Interior designer Melissa Lee turns her formal dining room into a multifunctional space for work, study and a family tradition.
by Cathy Martin | photographs by Laura Sumrak
Mixing cherished family heirlooms with modern furnishings can create a perplexing design challenge — especially when the heirloom is a 500-pound grand piano.
Melissa Lee, principal designer of New South Home, inherited the 1911 Steinway from her parents, who bought it when she was just 4 years old. Lee, her father and her sister all practiced classical piano — the sentimental instrument still has scratch marks across the front where the young girls’ belt buckles brushed against the wood while playing.
Shortly after purchasing her Matthews home 14 years ago, Lee bought a formal dining set from Lenoir-based Bernhardt Furniture, painted the dining-room walls in a conventional green-stripe pattern and hung an ornate chandelier.
“It was a pretty room, but [it felt] more formal than we live,” Lee says. “We used it for the holidays, but I realized I felt silly sitting in that room.”
Enter Covid, and Lee and her husband both found themselves working at home (he swiftly commandeered the home office), with their two young children practicing remote learning. Suddenly, the seldom used formal dining room felt like wasted space.
Since the room is the first thing guests see when entering the home, Lee wanted to make a statement with the redesign. Floor-to-ceiling curtains were taken down, and a low-back bench covered in a fade-resistant performance fabric was brought in to allow plenty of natural light. A midcentury-inspired tulip table accompanied by curved-back chairs with pleat detailing makes a stylish first impression. Lee searched online for the custom mural, a nod to the North Carolina mountains that continues the blue-and-white color scheme consistent throughout the home.
The result is a bright, unfussy space for Lee and her children to work and study — and for her 8-year-old daughter to carry on the family tradition of learning to play the piano. SP