Accessories: A decorator's perspective

Part 2 of 5

Accessorizing a client's home

I'm often asked what is the most difficult job I do as a decorator.  Truthfully it is to accessorize a home.  Not because I can't create beautiful vignettes or select interesting objects, it's because I have a belief in individual expression in a home, and it is so difficult to feel this, and then try to create a look for someone else. The one thing I have as a decorator is an unbiased eye for someone else's space. That is helpful, and I often see new life in their discarded items.

How I do it 

With clients I spend a lot of time chatting and gathering information.  I ask them to pull out all kinds of objects they already have, even ones they think they don't want anymore, and look for things to integrate with newly purchased objects.  Check out this post to see one client's vignette.  I find out about their interests, travels, background etc.  I consider if they have children and what their interests are.  It is also worthwhile to look at children's art work for inspiration.  Another telling activity is to look at what is currently in a home and ask questions about its origins, etc.  When I ask how they want people to  feel/think when they come into their home, I usually get guidance for the overall look clients are going for.   Then I  put all the information together to come up with meaningful accessories that work for a particular  family.

inspiration board, organic, geometric, spring green
Client inspiration board - organic references 

This inspiration board was created for clients who were interested in finishing their space with additional accessories to add to objects they purchased during their travels.  When I looked at what they already had, I could see strong contrasts,  elongated textural sculptures, and several vibrant colours.  I chose an earthy green, nature references and rounder shapes to work with the more elongated ones they already had.  I wanted to warm up the predominant " blackness" of their space and play into their obvious interest in geometric motifs and texture.  With the inspiration board in hand the clients chose to shop themselves over time to complete their space.  The flowers of course never happened!  Twigs were more their style.

A long term activity

Adding the final touches to your home can take a long time.  You many have certain things in mind and can't find them; you many have budget restraints after purchasing big ticket items; you may be just plain exhausted doing everything else, and have no energy left to deal with little things. Or you can be bored with what you have and want to start over.   No matter where you are on the accessorizing continuum, you need to have a plan in place to create an interesting, personal space.

Two ways to do it

Of course the easiest way is to hire a decorator!  An inspiration board like the one above is a very affordable solution, and you can purchase all the objects referenced online, or you can use it to shop your area.  When people want to purchase locally, the inspiration board would contain objects/furniture available in the city.  Most decorators also have rates for personal shopping for clients.

If you want to do it all yourself, I suggest the following:
  • Look online (Pinterest, Houzz) and collect inspiration images looking for patterns,  objects, colours, textures that  resonate with you; look at how they are displayed/arranged;

I keep way too many files on Houzz and Pinterest to use as inspiration and reference when talking to clients about concepts. 

  • Make a list of possible items for accessorizing from your inspiration images; have headings (e.g. art, table top vignette, pillow arrangements and styles etc. )
  • Remove all the accessories in the space you are working on and put them in another room; 
  • Check your storage areas  and other rooms to see  if you have things that might have a new life in a different space;
  • Look at your collection and choose anything  that you love and think could work in the space;
  • Bring them to the room you want to accessorize and place any that work; 

I went to my own storage area to see what extras I didn't have in use. Then I integrated some of them with arrangements I already had in my dining room to show you how many things can work and be changed around.  Obviously I care about these objects or they would have made their way to charity. 

dining room vignette, Boblen vase, accessories,

 These two items on the right get used for all sorts of things.  The top is image shows a Boblen  vase that I wrote about here, and the plate is part of a set of 8 that I use for entertaining.  It also works as a candle holder or propped up on a small plate holder it becomes a graphic piece of art.

wooden vase, black candle holders, fall decorating

 The black mesh square tray was the base for a gift  I received last Christmas.  Black and square are two of my loves, when you add texture how could I let it go?  Anything hand made is alway a keeper especially when it has the beautiful form this vase does.  A few colourful berry branches the colour of the season can change the look completely.  Use your imagination about what additional seasonal objects you place in the basket/tray.

stone eggs, accessories, black candle holders, vignette

And on to the stone eggs my sister gave me years ago.  This hand crafted white  bowl has a beautiful irregular form and can be filled with all sorts of goodies. 

