How to Make a Vignette like a Pro

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Beach-themed vignette on a fireplace mantle.Beach-themed vignette on a fireplace mantle. Photo by blog.hgtv.com

Learn how you can make a vignette that will look professional, beautiful and effortless. It's really not that hard once you know the basic design rules.

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



What is a Vignette?

Literary Devices.net describes a vignette as "a small impressionistic scene, an illustration, a descriptive passage, a short essay, a fiction or nonfiction work focusing on one particular moment; or giving an impression about an idea, character, setting, mood, aspect, or object."

Living room with stunning vignettes. Photo by Pottery Barn.Pottery Barn always has stunning vignettes! Photo by Pottery Barn.

In the realm of interior home decor, 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.

A vignette typically consists of a grouping of decorative objects chosen to complement a room's function or decorative details. A vignette should look uncomplicated, spontaneous and unstudied.

Simple vignette of three vases with flowers.A simple vignette composed of identical vases in varying heights.

If you have a house for sale, the addition of a few vignettes here and there throughout your home can be used to highlight a particular decorative detail, create a focal point, or show the function of a room.

Where can I display a vignette?

Vignettes can be displayed on practically any horizontal surface in every room of your house.

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

How to make a vignette look cohesive

A vignette should complement the style, color or theme of your home. A helpful rule to follow is to combine objects that have at least one common element to connect them.

If you have a particular theme going on in your home, like a beachy cottage motif or farmhouse style, collect objects for your vignettes that reflect that style.

Choose a main topic for your vignette, or start with one amazing object to be the superstar and build your vignette around that.

Some popular vignette themes:

Farmhouse style vignette.Charming farmhouse style vignette.
  • Shape: Vary the height of objects having the same shape.
  • Color: If objects are the same color, vary the shapes and heights. Use color to support your room color schemes.
  • Vintage: Group objects from your favorite vintage period.
  • Theme: Beach themes, nature, seasonal, travel, music, art period or specific artist, photography, or even a room style theme, like Bohemian. And of course, the Christmas season is brimming with vignette possibilities!
  • Textures: Vary the textures of your vignette components; the juxtaposition of prickly pinecones next to smooth river rocks will certainly liven up your vignettes.
  • Collections: With any kind of collection, avoid using too many small pieces, because it can look like clutter from a distance. 


Sabrina Soto, interior decorator from HGTV, advises not to use any objects “smaller than a grapefruit” when accessorizing. Anything smaller will just look like clutter.




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

Wood bowl vignette filled with sea shells and glass balls.Photo by Pottery Barn.

Sculptural objects - A lamp, (to add height and light) vase, ornamental garden sculpture, (the more weathered, the better!) pottery, metal sculpture.

A stack of books is a great way to elevate an object in a vignette.A stack of books is a great way to elevate objects.

Items from nature - sea shells, starfish, sea sponges, beach glass, corks, glass balls, geodes, driftwood, coral, fish net, acorns, branches, pinecones, birch back, potted plant, flowers, mossy balls, rocks, antlers, and my favorite, a bird's nest. I like to fill a bird's next with egg shaped rocks.

Place small objects - like a collection of vintage buttons, jewelry or sea shells inside bowls, glass canisters or a clear lamp base. 

Paper products - Lean vintage greeting cards, unframed pictures, piano music, old black and white photos, elegant restaurant menus, books... Look for vintage paper products in antique and second-hand stores and flea markets.

Antiques and collectibles - Use objects that look old or have a patina, like; antique binoculars, an old box camera, a globe, mason jars, lamp, lantern, basket, candle pedestals, clock, bowl, bottles and wood boxes.

Artwork - paintings, mirrors, framed photographs, picture frames

Let your vignettes “evolve” by adding or taking away objects. Create transitional vignettes with the seasons.

Elevate smaller pieces with; a stack of books, a wood box or candle pedestals.

Start building your vignette!

Odd numbers and varied sizes are more pleasing to the eye.Odd numbers and varied sizes are more pleasing to the eye.

Visualize a triangle, or pyramid-shape as you build your vignette

A triangular-shaped vignette should consist of objects of varying sizes and heights.

Work in odd numbers of threes, fives, and so on. Don't be afraid to use only three objects. Simplicity is often best. 

