Tablescaping: Not Just For Tables Anymore

Follow these 10 tips for arranging accessories artfully on any surface.

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Tablescaping is the art of arranging tabletops, but why stop at tables? You can create interesting vignettes for every horizontal surface imaginable. And when selling your home, arranging accessories artfully is a staging essential.

There are really no hard and fast rules for creating a grouping for a dresser, a bookshelf, a countertop or a window ledge, but after creating hundreds of vignettes, I do have a few tips.

1. Remember that not all accessories are just for show. To begin a tablescaping project, look at the entire room and decide what function, if any, the piece serves. If there's a need for a light source, for example, build your vignette around it.

2. Look at the design of the overall room. For effective tablescaping, accessories must be chosen to support the style and theme of the room. If your room is formal, a symmetrical design works best. In a more casual setting, asymmetrical groupings are ideal.

3. Use a vignette to help coordinate a room through color. You might use items that complement the dominant color in a room. Same-color accessories in different shades can also create an attractive grouping. Silk flowers and artificial fruit are some of my favorite ways to introduce color into a grouping.

4. For visual interest, display items together in odd numbers. Groups of items have more visual impact than do single objects, and I find that combinations of three or five work particularly well. Be careful not to display too many items¾three or five accessories are interesting to look at, but nine items may look cluttered.

5. When creating a grouping, place similar objects together. Group them according to size, shape or color. To add visual interest, try to vary the height of the objects, and when necessary, use small pedestals or stands to elevate objects. You can also use books stacked on their sides as a base for smaller items.

6. When choosing the items for a grouping, it sometimes helps to stick to a theme. You might create a grouping of candles of varying heights or display some family photos of favorite vacation spots. If your favorite vacation spot happens to be the beach, add a seashell to support the theme.

7. Mirrors make a great addition to a room, even when they're used on a horizontal surface. Items placed on the mirror become more dimensional and interesting. Or, for the unexpected, try leaning a smaller framed mirror against a larger mirror.

8. Most shelving units have five or six shelves, and I've found that decorating the shelves in a sort of zigzag pattern works well. On one shelf, the tallest item might be on the far left, while the tallest item on the next shelf might be on the far right.

9. Vary the textures of items in a grouping. Architectural elements in wood or iron can add character to a shelf. Photos in a variety of frames can become a focal point.

10. Greenery adds life and texture to a vignette. Just tuck some silk greenery into a corner of a shelf and trail a second piece over the edge of another shelf. Or fill a basket with silk greenery and make it the focal point by placing it in the center of a shelf.

 (Shari Hiller is co-author with Matt Fox of Real Decorating for Real People.)

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