You get the idea.  Once you've found homes for the objects you love,  you can...

  • Make a list of what else you will need;
  • Record needs and the size/height/colour of objects; 
  • Take pictures of the areas you want to accessorize;
  • Go shopping (with your phone)! Don't forget to look in second hand stores, antique stores, dollar stores, craft studios, and on line second hand sales sites.  

Oh yes, trade with your friends and/or siblings!

Check back for Part 3 of my accessories posts where I visit a local home to explore how the owners went about adding the final touches to their new home.

Project Decoration Ideas

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Thoughts on seasonal accessorizing

Do you constantly change up your accessories seasonally, or do you stick to basics collected over time and add a few seasonal  things to spice  up your space?  Perhaps you are a minimalist and don't think seasonal accessories are an important part of a space or you dislike "clutter".  Obviously all types of homes and interests exist, and there is no right way to decorate your home, there are only personal tastes.


Maximum accessorizing

 I read a variety of blogs and am constantly amazed by the number of people who go "whole hog" for the seasons and holidays.  They are constantly changing it up, creating mantles and table displays for every special event.  The continual "hunt and gather" shopping and creating  that these looks require tire me out just thinking about it.  I could never manage it with my schedule (or pocketbook).  I always wonder where all these objects are stored in someone's home.   Perhaps we  become too practical with age.  When  talking to friends we all seem to have the same ideas about  retiring objects not acquiring them.  I am wondering if maximum decorating is age related!

Minimal accessorizing

Then there's the other side of the coin,  minimalist advocates  who are simplifying their lives as much as possible and that means eliminating "stuff"  and embracing function and clean lined beauty. That doesn't mean they ignore the holidays;  they will often add subtle, simple and often natural seasonal touches.  I  understand this desire to have a quiet, unadorned space.

My personal taste

 I am a middle of the road kind of gal  when it comes  to the final layers in decorating.  I create variety by moving around my favourite things; you never know what will be where.  I also like to live with things that mean something to me, with  that meaning coming from various associations.  However, I do give a nod to holidays and seasons by adding in a few special touches to celebrate.

Quilt block by Sharon Griffin
As an artist, I am interested in objects that are original, hand crafted, and have beautiful shapes.   My current love is this quilt block (it takes the idea of a quilt block to another level) created by a friend of mine.  You can see how she makes her own home unique here. The gerber daisies are my nod to fall, and the colours in the quilt block will work year around with reds and purples prominent.  So one container, one piece of art and lots of options.

Kubus 4 Candle holder
Many of the iconic designs of  the mid century modern period continue to resonate with me and over time I am adding my favourites to my decor. I love my Kubus 4 with its square, open base that allows you to place small objects within its frame.  You can also change candle colours if you are so inclined.

Then there are subject matter preferences or design elements that catch my attention - perhaps too much at times. Leaves, twigs, birds, squares and circles/spheres are favourite motifs that keep appearing in various ways throughout my home.

Circle motifs
You can go too far when you love something! The stylized sea urchins sculptures - a Target special- relate well to the black spotted bowl.   They remind me of my lazy summer days beachcombing,  and in the midst of winter, I need all the positive reminders of better times I can get.

I went back three times before I purchased this bowl at Bowrings - a local store. When I realized the circles are transparent I knew it was a keeper.  If you add coloured tissue paper inside it you have a quick change seasonal object.  Multipurpose is the name of the game when you want simple seasonal decor.

Can you see my interest in nature creeping into my space in different ways?

Plants and twigs and a nestled bird
Bird bowl by Erin McArthur
Flowers are always a part of  my decor no matter where I am.   Sometimes I make  arrangements from my gardens,  sometimes they are purchased, and sometimes a good fake is thrown in to mix it up a bit.  Another bird in hiding.

Every home needs a lucky bamboo 
Hello squares.  Repetition in shape is a powerful design principle that can lead your eye around a space and provide interest.   And no style is more beautiful than cleaned lined mid century modern, especially when the chairs are free and you just need to recover them.  There are lots of mixed wood tones in my home too, but they never get darker than this  walnut table. I'm still embracing my golden oak - a great backdrop for plants.

