How to Create a Vignette or Tablescape

Lets talk about how to create a vignette or tablescape. First, thank you to the Washington Post for including this post in your blog watch, August 13, 2009!

Last week while vacationing in Toronto, I did a little shopping (of course). Walking in and out of all the wonderful stores on Avenue Road and Davenport (see first 3 images below) I came to the realization that it’s a miracle that I can pull off the looks that I create for my clients with the [lack of] home decor stores here in Vancouver. And it’s also no surprise that one of my favorites is HomeSense. Not necessarily for the bargains (although the low price tags always makes my clients happy) but because it’s one of the only large home decor superstores in Vancouver which helps when looking for inspiration.

Teatro Verde

At least at HomeSense you can start pulling together a look with different objects of varying heights and colours or find an area rug and some toss cushions and then with that as a starting point, continue ‘shopping the city’ to fill in the blanks for the rest of the space.

Accessories and styling the home–which is really where the personality of the client comes in—can be quite difficult for a lot of people and many times it’s where the designer stops as well (after the furniture has been installed) because it’s so personal.

Teatro Verde

Without taking care to create a look with accessories that really speak to you, there is the danger of your home getting filled up with one-off candleholders and what-nots that you receive as gifts from friends and family. Then there are the gifts you have to keep out on display because they are from mom, grandma, or your best friend. Usually if this is the case I ask my client how long it has been in that prominent spot in their living room and I have never had anyone say “less than 10 years”. That is plenty long enough in my opinion 🙂

I had one client many years ago that hired me just to re-design her space with her existing accessories because (in her mind) she had so many already. She was thrilled with the outcome after I suggested a quick shopping trip for some updated accessories and picture frames!

Teatro Verde

When I think about how to create a vignette or tablescape, Vancouver simply does not have the selection that Toronto does for home decor. I spent an entire afternoon shopping for placemats for one of my clients a few weeks ago. If we had a Crate & Barrel (for example), my shopping would have been complete in 15 minutes.

Because I like to create a ‘finished’ and ‘styled’ look for all my clients, I have found the best way to achieve this is to shop together. Once my clients spend a day shopping with me, a light bulb goes on in their heads as they realize even when a designer is picking out accessories with you there are always ones that don’t work and get shipped right back to the store for a refund!

A tablescape or vignette should include a minimum of 3 items; flowers, candles, and books, and depending on where it is, a tray. Designers that continue to inspire me with their tablescapes are David Jiminez, Ralph Lauren, and Jeffrey Bilhuber:

Here is a tablescape David Jiminez created for one of his homes:

David Jiminez

And here is one (below) I created for one of my clients in North Vancouver that was completely inspired by the image above:

Vignette by Maria Killam Colour & Design

Everything in the above tablescape came from HomeSense except for the books, silk flowers and the art. The candleholders were $14.99 and $16.99. The zebra tray was $19.99, the glass ball was $5.99, the mirror was $39.99, etc.

This client needed a new television because there was no space for anything else on top of her dresser!



First, we bought a flat screen and installed it on the wall (on the right), then my client requested a jewelry tree to hang her necklaces (on the left). I have included a tray (for more miscellaneous items to keep the surface tidy; books which act as a pedestal to display the vase with green rocks and a hydrangea (my client loves them).

When creating tablescapes I totally judge a book by it’s cover because it looks so much better when the colour of the spines relate to the colours in the vignette. Just like in these black and blue books below:

David Jiminez

The blue book with red writing and the green one with gold writing fit right into the decor of this living room by Ralph Lauren (below) see how the books act as a pedestal for the bust, the silver box of tissue and the magnifying glass? By the way, if you have a decorative bookshelf with accessories on it and it still looks like something is missing? A selection of well placed coffee table books is most likely what is required to complete the look.

I was recently hired by a client simply to update her living room with the right accessories and artwork (replacing her furniture was not an option). After we returned from our shopping trip, I found a lovely coffee table book with a gold cover from a bookshelf in her office, placed it beside her lamp on the end table (which was brass) with two decorative birds we had found placed on the top! She loved the effect, an instant tablescape!

I really like personal framed photos as accessories–some designers believe personal photos do not belong in a living room, but I think that is what makes a space feel like home—sometimes my clients simply do not realize that a new frame is all that is required to update the look (if your frames are still forest green and brass from the 80’s, toss them)! I like to buy different ones that coordinate with the decor (like these below) so that it doesn’t look like you bought them all in one place.

