Decorating or Styling?

Decorating or styling?

Ok. I get to put on my slightly snooty decorators hat for this one. Decorating a book case, or a coffee table, or a shelf or the top of a dresser means painting designs on it, or adding tassels or  nail-head trim, or adding some wood trim. It means embellishing the surface. Styling refers to the arranging of items on that surface. So, yes, you could style a decorated book case.  But you do not decorate a coffee table with books, just as you do not style a coffee table with new paint.


striped chest
A decorated chest of drawers
painted chest
Another decorated chest.
















There, that’s out of the way.

I was in a group discussion the other day and this came up when talking about how to arrange items on the top of a bureau in the living room.  And as that was the reason for the discussion, I’ll share what we decided. These guidelines apply to bureaus, coffee tables, decorative shelves. mantles — places where you are displaying things.


coffee table 3's
A beautifully styled coffee table. And room, for that matter. I can’t find my notes on attribution for this image, if anyone knows, please tell me and I’ll give credit.

1. Things always look best in groups of three.

-don’t know why, but this is true. It’s one of those truisms which you just have to accept. I wish someone would explain why this is true. I’d be interested.

2. Pick items which belong together.

– for example: typically, a vase, a softball and a rock don’t belong together.

– successful tablescapes tell a story, or reinforce the room theme or color scheme.

3. Choose items of different heights and sizes.

– but one super large and two tiny doesn’t cut it either.

– three books stacked on top of each other make one taller, larger item. They don’t qualify as 3 books.

4. Make sure that any item is large enough to be easily identified from the normal viewing distance.

-it isn’t a valued part of the tablescape if you can’t tell what it is.

-your tablescape will lose its importance completely if you have to get right up to it to see the components.

5. Vary texture.

-some smooth, some rough, some shiny, some dull.

6. Use items which relate to the theme of the room.

  – a small table-top lighthouse, a miniature boat and a reed ball belong in the sea- side cottage.  A victorian picture framed photo, a small nose-gay of flowers and a book about needlepoint belong in a Shabby Chic room.

7. Pay attention to scale and balance.

– a great big flower in a tiny vase — no. Two blue things and one green thing — probably no because the green one will take visual importance over the things which are the same.


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