A fragile nest in a nature inspired vignette  
You may see a bird's nest propped on a window ledge looking very out of place in a contemporary space, but very in place with my interests.  Thanks Anita Sing for the sea urchin and print!

 Your likes are usually repeated multiple times though out your home, many homeowners are quite surprised when I comment on this during an initial consultation.

Fall leading to Halloween

I guess it is safe to say I celebrate  seasonal changes all year long by including nature references in various ways. Now isn't that an easy way out!

What's you take on seasonal decorating?  Where does your style fit on the continuum?

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Budget friendly design

I'm handing over the reins  today to Tom Smith writing about a favourite decorating topic - practical suggestions for decorating on a budget.

When designing your home and choosing different pieces to incorporate into the space, it can be expensive to add new furnishings, rugs, and features. Although it can be costly to purchase new decor, there are several ways to stay within your budget and limit the amount that you spend. With DIY crafts and by shopping at discount locations, it's easy to create an interior that feels like home.

Shop for Used Furniture

More people are creating an eclectic and bohemian style in their living quarters for a cozy and mismatched style that offers plenty of details. Instead of breaking the bank on new furniture, opt for shopping at thrift stores or flea markets for treasures that will add extra dimension and character to each room. You can also consider revamping old furniture by sanding down wood pieces or reupholstering accent chairs with modern fabric.

Add Drama with an Accent Wall

Incorporate wallpaper into the design of your home — it’ll create a high-end look as if the space was professionally decorated. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars wallpapering a single room with multiple walls, focus on an accent wall where the material can be applied. Use wallpaper on the wall that is facing the entrance of the room for a great focal point in the space.

 Sew the Linens Yourself

From curtains to couch pillows, linens add a cozy touch and are one of the main features with interior decor. Choose the fabric yourself and sew accent pillows and slipcovers for an inexpensive way of using new patterns in each room. It makes for a budget-friendly way of making over an old couch or adding a fresh tablecloth to a kitchen table without spending twice as much on the linens.

Use Antique Accessories


Antique accessories can add character to the decor and allow it to look more expensive with hand-picked items that are unique. Opt for mixing different types of metals for a modern style, which can include gold bookends or silver candlestick holders. You can also dress up a bare corner with an antique tricycle or decorate a fireplace mantle with old statues.

 Incorporate Baskets

Allow your home to feel cozy with baskets that can be used throughout every area. Baskets are not only functional for organizational purposes, but also add a decorative element for a rustic and chic style. Use a dip-dyed basket to hold shoes by the front door or a wicker basket in the living room to store throws and blankets. You can also fill in blank spaces on bookcases and consoles with old baskets for an affordable product that can hold goods.

Tim Smith writes for Modernize.

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At Home: A contemporary quilter

I'm very excited about my new At Home series. I've done the thinking, the calling, the cajoling, the photographing and the writing.  All you have to do is  follow behind me as I knock on doors and poke around inside to see how homeowners create a welcoming home.

At Home guest:

Sharon Griffin, once a co-worker of mine,  a fantastic gardener and quilter extraordinaire, has graciously let me invade her space.  A year ago when I visited herquilting studio, I couldn't help thinking  how quietly many of us work at hobbies and interests, and even friends don't know the extent of our involvement. It's only when you start asking questions that you find out what people are really up to. Yes, I asked lots of questions.


 Sharon began quilting in 1996 when she was attracted to a quilt her sister-in -law created.  She hasn't looked back since that first course  when she created the quilt below the old fashioned way.  No rotary cutters then and little fabric selection in our fair city.

traditional quilt decorating with quilts
First quilt 1996
While many of her first projects  employed traditional patterns and techniques, participation in two local  quilters' guilds, travel, and the internet broadened her exposure to a  wide array of  quilting techniques and styles. As you walk through Sharon's home and visit her quilting studio, you  realize that her interests are changing and her pieces take on a more contemporary feel.

traditional quilts decorating with quilts
Traditional patterns on quilt stand

 Why quilting?