Here’s a vignette I created in my bedroom (just for this photo) with all 3 elements; candles, books, and a flower. Layering is also important when designing a tablescape–creating a juxtaposition between high and low objects and artwork with the right colours all contribute to a pleasing arrangement.

Vignette by Maria Killam

I have Jeffrey Bilhuber’s book Defining Luxury and I love it because I adore the way he uses branches, flowers and fruit for styling his interiors!

I was recently hired to style some kitchens for Pacific Rim Cabinets (new site not up yet, I’ll link here when it is), a large cabinet manufacturer based in Vancouver. This image (below) was inspired from the branches in the above image. My client had never worked with a stylist or photographer (Anna Beaudry) before this first day (of two days of shooting) but as soon as I placed the branch in the vase, he actually walked over and gave me a hug, he was so delighted with the effect!

Styled by Maria Killam, Photography by Anna Beaudry

This image above inspired the branches I clipped from a neighbors tree on the day of the shoot for this interior I designed in Richmond.

Interior design by Maria Killam

I just love this styled vignette by David Jiminez. So much that I created my own vignette using the same jug for this kitchen I styled for Pacific Rim Cabinets:

Styled by Maria Killam, Photography by Anna Beaudry

Styled by Maria Killam

If you have a space like this above your fireplace that was originally designed for a fat TV and you are not using it, creating a vignette is a great way to fill it. The idea is to create a kind of triangle inside the box. Visually the highest (heaviest looking) object here is the tall blue vase (both were from Pier 1). The hourglass balances the shorter vase in that they are the same height and then the coral branch in the middle (from the Pottery Barn) fills it in.

Interior Design by Maria Killam

Here it’s a triangle again with the coral on a stand, the adorable glass stand with the cookies, the curvy, sexy teapot and a book holding the cup and saucer to add a splash of colour as well as create the effect of a ‘tray’.

A lovely bedside vignette by David Jiminez. Here again, we have books, a candle and a tray (the only thing missing is a flower). Love the tray, it protects the end table as well as adding sparkle to complete the look and keep it tidy.

Interior by Maria Killam

Here again, a book, flowers and candles and it’s done!

What do you do with a pork chop? Pretty much the only thing is some kind of boat with decorative balls in it (or a row of votives could work too)! I did something similar in this powder room as well. By the way, pork chops are dated, if you are renovating your bathroom, DO NOT install one behind the toilet!

One more thing– I am soooo easy to shop with. Before I learned to have that conversation with my clients, one woman (in the beginning of the day) kept saying “I don’t think my husband would like that” until she got that I truly was not attached! It is a collaborative effort that works really well, and when my clients understand that not everything will work and some items go back, they have more freedom to play with different ideas to create a space that really speaks to them. So if you are in Vancouver, call me for a day of shopping that will transform your home in just one day!

Related posts:
Styling Kitchens
How to style a Kitchen for a Photo Shoot – 3 Rules to Follow
Styling for Photo Shoots
Staging: Two Day Transformation
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leave aREPLY

  1. love this!!!! I had never thought about a tray being so crucial and I can see how beautifully it works!!! You break things down so perfectly and make it all so simple!!!

  2. Wow Maria, this is a super-helpful post — LOVE IT!!! And love all the tablescapes you've shown us. You've inspired me to re-work some of the tablescapes in our house 🙂

    If you think Vancouver is bad for home decor stores, come shopping in Ottawa. After you see how pathetic our selection of stores is, you'll appreciate all the great stores you have in Vancouver!! We have NOTHING here. Not even Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn. The only decent store for home decor here is HomeSense — good thing we have three of them!!

    Hey, one of my 1/2 done projects is now just about all done 🙂


  3. I know what you mean about being envious of design resources. Our options here in New Orleans (except for the very expensive things on Magazine or Royal Streets) are very limited. I'm always so jealous of place like Houston that have Ikea, West Elm, Crate and Barrel, Homesense, Z Gallerie etc. There really is great frustration in having to go all over town to pick from the best of the worst when you know that one trip to Ikea would have furnished all the kitchen gadgets.

