Guide to Masterful Accessorizing

Yesterday, while waiting for our moving guys to arrive at a staged house we were breaking down, Angie and I were discussing how in staging, you have to make the same furniture work in many different spaces. (I know that I promised to post photos of the beach cottage we staged yesterday but that will have to wait until next time as I still have some work to do there today.) My conversation with Angie made me think about how important great accessories are and how they can help to create memorable spaces. Accessories are your best friend if you are on a budget but are often overlooked or misunderstood.  The wrong accessories can kill an otherwise good room and if left out completely make a room look unfinished.  Over the years, I have observed some common mistakes so today, I thought I'd write about how I approach accessorizing a room.

 Accentuate the Positive and Minimize the Negative

While I love being brought into a project before the house is built, most often, I arrive on the scene after the architecture is set and have to work with what is there. Sometimes I find an unbalanced  room with less than ideal window and door placement.  Other times, I am presented with low ceilings, a lack of a natural focal point or no wall on which to place a sofa.  When this happens, I turn to my accessory bag of tricks to create the illusion of an alternate reality. This is what I call my "smoke and mirrors" trick when staging.  To create a window where there should be one I install a mirror.  To create a focal point I often use art.  To create a wall where there is none or to mask an awkward corner a trifold screen does the trick. To make low ceilings look higher, I use full length curtain panels hung as high as they can go and hang tall mirrors and artwork to draw the eye upwards.  For most architectural problems, there is an accessory that can help.  Think of it this way.  When you are 22, have a perfect body, smooth skin, shiny hair and a blinding white smile, you don't need much to look fantastic.  Heck you can roll out of bed and you look great.  But when you get older, you need things like statement necklaces or earrings to draw the eye up.  You add a belt or a scarf to highlight the good and wear heels to create the illusion of height! It's the same with decorating a less than perfect room.  The key is to start by really looking critically at the space and identifying what is good and what is not so good. Once you have determined the strengths and weaknesses, you can use accessories to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative. 

Windows placed off center on a wall are a common problem.  By hanging a large painting that is the same height as the window, balance is restored. 

A floor mirror was used in his room to fill in an awkward space between windows as well as to brighten a dark room.

In the photo below, I loved the focal point of the room, the streamlined fireplace, and wanted to accent the scale of it so I chose an oversized sunburst mirror and placed an oversized glass lantern with a still life inside on the hearth.

A mirrored screen adds light and balance to a dark corner.

Add Color, Pattern and Texture

My family jokes about my pillow collection.  I admit that I do own quite a few pillows.  Okay, I have a storage room full of them!  But that's because I use them to add color to my very neutral upholstered furniture and white bedding.  An interesting thing about color is that you don't need much to create the impression of a colorful room.  Just by using a few green pillows, a throw with some green in it and perhaps a pair of green lamps and a bowl of limes, people will perceive the room as green even if the walls are gray, the sofa white and the rug is natural jute. This is critical in staging because I am not always able to have the walls repainted and certainly can't afford to buy new furniture for each job.  But it's also a great way to update your room for a minimal investment.  For years, floral chintz was all the rage and then geometric prints became the in thing.  If you keep your upholstered pieces neutral, you can keep up with trends in prints and colors without breaking the bank. I also love to play with texture in my pillow selection.  I love mixing matte like velvet with some shine from a metallic distressed leather or rough from a nubby linen or burlap with soft and fluffy from a fur (faux of course!).  

Create Personality

One of the things that captured my interest early on was fashion and personal style.  I have always been fascinated by how people express themselves through what they wear. I was lucky to have spent a fair amount of time in Europe and I learned a lot about personal style by looking at people. It's no secret that the French are masters at accessorizing.  With their accessories, they can make the most basic outfit look stunning. They can wear the same dress 3 days in a row look different each day so you never notice they are outfit repeating!  They also strive to look uniquely themselves and often have a signature something that they always wear. The French approach has influenced my decorating style and it also happens to work really well if you like to change things up in your home or you move around a lot. Art is a great way to bring personality into your rooms.  Books, objects that you have picked up on your travels or just because you like the shape or the way something feels in your hand can express your personality in a room.  A collection of something you love displayed elegantly can create a layer of personality in a room the way no sofa or chair can.  I happen to love flowers, broad leafed plants and anything that reminds me of the beach so my rooms always include natural accessories.  Remember to mass your collection, pay attention to scale and don't cover every surface with stuff.  Leave some negative (blank) space.  Let your stuff breath. 

A collection of mercury glass is displayed on the shelves in this living room. 

Accessories play a big role in this living room at a home near the shore.  Framed shell prints, a seascape and black iron lantern on the hearth all reference a love of the beach and sea.


Make Them Smile (or Laugh)

I like to include one accessory that will connect with people on an emotional level.  In staging, it is important that a home is memorable -in a good way!- while still appealing to most potential buyers. I want to have something in the room that will make you smile.  It could be a framed print of a funny saying, or something your mother would have said.  It could be a lucite z chair in a very traditional room or a rustic metal outdoor garden ornament in a living room, or a planter where the plant looks like it's growing out of the head of ancient roman statue. The point is to have something that surprises and makes you stop for a minute and look and react. It could be something that is witty, something that is a little whacky or something that is sweet and touching.  That depends on your personality and what you want to express in your room. One very important caveat is to keep this to ONE item.  You can very easily veer off into crazy land or Grandma's house if you include more than one thing like this. 

That's all for this week.  I hope you have a great weekend and a great Fourth of July! I hope to finish working early enough to bake this flag cake to take to a few parties this weekend. 

Photo by Deliciousasitlooks

Photo by Deliciousasitlooks