No interior feels complete and welcoming without that final layer of beautiful and meaningful accessories. Five designers share their ideas for making the best impression

By Alice Doyle
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The ultimate aim of any interior design project is to realize thoughtfully crafted rooms that tell a story about who lives there. No one wants to live in a home that gives the impression of a showroom or a catalog photo shoot. Success springs from those special details—accessories that complete the vision the homeowner and designer wanted to capture.

While the goal is the same, the method varies among designers. Some curate throughout the project; others keep an inventory of new pieces and special finds to bring in during installation. But for Atlanta designer Jared Hughes, accessories can be a jumping-off point. He explains, “I think the type of clients often attracted to us are collectors or those who want to begin collecting. So we have designed rooms around porcelain collections, grand tour objects, and even inlay boxes. It’s incredible how some of the colors and details in these pieces will launch an entire color scheme for a room or inspire the style of furniture or lighting.”

 

Personal Collections

Designers address a client’s existing collections and décor in various ways. Courtney McLeod of Right Meets Left Interior Design in New York loves when clients bring things into a project from the start. “When people have special collections, family heirlooms, or pieces that have personal meaning that we can incorporate, it makes them feel more connected to the space and the process,” she says.

Jennifer Leonard of Nifelle Design created a bedside vignette with ceramics, a peacock-colored jeweled vase from Currey & Company, and a small framed botanical print atop a blue chest from Lexington. Photo by David Papazian

Lexington, Kentucky designer Isabel Ladd has clients divide their décor into three piles—musts, maybes (no strong feeling either way), and nos. “I will definitely find a way to incorporate anything that has special sentimental value,” she says. Designer Jennifer Leonard of Nifelle Fine Design Interiors in Portland, Oregon, asks clients how they feel about each item. “That way I can find out any special backstory and judge their attachment to something before making a suggestion,” she says.

 

More Or Less

Hughes thinks vignettes can go in a few directions: “It can be sparse with a few important or impactful pieces, such as a pair of really lovely jars on top of a console. Or it can be loaded with lots of impactful, modestly-scaled pieces such as a mix of busts, obelisks, and architectural pieces. But I think scale is important with both.”

A raffia étagère from Currey & Company sits pretty in front of the leopard-and-botanical Kravet wallpaper. Leonard filled it with all manner of eye-catching accessories including a small sunburst mirror, boxes, a terra-cotta lidded vase, and a one-of-a-kind antique artifact (middle, far right) from Currey & Company. Next to the étagère, she placed a pair of green vases, also from Currey & Company. Photo by David Papazian

“The fewer the accessories, the larger and more impactful they need to be,” says Hughes. “If you are doing a larger group of pieces, I think the key is multiple heights and sizes layered in ways that showcase each piece to its max. Taller in the back or middle, middle-sized pieces not fully blocking larger pieces, and then smaller pieces tucked in here and there. It’s kind of hard to describe—just takes a certain eye.”

 

Family Photos

A large coffee table like the one in the living room of Leonard’s client needs a lot of accessorizing. The primarily blue-and-white design scheme extends to the table with beautiful blue boxes, white ceramics lined with gold, and blue-and-white porcelain. Photo by David Papazian

Most designers prefer that family photos be placed in the more private parts of the house such as a hallway leading to bedrooms or up a stairway. It’s usually best to group them in a gallery wall format. “I love family photos if they are displayed in a proper way,” says Smith. “You need to curate them the same way as an art collection for a thoughtful presentation.” Hughes adds, “Family photos are hard for me because they get so junky so quickly. I try to encourage clients to minimize the collection to the important ones and use only in personal areas—bedrooms, family rooms, and studies.”

Experiment

Even seasoned designers play around with various pieces to come up with the look they are going for. As Ladd advises: “Don’t fall into what I call ‘analysis paralysis,’ where you get hung up on something while aiming for perfection. Say yes to instinct and joy and give yourself permission to experiment and move things around.”