No one could dispute that quilting creates beautiful objects, but I suspect there is more to Sharon's interest in it than that.  She  admits to being an organized, tidy person and there is something about the precision needed to quilt that suits these characteristics. It is a quiet, solitary activity that also can be quite social, and fulfill a love of learning if you participate in guilds and workshops. I've always know Sharon to be a lover of fabric and colour.  What better interest could she choose than  quilting?  Her work adds uniqueness and warmth to her home.  This is so important in  a world of mass produced objects.

Variety of Applications

And quilting isn't just about quilts.  The range of projects is limitless...

quilting projects decorating with quilts
 needle holders, glasses case, bags, mug sleeves....

quilting projects decorating with quilts
sewing kits, journal covers...

quilting projects decorating with quilts
3 D birds, wall hangings  and ...

he wall quilt blocks decorating with quilting
 Off the wall blocks.

Being a lover of all things contemporary, these off the wall quilt blocks really impressed me.  I would have no difficulty adding  one to my own contemporary decor.   Because they are finished on all sides and stand up well, they could be added to any mantle, shelf or  table top as part of a vignette. This has gotten me thinking...

quilting projects quilted wallhangings
Cultural influences
In these wall hangings you can see the influence of various workshop leaders from different countries and more and more opportunities to create personal work by taking the techniques taught in workshops and making them her own.

It's easy to see that landscape has become a primary influence in  Sharon's more recent work.

quilting projects quilted landscapes
Abstracted landscape created with a variety of threads
quilted projects quilted landscapes
NL landscape with lots of stitching

quilted projects quilted landscapes

And this  truly amazing one is  pieced together and embellished  to such a degree that one would think it was a painting.   A photo of their garden shed was the inspiration.   

Integrating quilting projects in your decor

 When you are a prolific quilter there is no way you can display everything you create.  Family members usually make out well  for birthdays and Christmas!  More  things get stored and brought out for seasonal events.  The trick is to show just enough, and to come up with ways to showcase  projects that put them front and centre.

Let's take a tour

quilted projects living room dining room decorating with quilts
Dining room and living room quilted projects

 A strong preference for warm, rich  colours adds so much to the soft white furniture in the living room.  While there's quite a few quilted accessories in the living room and dining room, the space doesn't feel overdone. One of the reasons is the variety of projects used : a quilt, a wall hanging and a pillow. If you look at all four images you can see how the different colours flow throughout the space creating cohesiveness, warmth, and  an open invitation to sit awhile. 

  The poppy wall hanging in the dining room is new and very striking. When I first saw it I thought it was a painting it  is so realistic.   I'm glad it is hung at the perfect height for guests to observe it when sitting down.

A photograph  does not do justice to the overall stitching and embellishments at the centre of the poppy. Do  have a closer look.

quilting projects decorating with quilts
Master bedroom  in chartreuse and pinks

Rather than a quilt, a  bed runner is used to accent the bed and the wall hanging on the opposite wall  is the first thing that greets you as you enter the bedroom.   Don't you love the freshness of this colour combination?

quilting projects decorating with quilts
Autumn inspired guest room

One of the best ways to integrate quilting into decor is to choose lighter backgrounds  that won't compete with the patterns in the quilting. Sharon's favourite  background is a soft white. As you can see it  is perfect for showing off any colour combinations, and it has a very contemporary feel even when the quilting pattern is traditional.   The connection between the quilt and wall hanging in this room  creates a fresh, welcoming look and the colours  blend beautifully with the honey toned furniture. 

quilting projects decorating with quilts
Black and white is always striking

Nothing looks sharper than black, especially with white.  The reversibility of quilted projects  allows you to have two looks for the price of one.   You can also use a table runner as  a bed runner  to accent  a twin bed. Pillows can be moved from room to room if you keep the colourways neutral enough.

And there you have just a glimpse into the world and home of this prolific quilter. Thanks Sharon for letting us visit her home.

  Thanks for dropping by.

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