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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Monday's Method ~ The Art of Display

I recently did a post on cabinets. Stefanie, aka the lovely Mrs. Limestone, asked for some tips on chic display. Alrighty then. See these beautiful open display cabinets in the kitchen (photo compliment of Julia's Hooked on Houses)? These may have people gasping with anxiety, running in the other direction. Why? They're thinking 'How would I ever keep them neat and presentable'. This picture is a very good example of organized, themed display. Before I go into the principles and elements that I think really apply here, let's me first say that your personal style will help inform your display. For example. if you enjoy Victorian style, your displays will appear different than those who prefer contemporary.

Gray Foy's apartment published in Architectural Digest

Interior architecture and design by Shelton, Mindel & Associates published in Architectural Digest

Surely you can already see what I mean. This is where I'll start my teachy self. An important thing to think about when creating a display is the design element of space:

Space – as humans, we need both large and small areas to please our psyche. Incorporate both, or the appearance of both, in your home. There also needs to be a comfortable balance and proportion of positive, filled area, and negative, unfilled area. Traffic paths are negative space in a room yet functionally important. An example of too much positive space is filling a small room with oversized furniture. You can use large pieces in a small room balanced by massing, placing together, smaller scale items that allow for more negative space in between.

I give the example of furniture in the definition but it very much applies to display, specifically the positive and negative space.

Even in a Victorian design, you still don't want your items to appear as if they are riding the subway in rush hour ~

Because the point of being on display is so you can actually see each item. I am not going to show you an example of a rush hour subway display because that would be mean to represent one's home or work as a mistake. Hey, if they like it, more power to them!

Even in contemporary design, you also don't want to have the display be a lone wolf unless it is a stand alone, sculptural piece of art ~

I will show you an example of that because I am using a piece from a catalog.This is one of my favorite display cabinets from Hickory Chair. Clearly they are trying to show the furniture piece and to heck with what's on it. There is too much negative space, not enough items. To me, this 'display' appears under-developed and is not pleasing to my eye.

Designer Sandra Nunnerley published in Architectural Digest

Here is a good example of a nice balance of positive and negative space. I also like the fact that that negative space it accentuated by a pop of red. Painting or wallpapering the back of bookshelves is a nice touch. Just make sure the color of the paint complements the display and the room (as it does in this example ~ she simply continues the red from the wall) versus over powers it or that the wallpaper's design or motif isn't too busy so it distracts from the display. This room has one of my favorite color palettes ~ red, black, and neutral (yum!).

The design principle I think applies here the most is harmony:

Harmony – is creating a feeling of suitability through unifying elements and objects and adding variety for interest and diversity. The objective is to create an agreeable, appealing whole that won’t tire in the long-run. For example, if one uses the color red, a warm hue, as a flow element in their home, use neutral and cool hues also throughout to add interest and diversity; too much of a good thing can actually become monotonous over time.

Think of a theme for the display, a grouping, to unify ~ it could be functional such as containers, a color, the memorabilia from a fantastic trip, a material such as metal, a collection like tea cups or model airplanes or kitchen items or rock 'n roll posters..... the possibilities are endless.

Then think of adding some diversity for interest. Let's look at pictures to illustrate.

Skye Kirby ~ Elle Decor

In this picture, the cabinet is full of containers and platters. That is the theme so the display makes sense. The individual pieces also have substance to them. There are varying sizes but none of them are tiny or they would get lost. These characteristics are unifying. It also has a nice mixture of materials and shapes for interest ~ the diversity. The cabinet is full as I said (positive space) yet you can clearly see space around the pieces (negative space).

Gray Foy

Here is a lovely display in the Victorian style. The theme here is color. All pieces have a green hue ~ unification. Yet, the display has divergent items from vases, to prints, to a lamp, to trinkets for interest. Even though Victorian style usually has many items grouped together, there is still negative space between the items. The beautiful wood finish gives the the eye a nice contrast and rest.

Ahhh, the kitchen one. They obviously cook a lot here. They have many lovely mixing and serving bowls. The unity ~ duh ~ kitchen items and smooth texture. The diversity come from color and shapes. Again, these shelves are full but there is still room at the top of each stack or item ~ negative space. I have seen shelves where the plates are stacked to the roof ~ no, no, no. It will look much better if there is room to breath in there.

This is my living room. I know, you can't really see it all that well. The unity throughout this big piece is crystal and glass. As I have described before, the left side in a portion of my mother's crystal collection, the left side, a wine / liquor bar, in the middle, glass art. It is all on glass shelves with accent lighting to sparkle, sparkle, sparkle. The diversity comes from a couple of things. I have mixed in pieces of pewter. The pieces break up all the crystal and offers a nice rest from the strong sparkle off the crystal since pewter is more muted. The other diversity is that the art glass has color ~ red and blue hues. That's the pop.

