There is certainly an art to properly styling the surfaces in your home. Tables,credenzas, fireplace mantles, shelving… surfaces are everywhere, and the objects you chose to display on them are the finishing touches that can really make or break a space. If done incorrectly, the surfaces in your home can easily look too sparse and boring, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, messy and cluttered. It can be difficult to figure out how to find the right balance between the two while also making them beautiful and functional for you. But with some guidance, you can easily have stylish surfaces in your home. Here’s how it’s done:
1. Purge. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, do not let things you don’t love or need take up space in your home. If it isn’t beautiful, functional, or special to you, toss it or donate it.
2. Start with a clean slate. Empty the surfaces in the space you are working with so you can look at them in a new light and really evaluate what the surfaces are best for. What objects do you use in that space that it would make sense to have out? Oftentimes functional items can also be pretty, like glasses on a bar cart or your collection of vintage bowls in a dining room.
3. Decide which objects are worth displaying. If they don’t fit in the attractive category, hide them away in a cupboard or basket. All other viable contenders, collect in the middle of the room so you can see what you have to work with all at once. Your objects should be mostly neutral in color or fit within your color palette (another post on this coming soon). There is definitely some flexibility in this rule- it can be fine for art or books, for example, to bring in other colors. But in most cases, artwork, books, and other accessories work best when they help to tie your color palette together.
4. Start placing objects. Here is where things can start to get a little tricky. You can’t just plop pretty things on a tabletop and call it a day. You don’t live in a store, you live in a home, and it does matter how the objects are placed. Read on.
5. Make sure the objects are varying widths, sizes, and shapes. A pretty foolproof combination is to pair a low and wide item, like stacked books, with a taller item like a lamp or vase, and finally throw in a medium sized item in an interesting shape, like a potted plant. If you’re working with a longer surface, like a credenza or mantle, you can mirror this formula on each side, leaving some negative space in the middle. Negative space is very important, because it keeps things from looking too cluttered and allows the objects you are displaying to breathe. Symmetry can be pleasing to the eye, like a pair of lamps on either side of a buffet, but the objects don’t have to be the same. As long as objects of similar height and heft are on either side to balance each other out, it will work.
6. Layer your items. Rather than placing objects in perfect rows, be sure to set some farther back and some closer, to create that layered look. That way, your surfaces will look like you collected and placed these objects overtime, forming these beautiful little vignettes that tell stories about who you are. Keep playing around with things, take a step back to evaluate, and tweak as needed. Eventually it will feel right.
7. Don’t be afraid to mix things up with the seasons or your mood! When my space starts to feel stale, I love to move things around to different rooms or hide them away for a while. I have an entire shelf in my meager closet space dedicated solely to items I like to style with, and things are always getting rotated in or out.
Here are some of my favorite styling pieces for you to keep your eye out for:
Books- this may be the best one. Books tell a story (ha!), take up lots of visual space, and are so useful for adding height and weight when needed. I prefer hardcover books that I have read or have good intentions of actually reading (the older the better), with the dust jackets taken off. Most books are prettier and less visually stimulating without them (this vintage cover of Gone With the Wind is an exception, obviously).
Trays- these are so great for corralling smaller items so that your surface doesn’t look too cluttered. Instead of seeing all those little objects cluttering your space, the eye registers them as one item just because they are on a tray. Plus, they’re just useful.
Antique or vintage objects- a tarnished brass candlestick, an old camera, anything that is interesting and tells a story. Old objects give your space some history and contrast so nicely with your newer pieces.
Plants- if I wasn’t worried about killing them all, I would have about a thousand more plants than I already do. And I have a lot. Truly, they are so sculptural and beautiful and literally bring so much life into a space. If a space looks a little flat, add a plant and I promise it will liven it right up.
Vessels- vases, pots, glass pitchers, (I have a thing for milk glass ones myself), anything that is sculptural, interesting, and you can easily put some freshly cut flowers in at a moments’ notice.
Framed art- this is such a great way to add personality to space. A framed painting, print or photograph leaning on a bookshelf or table takes up a lot of empty space without cluttering the surface. So useful.
Lamps- they create such a cozier atmosphere than overhead lighting, especially in a living room. They’re warm, give off a flattering glow, and are yet another opportunity to bring something pretty and interesting into your space. Not to mention functional.
Now go forth and style!
*Photos taken by the very talented Amanda Seifert of Amanda Seifert Photography