she was forced to return to her family home in Denmark. At least that’s what interior decorator Anne Coyle envisioned when she designed the deliciously opulent dining room for the Merchandise Mart’s 2015 DreamHome show house—a fresh take on a traditional setup. “Formal dining rooms are too foreboding,” Coyle explains. “Everyone is afraid to sit at the fancy table, so it becomes wasted space. I call it a workroom instead; all you need is a big, not-too-precious table that can convert for entertaining as well. Use it as a desk, as a bar, a meeting place. It’s more approachable and functional this way.” Free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday, until December 7.

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