The Art of Accessorizing
Whether you’re looking to update a tired room or moving into a new home, accessories are a great way to add instant life and personality to a space. Just as a necklace and earrings lift a nice dress to a new level of elegance, and a well-selected tie and pocket square turn a good suit into a fashion statement, home accessories are the finishing touches that transform a perfectly pleasant room into something exceptional. But, there is an art to accessorizing, and I want to help you do it well.
Before you run out looking for pretty things to fill the empty spots in your home, I encourage you to be intentional. An accessory is “a thing added to something else in order to make it more useful, versatile, or attractive.” This means not every keepsake from every “best ever” vacation makes a good accessory. Be willing to make discerning choices for beautiful results. Good accessories, by definition, complement the furnishings and architecture around them and contribute to the emotional and functional atmosphere of your room.
Train your eye to see your space objectively. The longer we’ve lived in a place, the longer our brains have been doing their jobs identifying survival essentials and blurring out non-essentials. This is good for mental health, but it means we become partially blind to our own surroundings. Even when we move into a new place, assumptions, and expectations from our last home limit creativity. So, before making any accessory decisions, practice really seeing your room.
One way to see afresh is to take phone photos from various angles in your room. Take your phone to a coffee shop, or a friend’s house, or anywhere outside your home where you can look through the pictures of your space in a different context. Imagine you’re looking at someone else’s home or flipping through pages in a magazine. This slight shift of perspective resets visual expectations so you can see a familiar room objectively to identify what is working and what is not.
Be ready to start from scratch. An accomplished artist or author does not hesitate to throw out a good painting or a nice beginning to a book when the goal is to create a masterpiece. We shouldn’t hesitate either. Try removing all small to medium-sized objects from your room. Pack them in plastic bins and store them away for a few days. Removing familiar pieces will help you discern what is truly contributing to your room. You’ll be surprised by what you don’t miss at all. As good as your space looks now, there’s always room for improvement, and it’s much easier to see clearly when you can start with a clean canvas.
Clearing the room might feel like a big step, but it frees you to make objective choices. In fact, if you label your accessory bins by category and leave them in an accessible storage location, you can “shop” through them whenever you’re ready for a change. This is a great way to make old things feel new again and spark creative ideas for fresh interpretation. But, be strong. Let go of anything that causes hesitation. Be mindful of how everything works toward the overall room aesthetic. Keep a list of items you need, like a good reading lamp or a tray for your ottoman. (By the way, this works for wardrobes and closets as well, so while you’re in seeing, sorting, and editing mode, take a look at my blog on organizing your closet.)
It’s important to understand how a room moves and breathes when selecting accessories. So, take a few “dry runs” by walking through, and sitting in all the commonly used areas. Note the places your eye naturally wanders and rests. Is there a nice stretch of wall or a nook for a special piece of art or sculpture? Maybe you find an opportunity to stimulate traffic flow by drawing guests in for a closer look at an intriguing coffee table book or an exotic vase of fresh flowers. A cozy throw over the arm of a wing chair, a pouf, and an occasional table by a fireplace create an inviting vignette. Think about where a mirror might reflect something lovely into an otherwise unexciting vantage point or bounce natural light where needed. “Listen” to your space visually, and then select accessories that will generate the desired response.
Let’s talk family photos. Of course, family is the reason we build our homes, and this should carry over into the character of our interiors, but you want your family dynamic to be the main event. Don’t let all your pictures command all the attention. Family photos should be edited as rigorously as everything else. Be selective, erring on the side of minimalism. A small selection of artful family photographs in quality frames thoughtfully placed throughout your public spaces will have greater aesthetic impact and emphasis. If you have a wall of family photos, I recommend moving that to one of the more intimate rooms of your home, like a bedroom or office. You can put the rest of your favorites in an elegant leather-bound photo album on a coffee table. Less really is more.
Now that you’ve addressed your visual impact zones, don’t neglect your task zones. We want our rooms to be beautiful, but we want them to work for us as well. Think about how you use a room, and be innovative in selecting some accessories with a purpose. For example, a pretty inlaid box could make an attractive home for your TV remote while keeping it within easy reach. And, what about lighting? An oversized lamp with a white linen shade is great for lighting up a dull, dark corner, but a lamp with a black shade or a swing-arm floor lamp with an adjustable hood is easier on the eyes for reading or having a conversation. Put some forethought into accessories that will make your room comfortable and productive.
Here are a few simple guidelines you might want to keep in mind.
- One large statement piece is much more effective than clusters of small unrelated objects.
- Groupings of threes and fives tend to be more comfortable visually.
- Items in groups should complement one another, not compete. Pay attention to size, color, and textural relationships.
- Symmetry and asymmetry are both good design tools. A large dose of asymmetry is anchored and more pleasing when accompanied by an application of clean symmetry (ie. identical lamps on identical end tables flanking a sofa.) Experiment. The photo exercise above will help.
- Quality over quantity. Be ruthless in your edits. If something is just okay, remove it or start looking for something fabulous to replace it.
- Just as good art and music incorporate purposeful pauses for reflection, so does good design. Don’t fill every space. Leave room for the eye to rest, so your carefully curated accessories can shine.
Ready to Accessorize?
Accessories are the jewelry that makes your room shine. Accessories can be as playful or contemplative as you like, but they should be an honest reflection of who you are. This is what makes your house a home and a delightful retreat for all who enter. Have Fun!
~ Beverly Farrington