This is a Show house I did. The room is 'The Library.' So what do you think the theme is here?? Puppy dogs?? No :) Books. Books, books, and more books ~ unity. You can't see this in the picture but the opposing wall has more of the same bookcases. That is a lot of heavy books to bring in to the room. I borrowed books from friends to fill the shelves! My feeling though was that if the shelves only had books, the appearance would have been too heavy, too enclosing. The Show house was held in a house owned by the Audubon Society and the room was French inspired. So I added bird figurines, French plates, wedding photos to personalize the space, and a wine bar that I backed with a mirror for diversity. The back of the bookcases were painted in the same hue as the area rug ~ about 3-4 shades deeper than the wall color. Yes, all the wedding photos are of members of my family. When they came though the room, they saw themselves (I didn't tell them they were the stars of the room :) That made them smile. See the before photos here of this room.

We saw this one above but I wanted to point out some interesting features. Obviously the theme is books for unity. They added decorative items for diverse interest. They also displayed the books vertically and horizontally adding more diversity without bringing in something new. They also gave your eye a rest by working sconces into the vignette. A very nice touch.

We also saw this one. I love this display. The unity is the color palette. The diversity the items themselves and the gradation. I adore that ~ shortest to tallest with pieces in a supporting role to the tallest. The items are grouped together (positive space) leaving the negative space on either side. Note the unifying pieces on the cocktail table that speak directly to the cabinet display. Wonderful rhythm; wonderful vignette.

Restoration Architecture by Richard Manion, AIA, Interior Design by Craig Wright

And last example ~ unifying books with a few other decorative elements and books vertically and horizontally displayed for diversity. I show this one because of the different style to the Sandra Nunnerley's room above. Her room was similar with its application of the principle and element but the effect is quite different. The feel, style, color choice, etc. of the rooms. In Sandra's room I believe I'd be enjoying a Cosmopolitan; in Craig's room just above, I'd be drinking a cup of tea or perhaps a Port wine.

And and couple of last things but very important ~ be neat and organized in whatever you are displaying. I'll repeat that ~ be neat and organized in whatever you are displaying. If you look at all the pictures, it is clear. They are neat. They are organized. Critical.

The other thing ~ please don't fret. If you do an arrangement and it is just not looking the way you would like it to ~ tinker a bit but then walk away. Look at it over a few days and come back and tinker some more. Repeat this process until you are OK with it ~ maybe a couple more times only. I didn't say ~ until it is perfect. Perfection is subjective with this exercise. And remember, its just a display, not a life long commitment :)

So there you have it. Chic display 101. Any questions, comments, or concerns??

If you do have a question about this or another topic, leave me a comment. If you would like advice about something specific to your space, send me a couple of pictures at paula@paulagracedesigns.com.

I'm linking with the usual suspects ~ all fabulous parties worth a long leisurely visit.

Monday ~
Between Naps on the Porch Metamorphosis Monday
Smiling Sally's Blue Monday
Little Red House Mosaic Monday
Cottage Instincts Make it for Monday

Tuesday ~
A Soft Place to Land DIY Tuesday

Thursday ~
The Shabby Chic Cottage Transformation Thursday

Saturday ~
Funky Junk Interiors Saturday Nite Special

Don't forget about my own new party ~ Timeless Tuesday. It starts tomorrow!! Look for lovely Audrey who will be our guide...

I'll see you then!


  1. This is great! I like your living room also!! I just did a bathroom with a vanity that looks similiar to the black storage pieces...but, a vanity...got to good pix of it. The homeowner lives in NY full time so we have not gotten approval on mirror...and can't shoot without mirror! Excellent info in this post! Thanks, Cheryl

  2. Enjoyed your post. First time to your blog. Will check back in the future.


  3. Great tutorial, Paula Grace. Thanks for sharing at MM. :)

  4. Thank you so much for all these tips, Paula. They are very useful!...Christine

  5. Love all the different styles of displaying. The options are limitless!

  6. Good information here! I love bookcase but have a terrible time arranging them. Thanks for the tips! I'll see you at Timeless Tuesday! Lisa

  7. I'm not spotting much blue, Paula. Happy Blue Monday.

  8. * Great pics w/ inspirationally written discussion of your valued opinion/ideas... Oh, YES! I will DEFINITELY be back! I like your style ANNNNND your thinking!

    Thanks SOOOO MUCH!!!

    Linda in AZ *

  9. Oh Miss Sally! There is blue in three of the pictures ~ bowls in one and pillows in two others. I LOVE blue and your Blue Monday ~ I wouldn't link if there wasn't any blue. Now I'm sad :(

  10. I love your LR cabinets. Thanks for all the tips !

  11. Don't be sad, I saw your blue accents :)
    And your living room is lovely!
    Best regards,

  12. Great photos and love your comments for each subject!!! :)

  13. High end advice, Paula. Great take on things in a very different way. Love a bonus education. :)

    Thanks for linking up to SNS!
    FJ Donna


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