Designer Favorites

When considering art and accessories for a space, there are six fundamentals that designers turn to.

Boxes: Every designer loves boxes of all types for their prettiness and practicality. Most designers include them on a coffee table to hide remotes or put coasters in. Ladd also creates a family memory box and keeps in it in her TV room. “I print out photos and include ticket stubs, Disney receipts, etc. Things that people can look through at their leisure. And my kids are really into Legos, so I even use a pretty box to put stray pieces in that I find around the house!

Books: Designers also love books and use them on coffee tables or side tables, basically anywhere that makes sense. Sometimes they will them as a base for a special gem or two. Ladd likes to include books that reflect her client’s passions, whether it’s favorite travel destinations, cars, horses, etc. “If there are young ones in the house, I like to include beautiful illustrated children’s books in the mix,” she says.

Trays: Practical and pretty, trays are a designer’s friend. “We like bone inlay and lacquer trays to group daily-use objects in nice tidy ways while adding color and interest,” says Hughes.

Organic and handmade pieces: “I like to include rock crystals and other pieces from nature. We also include a lot of handmade porcelain—bowls, trays, and vases,” says Leonard.

Strong shapes: Obelisks, busts, architectural fragments, and sculptural pieces.

One-of-a-kind pieces: “Whether they come from an antique shop or thrift store, some unique items are important in the mix. You do not want to look like everything came from a catalog or is too matched,” says Ladd.

Sources For Accessories

Where do the designers go to find just the right object?

High Point for New and One-of-a-Kind Pieces: Currey & Company is great for all sorts of items. “We like to stock a lot of accessories from Currey,” says Leonard. “We love their antiques section and buy a lot of those when we are in High Point.” Smith and McLeod are also fans of the brand. Made Goods is another source for all the fabulous finishes—trays, boxes, objects. Lily’s Living carries all things Asian (pots, vases, ceramics, beads, calligraphy brushes), and Global Views has all things accessories). “It’s a major bonus to shop during happy hour—their hibiscus martinis are the bomb. The more I consume, the higher my order seems to climb!” says Leonard.

High Point for Antiques: “I love walking around the antiques section at High Point where I find all types of accessories. Loft Antiques is a favorite of mine,” says Ladd. Adds Leonard, “My first stop at HP Market is always the Antique and Design Center. I love shopping antiques and vintage, as well as one-of-a-kinds. Some of my favorite pieces have been acquired there from vendors far and wide, including Kenny Ball Antiques and Loft Antiques (out of Atlanta).”

Online: 1st Dibs, Chairish, and Modern Antiquitarian for antiques and vintage; African décor specialty website 54kibo; Oka—a British-based purveyor of home décor.
Antiques Fairs: Round Top in Texas; Deco-Off in Paris. “There are lots of antique fairs on Sundays in Brazil called ‘Hippie Fairs’ where I purchase ceramics to ship back to the US,” says Ladd.

Three Tips For Choosing Big Little Things

While designers are openminded when it comes to accessorizing a room, they do have a few specific tips.

Power of Clusters: “If a client has a collection of say, elephant figurines, I like to group them all together instead of sprinkling them about,” says McLeod. “Clustering them together makes a bigger impact in the room, calls attention to the collection, and provides a conversation point for guests.”

Make it Odd: “I do believe in the power of odds,” says Beth Diana Smith, based in Kearny, New Jersey. “Whether, it’s three, five, seven, or more, an odd number of pieces looks more natural and pleasing to the eye.” Adds McLeod, “I don’t believe in a lot of rules when it comes to accessorizing, but the rule of odds really works in practice when it comes to creating a vignette.”

Mix it Up: Whether it’s varying heights, shapes, and textures or pairing antique and vintage with new finds, the goal is to have an engaging mélange with the following proviso: “You want a vignette to look intentional and curated,” says Isabel. “You can have a lot of pieces, but you don’t want it to feel messy and random.”