3 Rules for Arranging Groups of Accessories

Accessories come in all shapes and sizes from huge pieces of artwork and area rugs to tiny decorative boxes and porcelain.  They can each be gorgeous in their own right, but it’s the way you put them together or “display” them that really helps them to stand out and make a statement.

When you do put a variety of items together in a display, they need to have something in common.  Otherwise they will look like they are simply sitting together, waiting to be put away.

They also need to have a certain balance to them.  For instance, 12 small ceramic boxes all sitting at the same level on a table won’t look like they are meant to be there.  However, if you create stands of different heights to raise some of them up, they will immediately have more prominence and you will create a form of balance.

And third, I guess it isn’t necessarily needed, but if there is a story behind the items in the display, it sure makes for a more meaningful grouping of belongings.


There are really no hard and fast rules for creating a grouping of accessories on a dresser top, counter, shelf or window ledge. The first step is to address functional issues of the both the flat surface and the main vignette piece. For example, is there a need for a light source close on top of a dresser? If so, build the vignette around a lamp.

When functional needs are decided upon, look at the overall design of the room. For effective tablescaping, the accessories must support the style and theme of the room. If the room is formal, symmetrical groupings work best. For informal rooms, asymmetrical arrangements are ideal.1display2

The vignettes should help coordinate the room in which it is placed. One way to do this is through color. Choose items that complement the dominant room color. Same-color accessories in different shades of that color can also be used to create an attractive grouping. Silk flowers or artificial fruit are a great way to introduce color into a grouping.


For visual interest, display an odd number of items. Groups of items have more visual impact than a single object. Combinations of three to five work particularly well. Be careful, though, not to display too many items. Three or five accessories are interesting to look at, while nine items may appear cluttered – unless the space is large enough to accommodate them!


When creating a grouping, place similar objects together—grouped according to size, shape or color. To add visual interest, vary the height of the objects. If necessary, place some items on small pedestals or stands to elevate them. A stack of books makes a great stand for smaller objects.
When choosing items for a grouping, it sometimes helps to stick to one theme. For instance, create a grouping of candles of varying heights or display framed photos of family vacations. If your favorite vacation spot happens to be the beach, add a small seashell to support the theme.

Create depth in a grouping by alternating pieces from back to front instead of placing them in a straight line. Try placing three items in a triangular arrangement with the tallest pieces in back. Overlap the triangles if displaying more than three objects.


Mirrors make a great addition to a room, even if used on a flat surface such as a tabletop or the top of a dresser. Items placed in front of the mirror become more dimensional and interesting. For a touch of the unexpected, try leaning a smaller framed mirror against a larger mirror.

Decorative shelving can be a challenge to decorate. Most units have five or six shelves—that’s a lot of vignettes! Decorating the shelves in a zigzag pattern can make the process less intimidating.

On one shelf, place the tallest item on the far left; place the tallest item on the next shelf on the far right.

To make a display even more attractive, vary the textures of the items in the grouping. Architectural elements of wood or iron can add character to a shelf. Photos in a variety of frame styles can become a focal point.

1display6Use greenery to add life and texture to a vignette. Tuck some silk greenery into a corner of a shelf while trailing a second piece over the edge of another shelf. Or fill a basket with silk greenery and make it a focal point by placing it in the center of a shelf.

Placing vignettes in the kitchen takes a bit more consideration than arranging a vignette on a dresser, for example. The first step is to put away all of the accessories and small appliances that may currently reside on the counter. Decide what your kitchen is trying to tell you—are the colors rustic and calling for country or outdoorsy accessories? Would French country roosters add a touch of whimsy? Would contemporary colored glass vases or bottles look best?


Once you have an idea of what your kitchen is trying to say, select a theme name—the more descriptive, the better. The name you decide on will help determine the type of accessories to use. For instance, a “Sophisticated Fruit Basket” theme rules out rustic baskets made from twigs, but allows a complex woven basket that may include wrought iron or stamped metalwork. When the theme is set, it’s time to get the functional items squared away before you begin shopping for accessories.

Return the small appliances to their previous places on the counters, along with functional items such as canister sets, knife blocks, paper towel holders, etc. This is a good time to be brutal—decide what you really need on the counter for convenience. Place all remaining items in cabinets.


Carefully determine how you move through the kitchen. Place the remaining items on the counter in the best spot for that activity. Think this through—your kitchen should operate like a well-oiled machine. Take note of the empty spaces and any wall outlets that could be hidden by sliding over an appliance or a well-placed accessory. Note, too, any bare wall spaces that could hold artwork. Measure the space, both linear and vertical, over the cabinets. With this information in hand, you’re ready to choose accessories.


For above the cabinets, you have a few arrangement possibilities. Fill the entire area with a variety of heights and shapes of items, tied together by color or theme or garlands of greenery and berries. If that seems too much for the space, create vignettes of accessories placed in strategic locations, with bare spots in between for added drama. Do not arrange items in a line across the tops of the cabinets—this lacks dimension and cohesiveness.

For countertops, place a few theme-related accessories in out of the way places. Use a small picture, plate or cookbook on a stand to hide unsightly outlets. Items that are functional as well as decorative are perfect for countertop decorating. Think pitchers, spice racks, bowls, canisters and salt and pepper shakers. Do allow some empty space on the countertops to prevent a cluttered, crowded feeling.

Arranging a vignette in any room can take time—sometimes a great deal of time. The final result is more than worth the time and effort, because these are the personal touches that will make your home warm, unique and interesting.

Just remember those three things I told you about creating displays in your home.  You want the grouping to have balance.  The items should have something in common so they look like they are meant to be together.  By doing this, the items will tell a story….a story about you!



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