Helpful hints to get the most out of your accessories


Any space within a home, be it a living room, dining room, bedroom or den, only becomes your space when it reflects your personality, lifestyle and individual tastes. There is no better way to create that personality than through the incorporation and display of “accessories.”

Accessories can be any objects used to complement or complete a space, and if used strategically, their function brings the room together visually and aesthetically. We all have items from our past, our travels, special gifts, books and works of art that we want to display, but many people have a hard time displaying these items to their best advantage and especially to the best advantage of the room. So here are some tips and tricks that you can use to help you accessorize any space that not only highlight all those special pieces but also create a visually harmonious space.

  1. Bookshelves can be an asset or a distraction. We all have favorite books that we tend to rely on, so we like to keep them handy, but displaying books can be a challenge. There is a tendency to position every book vertically, like a library. Instead, alternate horizontal stacks with vertical rows, to create an interesting visual mix. Expensive coffee table books can be just that, but if they are used as decorative stacks, they can become a “pedestal” to display a floral arrangement or an interesting piece of sculpture. Using books in this way can give the table or shelf that needed interest by providing different levels of accents.
  2. Hanging artwork is always a source of consternation. In fact, hanging artwork incorrectly and at the wrong height is the #1 most common design mistake. Most people think that if you have a long wall to fill, spreading out your artwork to fill the wall is the way to go. Let’s rethink that strategy. Artwork needs to be incorporated into what can be referred to as design “vignettes.” A design vignette begins with a piece of furniture. It can be a chest, a table, a bench, a loveseat or sofa. That piece becomes the “anchor,” and its scale or dimension dictates the size of the artwork that should be hung above it, creating the vignette. The perfect size of art that goes above the anchor piece should be approximately 2/3 the width of that piece. You can use a single piece of art, which should be hung four to six inches above your anchor piece, or you can “layer” your artwork. Two or three pieces of art are layered above your anchor piece with one of the artworks hung at eye level and the accompanying pieces hung above and below that centered work. Always consider the scale of your anchor piece. The larger your anchor, the larger your artwork can be. The most visually appealing vignette incorporates three pieces of art with the largest piece at the bottom and the smallest at the top.
  3. Accessorizing sofa tables and mantels are similar in that they both tend to be long and narrow. Choosing a central focal point is the natural approach to a long and narrow surface. That focal point could be a floral arrangement, a piece of sculpture or a decorative plate or platter that is supported by a sturdy stand. This tall focal point is then centered on the surface. A layering technique is also incorporated here, but we use a horizontal layering instead of vertical. Moving from left to right, select personal pieces that, when in place, become incrementally shorter as they move across the surface. When finished, each side of the central focal point “points” to that important central feature, completing another form of “vignette.”

In general, accessories are what give an interior “soul” and distinguish a home from a furniture showroom. When accessories are used and placed with care, they tell a story of their owners’ lives, passions, travels and lifestyle. Keep in mind that odd numbers are more visually appealing than even ones. Always choose quality over quantity, watch the proportion of your groupings, combine textures and colors and think about “layering” to create a coordinated “vignette.” Happy accessorizing!

Patricia Cove is Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in chestnut Hill and can be reached through her web site:


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