How to Make a Vignette
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Beach-themed vignette on a fireplace mantle. Photo by blog.hgtv.com

Learn how to make a vignette look beautiful and effortless, while showing off your favorite objects and enhancing your interior home design.

You won’t find “vignette” defined as “a pleasing tableau of objects” in the dictionary, but this is what it has come to be known as in the sphere of home interior design.

A vignette, or “table scape”, can be described as; an artful arrangement of objects grouped together to create a scene, tell a story, act as a focal point, or simply to make a decorative statement in your home. It can be a grouping of accessories chosen to complement a room's function or it's decorative details.

Vignettes can be truly personal, informing the world of your tastes and interests. These home design arrangements may be composed of objects that have at least one or more things in common, or nothing at all. 

Living room interior design picturesI enjoy browsing through "Pottery Barn" catalog for home design ideas. The vignettes are always stunning. Photo by Pottery Barn.

A vignette should look uncomplicated, spontaneous and unstudied.

The following home design ideas for creating vignettes are merely helpful tips to get you started. If you find something that works, even though it may not follow the rules, by all means, use it!

Where to display a vignette

Vignettes can be displayed on practically any horizontal surface.

Create a vignette on a coffee table, console, shelf, windowsill, fireplace mantle, an upright piano, bookcase, kitchen counters, bathroom counters, as a dining table centerpiece, a nightstand, bedroom dresser, foyer table, even on the floor.

How to make a vignette

Vignettes should compliment the style, color, or theme of your interior home design. 

Generally, when assembling a vignette, the accessories you select should have at least one thing in common, a connecting element.

A simple vignetteA simple vignette composed of identical vases in varying heights

Common vignette groupings:

  • Color combinations: If objects are all the same color, vary the shapes and heights.
  • Shape: Vary the height of objects having the same shape.
  • Vintage: A grouping of objects from your favorite vintage period can be charming.
  • Theme: Beach themes, nature themes, Christmas, sports, movies, and so on.
  • Textures: Group objects of the same or varied textures.
  • Collections: With any kind of collection, avoid staging with too many small pieces, which will only look like clutter from a distance. 

Sabrina Soto, interior designer from HGTV, advises us not to use any object “smaller than a grapefruit” when accessorizing.

What kind of objects can be used to build a vignette?

Bathroom vignetteGlass canisters hold bathroom essentials in this pretty vignette

Anything! 

Some ideas: Sculptural objects, vases, a stack of books to add height, greenery, flowers, paintings, and framed photographs.

For beach themes, use objects from nature like sea shells, starfish, sea sponges, sea glass, glass balls, corks or geodes, driftwood, fish net...

Paper products like cards, unframed pictures, piano music, elegant restaurant menus...

Anything old with a patina, like a pair of antique binoculars, an old globe, mason jars, lamps, baskets, candles, mirrors, clocks, bowls, bottles, pretty soaps, boxes, picture frames…the list is endless. 

Get started building a vignette

Lantern vignetteOdd numbers and varied sizes are more pleasing to the eye

You can arrange your vignette in a triangular or pyramidal shape, or linear, which would be well-suited for a formal style room. 

Triangular, or pyramidal shaped vignettes

This vignette style consists of objects arranged in different heights in a triangular or pyramidal shape.

Work in odd numbers, threes, fives, and so on. Odd numbered arrangements are the most pleasing to the eye, as they appear less studied. See art of accessorizing.

Avoid using too many pieces, which can look cluttered and messy.

Start with the "anchor piece"

Home interior design pictures

For the foundation of your vignette, select an object to be the “star” of the composition. Think of this as your “anchor” piece. This can be an object that has special meaning, fits a theme, or just appeals to you and will look good with your home interior design.

This key anchor piece should be of considerable height or weight so that it’s substantial enough to “hold” the arrangement together. 

Examples of objects that work well as anchors are; paintings, mirrors, sculptural objects, lamps, a tall vase of flowers or a plant. Your eye should naturally go to the anchor piece first.

Begin building your vignette by placing the anchor piece first and at the peak of the pyramid, (at the rear) and off center.

Next, fill in the rest of the triangle with objects of varying heights, finishing with the smallest and shortest object at the base and to the front, always keeping in mind the pyramid-shape, or “A-shape” as you are building. Overlap pieces so that a part of each object can be seen.

A good rule of thumb is to select objects that are half the size of the anchor piece.

More tips on how to make a vignette

Vignette with a neutral color schemeUsing a stack of books as a base is a great way to elevate objects
  • For a base, use a stack of books (hardcover!) a mirror, a low basket or tray. Placing a mirror underneath will add depth to the vignette, as well.
  • Elevate smaller pieces with; a stack of books, pretty boxes or candle pedestals.
  • A lamp makes a great “anchor” piece, and the light will illuminate the arrangement.
  • Cluster objects close together for cohesiveness.

