How to Accessorize Like a Pro

Accessories complete a space, giving it character, vibrancy and cohesiveness. Without these little extras, a room has no soul. As important as they are, many of us throw our hands up in frustration when choosing and arranging accessories. We envy design professionals who seem to possess an innate ability to style a room down to the smallest detail. Some may indeed have a special gift, but most acquire their skill through experience—and so can you. By employing tricks of the trade and following a few basic design principles, you’ll be accessorizing like a pro in no time.

Collect Over Time
Resist the urge to dash out and buy a bunch of trendy accessories just to finish a room. It will look more like a nondescript model home, rather than a personal space. Collect accessories over time and concentrate on objects that speak to you. Your accessories should be a reflection of your life and interests, not the latest in home decor from the pages of a magazine. Feel free to interject trends into your design, but do so sparingly, or it will look contrived. 

Create an Accessory Closet
Have you ever pulled an old belt out of the back of your closet and paired it with a different outfit? Suddenly it looks new and fresh. You can do the same thing for your rooms by creating an accessory closet. Store accessories away as you tire of them. Rotate and reintroduce items as the mood strikes. Use your accessory closet to store overflow and limit the number of accessories on display at one time.

Clear the Deck
Clear out all accessories in your room, including lamps and pillows, so you can begin with a clean slate. An accessory-free room removes distractions and allows you to visualize the perfect spots to place items. Removing accessories will also give you an opportunity to rearrange furniture before you begin styling.

Make a Group
There's nothing more forlorn than a single vase sitting on a table. Make a design statement by placing decorative accessories in groups. Take it one step further using the interior designer trick of grouping odd numbers of objects to provide greater visual impact. Group like items together to create continuity—by color, theme or both. Give your vignettes prominence by mixing items of varying heights.

Play with Color
Choose accessories that make the most of your color palette. Use accessories to blend into the overall color scheme or introduce contrasts of accent color. Start with accessories in two colors that coordinate with your walls and upholstery. Throw in a third that adds a jolt of unexpected color to your room. Remember, pillows provide one of the easiest ways to play with color, pattern and texture when accessorizing.

Consider Balance, Weight and Scale
Aim to keep the visual weight of accessories consistent throughout your room. Weight refers to an item’s mass, color or pattern. Say you want to create balance with an asymmetrical arrangement on a mantel. Anchor one side with one large object and a grouping of smaller objects on the other. Choose oversized accessories for grand spaces. A collection of tiny, delicate figurines looks out of place in a spacious great room. Conversely, large-scale accessories can easily overwhelm a small area.

Check the Books
Books are often a source of consternation when it comes to accessorizing shelves. The tendency is to position every book vertically, like in a library. Alternate horizontal stacks with vertical rows to create an interesting visual mix. Add in a few decorative items to break up expanses of books and to serve as casual bookends. Organize the bindings by color or cover them in handmade jackets of the same color. 

Eye Your Art
Avoid the trap of hanging art too high or too low. Follow the designer rule of eye level. Eye level refers to the point on a wall an average height person views when standing. In your dining room or home office, eye level is lower and becomes the viewing point when seated. One exception to the rule pertains to gallery or salon walls where a grouping spans a large area. On gallery walls, choose frames with a unifying element—similar frame color, size, shape or mat color.

IMAGES:  SFGate Stephanie Wright Hession
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