How to style a display

So in my annual fit of post-holiday pickup, I like to take down the holiday decor and leave a surface bare for a little while. Here is a Before shot, of a dresser in our dining room. This is the only place in the house where the original burnt adobe is visible and I LOVE the texture. The dresser was my mom’s. The 1930’s lamp was my great-grandmother’s and the photos of Chihuly glass were taken by my brother in law. (I love that the forms of the glass are sort of cacti-like.) I thought these pieces were the non-negotiable base.
before jan 2014 copy
I dusted and peeked in the left top junk drawer. Egad. Kiddie music on cassette? My son just graduated from college. I think I can toss those now. Now all the fancy napkins and napkin rings are in this drawer. Tablecloths in the big drawers. Makes perfect sense in the dining room. Except that I RARELY use tablecloths. So maybe a purge is in order…but another day.
clean out drawer
Next, I go to my Stuff Closet. Ok. I will admit it. Closets! Bins! Soon I will be selling some of my treasures on Etsy. Stay tuned… I love this thrifted painting. The colors are gorgeous. It is unframed, but I like it that way. This is my inspiration item. I will work everything else around her.
native american girl painting
Here are some other items I gathered up. I looked for color that might go with the painting. A range of big and small items. I like the IDEA of the round black try. But in reality it is too much the same size as the painting, and raising up one or the other on a pedestal would break into the line of the hanging photos. So the tray is out.
collect items
Next, I place a few of the larger items. Try to establish a base structure. You will notice the lamp is out. It just was too shiny, too white. The color in the painting was playing so nicely with the color in the photos. I decided to emphasize that. You will notice that even though the items so far are different colors and shapes, they all have similar heft. They have strong lines and are opaque. The glass pieces from above faded against the adobe wall. So they were out.
start and assess
I LOVE how both the ladies have similar bun hairstyles. Little things like that make me very happy and contribute to the “rightness” of the combination to me. Not sure where the lady in the sculpture hails from. She looks vaguely asian, but I don’t know! No signature. Very heavy stoneware. Maybe she is famous? Maybe not. She is fabulous regardless.
girls with buns
So the arrangement was feeling a little small. I moved in a mounted piece of wood. Oh my! I loved how the wood was tying into the grain on the orange topped box that the sculpture is sitting on. The wood texture is contrasting nicely with the smooth pottery and bridging the gap between the texture of the wall and the colored objects. Keeper! I had a few strands of African recycled glass beads in another room, and since the girl in the painting is wearing lots of jewelry, I thought they tied in well. Colors blended. The glass is rough, but colorful, again bridging between smooth pottery and textured wall. The teal tackle box is a gorgeous shade. Even though it isn’t pottery it has a similar sheen and heft. The long horizontal shape ┬áis a nice contrast to the round vases.
try and try again
Maybe it needs something vertical in the tallest vase? I went out and clipped some interesting branches from a lime tree that has been growing from the root stock. Horrible spines, but cool shapes. Ouch. Nope. Looks a bit like a sad Christmas tree.
nope try again
And the taupe vase, though I like the neutral color, is too fat at too much the same height as the yellow pitcher. What does it look like out?
what works what doesn't
Oooooo. Better! It gives a little breathing room and you can see the box better. I also tried some fountain grass from outside. The soft feathery-ness is nice against the wall. (Something organic is always a good bet. Flowers or a houseplant, twigs or a nest. The more random shapes add complexity.) The purple tones in the grass are tying into the small strand of purple beads. And look! I tried hanging my squash blossom necklace with the beads, and I like it. A little southwest, but hey, we are in Tucson. Always experiment with your ideas. Makes it more fun, more original and more personal.
got it 2
A little closer to see color and beads. Yum.
Here is the long shot. Fireplace is just to the left, so the logs on the floor play visually with the log elevated to art. Love that.
got it
Here are some overlaid triangles to help illustrate why the layout is working. First the large yellow overall triangle. The display reinforces the line created between the frames and the dresser. The items angle in as they move forward, and the tall items keep the eye moving between the frames and the dresser. Without the grass and the wood, there would be dead space between. The smaller orange triangle highlights the asymmetrical arrangement of the grouping which helps to keep it visually exciting. One can keep layering triangles as you look closer. Color and material and texture and weight are all repeated. All of these components make it a cohesive grouping. I know when I am done, when I look and say “ah, yes.” There isn’t anything sticking out and yelling at me. Is that just me? Do you have a similar point of satisfaction?
Next, I take all the items that got me excited (but I didn’t use here) and try them again on the next surface that needs an update!

2 thoughts on “How to style a display”

  1. I also noticed – and love – that the two ladies have similar hair styles. I really like the way this turned out. There is enough that the dresser is a focal point, but not so much that it looks cluttered. It appeals to my sense of order. Well done! Now can you come do my house?

Leave a Comment