  • If the vignette looks too tight or studied, move the objects slightly apart.

  • Overlap objects slightly, so that each item is visible. Objects can touch if desired.
  • For floor vignettes, use large heavy objects, like floor mirrors, shutters or screens. Add live plants and sculptural objects, making sure they're in proper scale. Don't scatter a bunch of small accessories on the floor; they'll look lost and forlorn from a distance.
  • Create vignettes to reflect the holidays!
  • Let your vignettes “evolve” by adding or taking away objects.

Asymmetrical and symmetrical balance

Symmetry, or formal balance, is for those who prefer order and formality in their interior home design. Arranging accessories symmetrically is easy, since you're simply trying to "match" each side of a room, table top or mantle.

Asymmetry, or informal balance, is for those who prefer excitement, energy and creativity in their interior home design. If you like a casual look, asymmetry is for you.

A properly executed asymmetrical arrangement should look effortless and unstudied, as if the items were just laid down.

Be aware of the “visual weight” of each object. Objects don’t have to match perfectly to balance each other off.

 Balancing "visual mass" or "weight" in interior home design:

  • Dark colors carry more visual weight than light
  • Busy patterns appear heavier than light-colored solids
  • Heavy textures are visually heavier than smooth surfaces

Vignette backgrounds

Bedside table vignetteThe objects on this bedside table vignette complement the background wallpaper

Always be aware of the surrounding room décor when building a vignette. The backdrop becomes an integral part of your vignette, so be aware of color schemes or wild patterns that may conflict with the objects in your display.

Choose objects in colors and shapes that mirror or complement the background of a room. 

If building a vignette in front of a hanging painting or mirror, be sure they are hung low enough to become part of the arrangement.

Mirrors make an interesting backdrop to a vignette, bringing added dimension and bouncing extra light around the room. Be sure that objects you place in front of the mirror look as good on the backside as they do in the front.

The objects you use in your display can reflect the colors, shapes, or subject of a background painting or photograph.

How to make a vignette on a fireplace mantle

An easy interior designer tip for decorating a fireplace mantle is the “three-plus-one” trick. This decorating tip can be applied to other long flat surfaces, as well. I like to use this method to dress up my upright piano, which is always a difficult piece of furniture in any room.

Fireplace mantelThe "mass" of the sailboat is equal to the visual weight of the 3 objects on the opposite side
  • Begin this method by choosing 3 related decorative objects close to, but not of the same height. Place them on one side of the fireplace mantle. Remember to use the pyramid method when constructing these pieces; tallest in the rear, smallest in the front, overlapping, etc. Cluster objects together, not side by side.
  • On the other side of the mantle, place a single large object 2 to 3 times the size of the other pieces. It should be “visually” equal in size to the 3 pieces on the opposite end. 

Design elements to consider when building a vignette

Christmas vignetteCreate vignettes to reflect the holidays
  • Balance: Several objects of similar height or color placed at opposite ends of a mantle or table can create an offset arrangement. Balance each side with a tall central object, like a mirror or a painting, and a second grouping opposite.
  • Scale: Scale usually refers to the size of an object in relation to the human body, or to the room itself. Large room, larger objects in your vignette...
  • Proportion: Proportion refers to the size of an object relative to other objects in a room.
  • Line: The lines of your vignette should give it a feeling of movement and even atmosphere.
  • Rhythm: Rhythm is a key design element in successful interior home design-- it's the path your eye follows when you enter a room or look at a vignette.
  • Color: The colors and patterns you choose should be evenly distributed throughout a room. Avoid placing all your accent colors (and patterns) on one side of a room and neglecting the rest of the space.
Linear vignetteLinear vignette with outdoor elements
  • Pattern: Pattern is a decorative design or form that repeats itself. Patterns have a distinct effect on the look and feel of a room. For instance, light floral patterns will lend a room a fresh and open feeling, whereas, large heavy floral or busy patterns can make a room feel formal and stuffy.
  • Texture: Vary the textures of objects to liven up your vignettes. For instance, shiny, satiny surfaces will illuminate a space.
  • Contrast: Combine various textures to create interesting contrasts in your vignettes, like; place a smooth surfaced vase next to a handwoven rough textured basket.

For home staging purposes, don't overdo it by creating vignettes all over your house, as the result will look clutter and busy. Do just enough to show the function of a room, to highlight a particular decorative detail in your home or to create a focal point.

For more home design ideas, go to home interior design rules.

Leaning pictures and mirrors

Space planning

Holiday home staging

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