It’s All About the Accessories: Layering in Small, Significant Details

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Accessories in a home are defined as the items that add aesthetic value to a space, like art, figurines, plants, or centerpieces, but they can also be functional items like clocks, blankets, pillows, or books. You may not think they are important, but if you’ve ever complained about your room looking unfinished or boring, it’s most likely due to a lack of accessories. The good news is that adding in those small things can make a really big difference. The even better news is that you can take your time and add as you go. If your goal is to personalize your space, here are some things to keep in mind.

Practically, it may be helpful to fully understand what home accessories are. I know this seems terribly obvious to some, but I find that many people are at a loss as to where to start because they are not quite sure what qualifies as an accessory and/or they are reluctant to purchase random items for the sole purpose of accessorizing, without them having any function in the room. It can also feel like a hassle to put out additional items that will need constant dusting or could potentially end up looking like clutter. To help you start brainstorming, here is a list of some of the items that can be used to accessorize your home:

Clocks, trays and platters, books, stools, poufs, framed art, sculptural pieces (anything from geometric shapes to animal figurines), baskets, pillows, flowers and plants, vases, planters, boxes (jewelry box, cigar box, glass cases), mobiles, banners, lamps, throws and blankets, rugs, curtains, mirrors, and candles can all be considered accessories!

If that hasn’t gotten your wheels turning, search the internet for visual inspiration. When you look at a picture of a room that you love for its ambience and overall look, pay close attention to the accessories that were used in that room. It will be apparent that items that may seem unimportant by themselves can contribute to the overall coziness of a space once they are layered together. Full disclosure, these are the things that my husband usually categorizes as the ‘unnecessary’ items, but even he had to admit that our living room felt dramatically more like our home once those various elements were added in. And this brings me to my first point, which is that you need to go with what you love.

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I have found, time and time again, that the places that make me feel instantly at home are the spaces that are filled with items that are loved and cherished. This also means that you should accessorize with pieces that have meaning and relevance. (Otherwise, you will end up just filling up space for the sake of filling up space, and it will feel like clutter.) This will also ensure that you will start with the things that you already own.

Second, layer by function. Think about how the room is used and what type of room it is. If it’s a living room and you do a lot of reading there, create a reading nook on an armchair or a part of the sofa and place a comfortable pillow, blanket, lamp and a side table with a stack of books. Or if your living room needs to be a functional space for your children to play, include a woven basket for store their toys. If it's a dining room, bring in a shelf or tray to create a makeshift bar, and accessorize and personalize your bar. If it’s a guest room, think about including candles, a stack of towels, books and magazines, and a small basket with other simple necessities like soaps. For a bedroom where you get ready every morning, create a space for a small table or a vanity, or make some room on a dresser for things like a jewelry box, mirror, and inspirational art.

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Third, when you are trying to make decisions about which accessories to add, think about color, texture and pattern. One of the best ways to add bursts of color, texture and pattern is with pillows, throws, rugs, and curtains. Baskets that serve the dual role of storage can provide contrasting texture. Plants also pack a visual punch with their color and texture and add movement to a room. If you want to arrange and layer according to a color scheme, check out blogs like Design Seeds, Plenty of Colour, or Color Collective for color combinations. If you are not sure about a particular color or pattern combination, make a mood board so that you can see the different elements together in one place. Designers employ mood boards all the time to create a design concept for a reason; seeing it all together on paper is extremely helpful for visualizing the outcome in real life. You can do an analog version, or use a picture collage website like PicMonkey to create a digital board.

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Fourth, as you raid your storage or wander through thrift stores and antique shops, keep an eye out for art and anything that could potentially be art and start collecting it for your walls. Go with what is unique! Unique items will make your space different from every other space and will make it feel more like yours. Thrift stores, antique shops and flea markets are great places to find unique items. If you want to keep things simple, pick one special item to be the focal point of your room. If you want to experiment, think outside the box and consider all the various things that could be mounted on the wall and turned into art. Recently, I’ve been seeing things like branches, weavings and plants in wooden planks adorning walls to provide texture and visual interest.

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Fifth, when you do arrange things on a flat surface, whether it is a coffee table, desk, or shelf, layer for depth, add pops of color, and play with height. Mixing size and height will add visual impact. This is another area where you should use the things that you already have. Stacked books can be used as pedestals, and if you collect things that would make a great display, put out a few things from the collection and add them to a bookshelf for a personal touch.

Lastly, edit as you go. ‘Less is more’ can be a useful adage to keep in mind during this process, but when it comes to layering accessories, I think the more appropriate advice is that balance is key. You'll have plenty of opportunities to simplify or add as you go, and if you keep your mind open and pace yourself for the long run, the editing process will also be a great learning experience.

(Image credits: Lauren Naimola; Suzanne; Adrienne Breaux; Lindsey Nochta)

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Christine lives in Richmond, VA with her husband, daughter and Norwegian Elkhound. She is a purveyor of daily delights and champions the joy of doing more with less, the art of living beautifully, and sharing good stories.