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A fresh face for French Country

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Real Estate

It can be challenging to be creative when decorating a space as conventional as a dining room, but not for designer blueeggbrownnest.com">Christen Bensten, whose fresh interpretation of French Country shines in her Arlington home.

"My dining room has an updated European cottage style, with neutral furniture, vintage finds and pops of duck's egg blue," Bensten said. "I also love to transform furnishings with paint."

She favors furniture with a worn finish and has long found inspiration in England-based paint guru Annie Sloan.

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"I was a fine artist before I got involved in interiors," Sloan said. "Old paint fascinated me. I was especially drawn to farmhouse-painted furniture. Folks used to make paint with local pigments and other ingredients like eggs and milk. It inspired me to make my own paint."

Bensten fell for Sloan's Chalk Paints and began using evocative colors, such as French Linen and Provence. The line also influenced her color scheme and decorative style.

"Christen works so well with the colors of rural Southern France: soft, natural, beautiful colors that are easy to live with," Sloan said.

When Bensten began her dining room, she added a coffered ceiling for an Old World feel and painted the walls a cozier shade of the same taupe used throughout the open-plan house.

"I wanted a smooth transition from room to room," Bensten said.

Despite double case openings into the dining room -- from the foyer and butler's pantry -- Bensten grounded the space with a zebra-pattern rug and brought the ceiling down with an oversized rope chandelier. She then selected a rustic 10-foot table made from reclaimed wood. Its chairs, by contrast, are tailored with tufted upholstery and nailhead trim.

"My sideboard is a repurposed library catalogue! It's an interesting conversation piece. I'm obsessed with books," said Bensten, who also uses them in her vignettes.

The library catalogue had been finished with Chalk Paints when purchased, with blue peeking through the cream.

"My paints can be layered with two or three colors and then rubbed with my wax finishes," Sloan said, allowing different colors to come though, like an old piece of furniture."

Dining room furnishings that Bensten painted herself with Chalk Paints include French sheet music frames, salvaged shutters and the church pew. The pew is a seating option for larger dinners, serving also as a transitional element between the foyer and butler's pantry.

On the pew, Bensten placed French flour-sack pillows, and above it she hung twin sconces with twig embellishments.

Other garden accents include moss balls, wire urns and potted topiaries. These are balanced with sophisticated accessories like Dupioni silk curtains and mercury glass candlesticks.

"I love my dining room," said Bensten. "It's inviting, not only for a formal sit-down meal but also a place for me to relax with my laptop and a cup of coffee."

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