Odd numbered arrangements are the most pleasing to the eye, as they appear less studied.

Avoid the temptation of adding too many pieces, because the result may look cluttered. Instead, place smaller items in jars or canisters.

Create depth in your vignette and cluster objects close together for cohesiveness.

Start your vignette with an "anchor piece"

A coffee table vignette made of objects from nature.This coffee table vignette consists mostly of objects from nature. Photo inspired by Pottery Barn.
  1. For the foundation of your vignette, select a shallow basket, crate, mirror, table runner, a stack of coffee table sized books or serving tray as a base. You DON'T NEED to use a foundation piece, but a base piece will help unite all the decorative objects into a cohesive unit.

  2. Select an object to be the “star” of the composition. This anchor piece should be of considerable height or weight and substantial enough to “hold” the arrangement together. Some possibilities: a lamp, lantern, glass vessel that can be filled, birdhouse, potted plant, etc.

  3. Place the anchor piece first and at the peak of the pyramid, (at the rear) and off center.

  4. 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. 

  5. If your arrangement is on a fireplace mantle, shelf or buffet table, overlap pieces so that a part of each object can be seen. Objects can touch, if desired. If the vignette looks too tight or studied, move objects slightly apart.

For a floor vignette, use large heavy objects, like a floor mirror, shutters or screens. Add live potted plants, sculptural objects, even a stack of old books, making sure they're in proper scale to the size of the room.



How to make a balanced vignette

An offset, yet balanced fireplace mantle arrangement.Objects of similar height or color placed at opposite ends creates an offset arrangement. Balance each side with a tall central object. Photo by cottage&vine.

Some design principals to consider:

  • Balance: Several objects of similar height or color placed at opposite ends of a fireplace mantle or table can create an offset arrangementBalance each side with a tall central object, like a mirror or a painting.
  • Scale: Scale 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.
  • Pattern: Pattern is a decorative element 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. Large heavy floral or busy patterns can make a room feel stiff and formal.
  • Texture: Vary the textures of objects to liven up your vignettes. For instance, shiny, satiny surfaces will illuminate a space. Textures will provide shadow and depth.
  • Contrast: Combine various textures to create interesting contrasts in your vignettes, like; place a smooth surfaced vase next to a handwoven rough textured basket.

  • Line: The lines of your vignette can give it a feeling of movement and even atmosphere.
  • Rhythm: Rhythm is a key design element in successful interior home decor-- it's the path your eye follows when you enter a room or look at a vignette.

Symmetrical and asymmetrical balance

Symmetry, or formal balance, is for those who prefer order and formality in their home decorations.

Symmetrical vignettes are quite easy to arrange, as you're simply trying to "match" each side of a shelf or fireplace mantle.

Asymmetry, or informal balance, is for those who prefer excitement, energy and creativity in their home decor.

If you like a casual look, then 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 in both styles.

Objects don’t have to match perfectly to balance, just appear to be of the same weight. 


What is "Visual Weight"

Visual weight is all about perception; what your eye thinks an object weighs. Below is a simple guideline for building successful vignettes. For more info, go to principle of 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

Create a pretty bedside nightstand vignette.The objects on this bedside table vignette complement the background.

Be aware of the surrounding room décor when building a vignette.

The backdrop becomes an integral part of your vignette, so take note of color schemes or wild patterns that may clash with the objects in your display.

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

When building a vignette in front of a hanging picture 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 reflecting your vignette.

Be sure that objects you place in front of the mirror look as good on the backside as they do in the front.

How to make a vignette on a fireplace mantle

How to balance dissimilar objects on a fireplace mantle.The mass of the sailboat "feels" similar in weight and height of the objects opposite.

An easy interior decorating tip for a fireplace mantle and other long flat surfaces is the “three-plus-one” trick.

I use this method to decorate my upright piano, which is always a difficult piece of furniture in any room.

In the picture, the dark color of the picture frame adds enough weight to balance off the larger size of the sail boat on the opposite end. 

  • Begin building in this method by choosing three 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 and overlapping. Cluster objects together, not side by side.
  • On the other end of the mantle, place a single large object two to three times the size of the other pieces. It should visually be equal in weight to the three pieces on the other end. 
Create a linear vignette on a table top.A linear vignette with outdoor elements. Create one like this on your table top.

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