  4. Oh, calamity! I had not heard the term 'pork chop' either but that is precisely the road we're heading down with the bathroom re-do that started this very morning!
    I feel I have to defend the pork chop thing too; the room is TINY and it does give some very handy extra space.
    Are they REALLY that bad???? The photo you used was quite nice, I thought.
    Oh, gadzooks, you've sent me into a tailspin now!

  5. Thunder-Moon Creations

    My head is all… well.. ablog! What a G*R*E*A*T blog!

    I just read your poast – "A Light Colour Will Never come to Life in a Dark Room". You just saved me years of unhappiness! I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet, but I'm sure of what I'm NOT going to do in my "one-extra-large-window" livingroom. I'm SO very grateful! Thank you!


  6. Brillante Home Decor

    I agree on Vancouver's stores, which by the way are getting better and better every day but waaaay different from London, New York, should I say also Milan? and many other cities.
    Your vignettes are beautiful.
    Your explanations? Priceless.

  7. I can't begin to tell you how helpful this post is to me. On every surface I tend to display 3 items…one on each end & something in the center. So boring! But I never knew how to display things before. This post is going to transform my home. Thank you!!!

  8. Between you, me and the Fencepost

    I just saw one of those knitted dolls in a bathroom of a lovely couple I was staying with this past week. I giggled and thought of you . . and wondered . . . isn't there a way to make it look cool/retro? The knitting was truly complex and a piece of art.

  9. Live In Full Color

    Wow Maria- what a line up of great styling examples- I'm off to spruce up my nightstand asap!


  10. I had so much fun reading your excellent article and honestly you sound like a fun person to work with. My experience with decorators have been "Their way or the highway" so I had to give them the highway since they are not the ones actually living in our space full time:) Nice to know that you listen to the feedback of your clients and that in return they listen to your suggestions. I just looked around my home and decided that some family gifts being displayed have to go from my living space. Ah, a sigh of relief! Thanks!

  11. Mmmmm, just found in via Washington Post (even though I live at the beach) and love your site! What an excellent post.


  12. Well, it looks as if you have educated a great many of us on what a "pork chop" is. I too remember all those hideous (I mean crafty 🙂 attempts to cover toilet paper rolls and kleenex boxes! Here in the south we tended to see a lot of "hoop skirt" toilet paper 🙂

  13. What wonderful advice! You are ever so talented, and I love what you've done here. Gorgeous, gorgeous photos!

  14. Sedona @ MyDivineDelights

    Maria, I just posted on my blog about this post! I feel like I've had a revelation! Finally, I get it. I consider myself fairly good at the big things, but when it comes down to the details that make the room, I'm lost! I can never make the space have that feel of elegance, comfort, and style. I have lots of great pieces, but it's either too much and cluttered, or I don't even use them because I'm overwhelmed!!! Again, thanks so much, I'm inspired!!

  15. Got to agree with you shopping in Toronto can be inspirational and your blog is too. Thanks for the idea of groups of 3 things, it makes sense and simple enough to remember when we are trying to pull a room together. Thanks for all the great things you are sharing on your blog space, it is great fun.

  16. What a great post and the advice has been so helpful! Thank you so much for sharing Maria!! One question though -I am now in love with that jug that you have pictured with orange juice. Can I ask where it is from?

  17. Dear Anonymous,
    I bought it at the Bay but I have also seen it in Chapters/Indigo Books in their gift section.

  18. Maria, I don't often leave comments here but this post was beautiful! I love your vignettes!!! I make vignettes around my house often, change them out often too as I get tired of looking at things:):) Love your blog! XO, Pinky

  19. This is such a wonderful post! I just discovered your blog at the end of last week and have spent the last hour browsing through your many articles. Beautiful and inspiring!! Thanks for this gem of an article!

    I am one of your new followers and am looking forward to more fabulous posts!

  20. I remember when you first posted this Maria and I've put it to use when creating my tablescapes for sure! I linked this at my blog today on my project: decorating post too.

  21. I love this post, Maria. This is were I run into trouble. I think my problem is I like it all and can't decide what to take home. I will be in Vancouver this week and would like to visit the HomeSense you mentioned. What is it's location?

  22. The best locations are (in order ):

    1. Coquitlam Location
    2. Park Royal
    3. Cambie Street
    4. Downtown on Robson

    Have a great time,