Around the House – Vignettes – The Decorator’s Finishing Touch

side table vignetteYou’ve re-upholstered the sofa, rolled out the new Oushak rug, and hung the gorgeous custom drapery, but somehow your new room just doesn’t feel quite done.  You gaze around, rearrange the throw pillows, scratch your head and wonder… what’s missing?  Why does this perfectly decorated room look so dull?


At right, This side table vignette incorporates handy items like coasters and cocktail napkins with sentimental objects – a beloved photo and a piece of coral from a favorite beach.

Chances are, you just need the “finishing touch” that comes from focusing on the small details in a space.  Look around your room and visually break it down into a series of small visual scenes – the console table behind the sofa, the reading chair in front of the fireplace, the buffet and mirror on the far wall.  You want to turn each of these scenes into an attractive arrangement all on its own.  In the decorating world, we call this a vignette.

When in doubt, add something green! Fresh flowers make this simple  vignette come to life.”While vignettes are all about decoration, I believe they should begin with the items you actually need, not just pretty objets d’art.   Find ways to make the items you really use (like tissues) as pretty as possible (a hemstitched linen tissue box cover).  Then add in objects that have real meaning for you, like a family photo or the conch shell your daughter brought back from a family vacation.  Keep the purely ornamental stuff to a minimum, or you’ll soon find clutter creeping in.

My personal order of importance for items used to compose a vignette is:

  1. Items You Use In That Spot
  2. Sentimental Objects You Want to See
  3. Greenery –fresh flowers or a live plant
  4. Purely Ornamental Objects

So if you plan to arrange a vignette on the table next to your sofa, start by grabbing the things you always reach for when you sit there.  If it’s a bag of salty snacks, the remote control, and a cold drink, you could begin this vignette with a covered crystal dish full of nuts.  Next add a pretty box to hold the fifteen remotes our televisions seem to require these days.  Finally, put out some decorative coasters and cocktail napkins.  If the table looks full when you’ve placed all these items on it, stop here.  If you think it needs a little more decoration, bring out one of your sentimental pieces – a pretty dish made by one of your grandchildren might be just the thing.  If it still needs a little filler, my go-to is always something alive.  Try a small green plant in a pretty pot or a few stems of fresh flowers.  Very rarely will you find there’s a need to go out and purchase a purely
decorative object.

Start by creating just one small vignette.  As you style it, remember a few of these tried and true decorator tricks.  Items tend to look best when grouped in odd numbers.  This is especially true when dealing with tchotchkes like small boxes, miniature decorative dishes, and figurines.  Use trays and baskets to pull together disparate objects.  Remote controls, notebooks, and magazines look orderly when stacked in a tray, and keys and spare change become decorative when tossed into a lovely pewter bowl.  When in doubt about one of your vignettes, try a little bit of green.  It softens the edges of everything and somehow seems to let the eye rest a while.

Be forewarned – styling vignettes is addicting!  For people who love design, changing up vignettes is a great way to re-decorate, on a small scale, in the span of an afternoon.  Once you have completed two or three of these little arrangements, you may find yourself vignette-ing your way around the house!

[blockquote class=blue]Kitty Burruss is an interior designer, wife, and mother.  She loves nothing more than to spend a Friday evening styling bookshelves with a glass of wine.  Sometimes two shelves, two glasses.[/blockquote]

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About the Author: Kitty Burruss