The Art of Accessorizing Your Home
(DIY Home Staging Tips)

For a faster, more profitable home sale

Beachy linear vignette on a fireplace mantle.This linear vignette has a casual, unstudied elegance that is pleasing to the eye.

The art of accessorizing was first established by the ancient Greeks, who were the original experts in design, scale and proportion.

The reason these ancient design rules have endured the test of time is because they work so well!

If you're planning to sell your home, accessorizing is the last step of the home staging process. 

Typically, when you decorate your home, you design according to YOUR personal style and taste. When you have a house for sale, you need to consider what kind of decorating will appeal to the greatest number of buyers.

You can sell your home faster by highlighting your home's natural architectural features with focal points and vignettesartwork and accessories.

Accessories should be used to enhance the style and architecture of your home design, tie a room together and enliven the space.

The following decorating guidelines can be applied to a wide range of design aspects; from reorienting furniture, building vignettes or placing plants in your bedroom. 

The art of accessorizing by the Ancient Greeks

Create a vignette from objects with features in common.Unify multiple art pieces with features in common; color, frames, theme, etc.
  • Successful accessorizing begins with some basic rules, plus a bit of instinct on your part.
  • Instinct regarding which objects to select, where to place them, and how to recognize when something doesn't work.
  • If something feels off to you, it probably is.
  • Before you begin staging your house for sale, learn some of the design tips that interior decorating professionals use.

The following mathematical guidelines should help those who are timid about making decorating choices. 

Let's look to the ancient Greeks for advice on design, scale, and proportion.

The Greeks discovered long ago that using the following ratios and proportions in design were most pleasing to the eye.

These rules still apply today in the art of accessorizing.

The "golden section" aka the "golden mean" rule

Fireplace and art displaying the golden section ratio of 3:5.The Golden Section ratio of 3:5

The Golden Section rule is a mathematical ratio of thirds that occurs naturally in nature, even in the human body!

It's a useful guide for creating well balanced and beautiful structures in architecture, balance and proportion in artwork, and is extremely helpful when building a vignette.

The Greeks used the formula for balance in their architecture and art. Renaissance artists called it "divine proportion" and used it in their art. 

The golden section rule applies to the ratios used in architecture when designing window proportions and room sizes.

  • Common ratios: 2:3, 3:5, 4:7 and 5:8. Okay, great. But what does this mean?
  • Let's use the 3:5 ratio as an example;
  • If you have a 5 foot wide fireplace, (as pictured on the right) and want to hang artwork over it, the best ratio for the 5 foot wide fireplace size would be a 3 foot wide picture, a 3 wide foot grouping of pictures, or a 3 wide foot mirror above it. This isn't a rigid rule, but a general guide.
  • If you were to hang a 6 foot wide mirror over a 5 foot wide fireplace, it would look top-heavy and appear to loom over the fireplace.

How to place decorative objects on a shelf

Display decorative objects off center on shelves for a more casual look.Placing decorative objects off-center instead of centered is more pleasing to the eye and appears less studied.

Artists and photographers are all familiar with the golden section rule.  

They know that they should always avoid placing the subject of a picture in the middle of a frame.

The golden section principle recognizes that the most pleasing arrangements require dividing the length of an area between 1/2 and 1/3. 

For example, when creating a vignette or placing an object, avoid placing it directly in the center of a shelf or other flat surface.

Placing accessories off-center is ultimately more pleasing to the eye.

Arrange accessories in odd numbers and different sizes

Arranging objects in odd numbers and varying heights is most pleasing to the eye.Odd numbers and varying heights are just more pleasing to the eye.

The ancient Greeks also discovered that grouping objects in odd numbers was more pleasing to the eye than even, as the result appears less studied.

For instance, a candlestick grouping of 3 or 5 will look more interesting than pairs. The number three is most preferable.

Also, too many objects in a grouping or vignette can look cluttered and busy. And too many small objects in a grouping will look like a mess.

Three pillows on a sofa will look better than two. When you buy pre-packaged bedding, you'll often find accent pillows in groups of three and in different sizes and shapes. Pillows in varied sizes and shapes is infinitely more interesting than three square pillows of the same size.

I had an art composition teacher who referred to the different sizes in a composition as the daddy, mommy and baby. This is an easy and important design tip to follow.

Take a look at this video by John Mangano of for home design tips on arranging furniture and accessorizing a living room, using the principles of the golden section, odd numbers, scale and balance.

