Accessories of All Kinds

Ambient light from oversize sconces flank the statement piece of art.

By Nancy Miller

What’s the deal with accessories? They deliver a whopper of sizzling style or they turn your house into a disaster zone that screams, “What went wrong here?”

An overload of them diminishes the impact of each one. They are meant to enhance, not stifle a space. “There’s no doubt people overdo and clutter. I have gone into houses and thought, ‘There’s way too much going on. We have to get rid of half of this stuff.’ There’s a big difference between accessorizing and clutter,” says Lisa Knight, owner of Lisa Lynn Designs.

Accessorizing reminds her of jazzing up a dress with jewelry. She believes selecting colors and fabrics, and placing furniture in a room is much the same as choosing a dress, applying makeup and fixing one’s hair. The finishing touches are missing.

She uses window treatments, decorative pillows, floral arrangements, art and lamps to imbue a room with many levels of sensation. Don’t underestimate lighting itself as an accessory, particularly when it reflects a mirror or candle.

Some of the accessories in this room look old, but really they are reproductions. Knight mixes sizes for the rustic room that has a modern twist.

If walls are neutral, accessories are an easy fix for introducing color. “In a house that has an open floor plan, such as when the family room, dining area and kitchen flow into each other, I like to pull in and intermingle accessory colors from the rooms around that expansive, open space. That’s easy to do using artwork, a vase, rug, pillow or even a floral arrangement,” she says. 

The designer divides accessories into two categories: functional and nonfunctional. They’re equally important and you need some of both. Clocks and lamps are functional, but so is a throw blanket you want to snuggle under. Flowers and art? They’re theoretically nonfunctional unless making you happy is considered a function. That’s one of the tenets of good design, after all.

Knowing a large wall needs to be accessorized is vastly different from knowing how to do it. “People are afraid of big walls. While the instinct may be to go for something big on the wall, first consider the design of the home. If it’s contemporary, one large, simplistic piece may be right, but a grouping might be better for a traditional setting,” suggests Knight.

When hanging a painting or other accent piece, be sure its width doesn’t extend beyond the width of the sofa, mantel or table it hangs above. How high to hang it? Knight has an easy answer: six inches above whatever is placed under it. If the ceiling is very high, bump the art up nine inches.

When grouping, you’ll need to decide if you want everything the same scale and size, all fairly symmetrical, or want a cluster of multiple items like a sconce, a clock, a couple of pictures or a wooden shelf. Each piece doesn’t have to be of the same medium, such as wood or metal.

The same is true for picture frames on bookshelves or flat surfaces. Vary rustic with glamour, wood with shiny. If you like a simple look, you may want to stay with bronze and silver tone frames, but if your goal is added interest and depth, bring in other finishes. Clusters of three, but in different sizes, is most appealing to the eye.

The focal point in this Homearama house’s study is a functional bookcase that sits below large art.

When Knight accessorizes she takes into consideration the personalities and interests of her clients. A figurine of a dog is perfect for a canine lover. For someone who enjoys communing with nature, a painting of trees and pathways would be a natural fit, both literally and figuratively.

Having a plan for accessorizing instead of hanging and placing haphazardly will yield a better result. That doesn’t mean you have to stick to the plan 100 percent. “I always start with a plan but in 16 and a half years I have never put everything exactly where I planned. Once you begin working in a space, you change your mind and look at it all in a different way. You may decide you want something higher or lower or on the coffee table rather than the bookcase. If you keep yourself regimented you’re cutting off the possibility for something greater to happen. I know that sometimes bugs or throws clients off, but I tell them to wait until I finish and I promise they will like my revised plan,” she says. 

What if you take her advice and have a plan that seems to be working until you’re casually browsing through a store and find something that you love, love, love? Do you grit your teeth and walk away because it wasn’t in your master plan? No! Buy it. Take it home and work it into the plan. Don’t take it out of the box or bag and hope for the best. That’s how your house will become one of those “What happened here?” homes and you’ll have yet another contribution to the neighborhood yard sale. 

Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t the only times of the year that call for accessory changes. Spring and summer speak to brighter and lighter but turning leaves and crisp air call for warmer and richer colors. As fall arrives, remove a bright yellow vase from the counter and replace it with one that is deep green or warm gold. Switch the tulips to sunflowers, and voila— you have seasonally appropriate accessories for the kitchen.

Accessorizing isn’t confined to objects. Wallpapering the back wall of a bookcase is accessorizing for texture. Even a ceiling becomes an accessory when painted a color other than the walls. 

“There’s nothing more fun than walking into a home and seeing something unexpected or eclectic. Accessories are a great way to add those edges. But, funky or eclectic shouldn’t be in one room only. Show that innovative style in multiple areas for it to come across as interesting and making sense,” says Knight.

She’s currently designing a house for two clients who have very different tastes – traditional versus contemporary. “It has been a blast mixing their styles to design what is an eclectic home. What is cool is that we’re mixing the styles throughout the entire house, not just in one room.” VT