Tips on Arranging Accessories

Learn several designer techniques for arranging and displaying collectibles and accessories.


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Organized table top
Wendell T. Webber
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Tabletop Order

    Coffee tables offer lots of space for books, flowers, and decorative pieces. To keep objects orderly and pleasing to the eye, use trays to group similar items, such as ceramics and pillar candles. Try clustering candles of different sizes and colors in one tray and bowls or vases in another. Then jazz up a stack of books by topping with a vessel filled with found objects.

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Art and Accessories Working Together

    Complement a tabletop of accessories with a striking piece of wall art. Hang the art about 8 to 12 inches above the table to form an eye-pleasing connection between the items. To complete the effect, make sure that some of the accessories on the tabletop are tall enough to overlap the artwork, helping the art and accessories appear as a single unit.

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Focus on a Collection

    A hodgepodge of collectibles scattered around a room doesn't let the eye focus and enjoy any one item. Simplify what you collect. Stick with items that are a similar size or hue. Then gather your favorites in one spot for major impact sans the clutter.

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Give Objects a Lift

    Use books as graphic, colorful pedestals to give framed photos and other treasured objects a lift. Alternating horizontal and vertical stacks of books add interest to this mantel. Try the same idea on any shelf or down the center of a table.

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Multiple Shelf Arrangements

    Group favorite objects in odd numbers -- that setup is naturally more appealing to the eye than even-number groupings. Make a shelf display feel more like art than storage by staggering heights and shapes and putting a little breathing room between objects.

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Eye Rhythm

    Use height and scale to guide the eye. In this living room, a mirror fashioned from a schoolhouse window adds vertical interest to a collection of treasures spread out on a French farm table. The eye travels naturally from the mirror to the stone-base lamp, then steps down to the brown-and-white transferware contained in a tray before looking up again to take in the pillar candles.

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Graphic Variety

    Fill the relatively small space on a side table in the living room with a few well-chosen pieces. Vary their size and shape for visual interest. Here, a unique and colorful lamp is a sculptural focal point next to round paperweights, a rectangular box, and a glass pitcher of flowers.

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The More the Merrier

    Make an impact with multiples of a single item. On this mantel, a series of similar maps framed in white becomes the focal point. Sprinkle a handful of smaller objects in the foreground for added interest without overpowering the primary display.

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Play with Contrast

    Display collections against a contrasting background to make them really stand out. In this dining room display, creamware and statuary look radiant against a black armoire. Small touches of green -- a fern in a lattice-weave planter and pears in a footed compote -- warm the grouping with color and life.

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Wall Display

    Showcase a large quantity of similar items -- from books and dishes to travel mementos and pictures -- in a graphic display space, such as this prefabricated storage unit. Use the repetition of the square cubbies to make an impact, then connect the spaces by repeating colors. Within each cubicle, position tall objects in back and several smaller items in front. Apply the same concept to several long shelves hung on one wall.

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The Lineup

    Use a long shelf to line up a collection of like items. On this porch, vintage watering cans feel right at home. Use a similar ledge in a breakfast room to display plates, or in a child?s room to keep porcelain figurines or stuffed animals out in the open yet out of the way.

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Find Balance

    Harmonize objects of different shapes and sizes with an asymmetrical arrangement. Balance a tall, large object with several smaller ones. Nestle the items together to increase the arrangement's visual weight and overlap shapes to create layers. Choose items from the same color palette to unify unrelated objects.

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Create Vignettes

    A pair of large louvered shutters creates the feel of a mini room. Use this technique to create intimacy and charm, with both large arrangements of furniture as well as smaller displays of accessories. Highlight special pieces by isolating them. Here, sparkling glass cloches (bell jars) cover little bird?s nests with a bit of style and shine.

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