"Harmony" in home design

Use repetition of color and shape to unite objects in your vignettes.What are the unifying features here? Repetition of color and shape unite this arrangement.

Harmony is another important aspect in the art of accessorizing. The objects you place together should have something in common;

  • color 
  • shape
  • theme 
  • texture
  • vintage, or some other unifying element 

A grouping of green vases in the same shape and height would be boring. But a grouping of green vases in different shapes and heights would be interesting. The color green would unify the group, whereas, the varied shapes and heights would make the group more interesting.

Try to avoid being too matchy, which although safe, can be boring. If you're a compulsive matcher, try throwing in a textured throw blanket or a pillow with an exciting pattern. Take baby steps.

Arrange accessories in triangles

You can build a simple vignette with just three objects.How simple, yet pleasing this little vignette is. Start small to build up your confidence.

The triangle, or pyramid, is a classic form for making compositions in the art of accessorizing. Its the shape to follow when creating a vignette, unless you're making a linear vignette.

A vignette is a grouping of accessories designed to complement a room's function and/or decorative details.

A vignette is a "scene" created by combining decorative objects into delightful arrangements.

Vignettes can be displayed on tabletops, shelves, fireplace mantles, kitchen counters, bathroom countertops, an upright piano, bedroom dressers, etc.

Imagine a triangle in the spot where you want to put your arrangement. Place an object at each point of the triangle. Each object should vary in height and width. Place the tallest and most substantial piece at the back, and slightly off center. Set the medium sized object in front, but off to the side. Lastly, place the smallest piece in the front. Be sure to overlap objects so that each can be seen.

The same principle applies when using more than three objects.

Always stand back and eyeball your arrangement. If it looks too cluttered, try new combinations, use larger objects, or remove something. If your objects are too small, they won't support the shape of the vignette.

"Balance, scale and proportion" in interior decorating

Distribute color evenly throughout a room.The color orange is evenly distributed throughout this living room.

Maintaining balance, scale and proportion is also important in the art of accessorizing. 

Balance your art and accessories throughout a room. Don't place everything on one side of a room. The same with color; scatter accent colors in at least three places around a room for balance and visual movement.

Scale usually refers to the size of an object in relation to the human body or to the room itself. Proportion refers to the size of an object relative to other objects in a room.

To demonstrate how scale and proportion work together, think about how a lamp shade should be in proportion to the lamp base, and the lamp should be in scale with the table it's placed on.

Small accessories clustered together or scattered throughout a room will look like clutter from a distance. Always stand back to view an arrangement you have created.

Plan on using medium to large-sized accessories for your home staging arrangements. Large accessories will be noticed and seem more important as you enter a room.

Follow the advice of HGTV's Sabrina Soto in the art of accessorizing; Don't use anything smaller than the size of a grapefruit!

How to accessorize shelves

Using an all white collection of objects against a white wall will look less cluttered than many colored objects.An all white collection looks uncluttered when placed against a white background.

Creating arrangements on shelves, countertops, tabletops or dressers can be tricky. You want to show off your accessories, but you don’t want the end result to look cluttered and unorganized. Here's a few decorating tips:

  • Don’t clump too many objects together. Simple is always better in the art of accessorizing.
  • Too many small objects will look cluttered and insignificant from across the room.
  • Remember to group objects in odd numbers rather than even.
  • If you want symmetry, start by putting two items of equal visual weight on each end. Then add various pieces of different color and height for interest. Step back to see if both sides of the shelf are balanced. You will know if its unbalanced-- one side will seem visually heavier than the other.

"Visual weight" in the art of accessorizing

Each item that you place in a room has a "visual weight.” Visual weight refers to how much an object APPEARS to weigh, not how much it actually weighs.

What is Visual Weight?

  • Dark colors have more "visual weight" than light
  • Busy patterns appear "heavier" than solid colors
  • Heavy textures carry more "weight" than smooth

Visual weight can refer to color, patterns, textures, design and the shape or structure of an object. This concept is important to know, whether you are arranging furniture or accessorizing a room.

For instance, a black leather sofa will visually outweigh the exact same sofa in white.

Find the focal point before your begin accessorizing

Begin your accessorizing by locating the focal point in a room. For a living room, this could be a fireplace, a beautiful window or an interesting architectural feature.

If you don't have a natural focal point, create your own. A favorite collection grouped together could be a focal point, a large piece of art, an enormous clock, hanging quilt, anything that draws attention as you enter a room.

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Updated 07-19-2023