WHEN TV COMMENTATOR NANCY DICKerson moved from her home at Merrywood, the famous McLean estate, to a new house in Kalorama, the first thing she missed was a feeling of space. "I was used to living with no shades, looking at gardens all around," she remembers. "I didn't want to feel cooped up." So Dickerson took drastic action. Working with artist Christopher Robertson, she came up with a design that would open up her dining room: join the garden and the groaning board and blow the ceiling above sky high.

For starters, Dickerson replaced french doors leading to the garden with an almost full wall of glass. Then Robertson applied his brush and talent to the dining room walls to create the illusion of a stone and marble courtyard, with arches and cutouts that give glimpses of the "blue sky" and "hills" beyond. "He put layers and layers of paint on the ceiling, and then washed over it all to 'mellow' it so it wouldn't look like Palm Beach," says Dickerson, remembering how she came to have soft cumulus clouds floating over her dining room table.

Robertson followed the seasons clockwise around the room, painting the walls with spring and summer flowers, bunches of fall grapes (above the doors to the garden) and, finally, ivy for winter. Dickerson bolsters her faux fleurs with real geraniums that she keeps blooming in big cast-iron window boxes year round.