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tablescapesWashington Post

How to Create a Vignette or Tablescape

By 08/10/2009April 13th, 201767 Comments

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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218 pins


  • AB HOME Interiors says:

    HAHAHA I have never heard the term pork chops. I LOVE it! Gotta use that. Love the pics you took of the the store Teatro Verde. Great stuff. I have to agree with you. SOme cities are so fortunate to have a plethora of options when it comes to accessories. Nashville is lacking in skilled craftsman AND accessories. Sometimes I feel like a crude cave designer working with rocks and rubbish to design a house because we lack good resources locally. BTW,Love your vignettes!

  • High-Heeled Foot in the door says:

    Oh super fun post. You know I always love everything you write and I'm constantly printing them out and storing them.

    Everytime I get an issue of House and Home and see the Home Sense ads I'm itching to go!

  • Gloria Lemay says:

    Ohmigosh! Please don't encourage anyone to open yet another home accessories shop in Vancouver. . I live at Granville and W 13th and they are right there at my doorstep, tons of them! I was up at W. 14th in the Country Furnishings store the other day and they had these great coffee table books that I would never see except that I'm a fan of yours, Maria. Amazing colours, really nice. . . either check them out or give me orders to snap a photo for you. Now I know that you hang out with Anna Beaudry I'm a little intimidated but I'll get through it.

    I'm off to create a vignette in the corner of my bathroom. Thank the little Lord Jesus I don't have a porkchop over my toilet, I'd be suicidal, if I did!

  • Dale says:

    Great collection of vignettes Maria! And yes, I agree, we certainly don't have enough home furnishing stores in Vancouver.

  • Gwen says:

    Pork chop is a new one for me too!

    What I notice from a few of your pictures is that some art pieces are not hung just simply leaned against the wall. I like that look and have a few like that in my house. Of course what people don't realize is that I just haven't figured out where I want to hang them yet!

    I will have to add more flowers or greenery, I am missing that part of your suggested three.

  • Under a Green Roof says:

    this is a great post!!! I have been working so much getting the "big things" for the house (furniture, rugs, etc) that I haven't done much styling. This post was just the inspiration I needed! Thank you!

    btw, BEAUTIFUL images!!!

  • Danica says:

    I must say, I never knew those ugly ledges had a name. Luckily, I don't have to put up with one in my bathroom. I'm envious that you got to explore Teatro Verde, I was reading about the store in my Style At Home just yesterday. (It's the "Shop of the Month" for September.)

    I like having the paintings and art simply leaning on the wall. For a lot of people in apartments, there's no option to nail anything into the wall. This look is more relaxed, I think.

    Glad you had a fantastic trip!

  • lizawiza says:

    Thanks for the tablescaping tips.

  • lolly-jolly says:

    Ah that post is absolutely lovely and useful! i didn't read the whole text because i prefer watching at the examples and it's quite understandable 🙂 thank you!

  • Things That Inspire says:

    Great post, and great instruction for someone like me who is hopeless at vignettes and tablescapes!

    I had never heard the term 'pork chop', but I have seen them in bathrooms.

  • Annie says:

    yes I can see why you love the orange juice pic!

  • Design Esquire says:

    Another fabulous post, Maria! I love all your ideas for vignettes.

  • Laura Trevey says:

    Absolutely Gorgeous as always!!
    I mentioned you on Watercolors
    this morning ~~

    xo Laura

  • Rebecca Sherman says:

    Maria, your own table vignettes are my favorites here., especially the bedside table with the glass pedestal and cookies. It's charming! I love the lemons in the kitchen, too, and the dresser with the zebra tray and the horn bowl on a silver pedestal. They're like out of a magazine!

  • Karena says:

    This is perfect Maria because I am currently "editing" bookshelves and tablescapes. By the way David Jimenez is right here in Kansas City. Mrs B has a link with many images of his fabulous Hyde Park Home

  • Annie, bossy color says:

    Maria, this is such a fabulous post! What I've found with some of my younger clients (who hire me for paint colors and then we evolve…) is that they literally don't HAVE enough things to create effective vignettes. I have to convince them that yes, these little tablescapes can make a room, and yes, it's ok to spend money on them! This might be a D.C. problem…people are too busy working to think about their houses (lucky for me). Thanks again, Maria!

  • qerat says:

    great pictures Maria and wonderful finds

  • StylishHeather says:

    Great post once again!! I want to go shopping with you!

    Be glad you don't live here in Timmins – thinking of the dismal shopping situation here makes me want to cry. We have 3 small decor stores, NO Homesense or any other major home store. Most of my finds have to come from Walmart 🙁

  • Rachel says:

    what an amazing crash course on styling. i had never really thought about tablescapes until i read your very informative, thorough post today. what great examples you found. i feel like i learned a whole new dimension of design today. thanks for the great post, Maria.

  • ms. less is always more says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog today… I'm going to dig into yours now! 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    From a non-decorating person:

    The extended countertop ledges over the toilet are out of date?? I have been seeing those recently & think they are a great idea because you don't see as much of the bare toilet top. You can put something decorative there, although most people would probably keep their hair products lined up there.

    So what do you do with the bare toilet? Just put a picture above it?

    My mother puts medium-sized flower arrangement on hers and it looks really strange. I keep asking her to just leave it bare but she won't. She also has a tacky tray made for the top of the toilet on another.

    When I was growing up, people would knit a long full dresses for a Barbie doll that would go over a roll of toilet paper (with her legs in the middle) and put it on the top of the toilet tank.

    So, Maria, there is a pent-up demand for toilet vignettes!

  • Maria Killam says:

    Dear Anonymous!
    That is the best argument I have ever heard for keeping a pork chop in a bathroom design!

    Please, anything to avoid those options 🙂 Thanks for the entertaining comment, I laughed out loud!
    I love my readers and commenters!

  • VictoriaArt says:

    What a wonderful post, I am such fan of great table tops, endless possibilities and always fun!
    You've picked such elegant examples…
    Often I feel design shops have an advantage, so many things look great in repetition and usually in large rooms you can be a little bit bolder.
    Well, love your post!

  • Velvet and Linen says:

    A laugh and a learning experience! Only here, Maria.
    Your vignettes are beautiful.
    You used David Jiminez's work as your inspiration, and now I will use your vignettes as my inspiration!


  • hzgrace says:

    I loved this post …. but then again I always do. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. While I don't want to 'look' formulaic I need a base of knowledge to work from ..and you have given that to me.
    Thank you
    and have a blessed day

  • Carolyn says:

    I recently found your blog and LOVE it! I am so thrilled that I figured out the three things required on my own, but I have yet to make them look as amazing as you do. Thank you for the excellent tutorial and inspiration. . . now if I can figure out my mantle . . . show me the way!!!

  • interiorblogging says:

    Thankfully we have you to show us the way and educate us about pork chops. Took me a while, by the way, to figure that one out. What a great post. I am off to vignette the side table.

  • chanteusevca says:


    Love this post! I really needed this post with all of these beautiful photos and ideas. I am going to go around my home and implement so many ideas I've garnered from it. Since I am still in the planning stages for redecorating our living/family area and remodeling our kitchen, this is something I can do now and have instant gratification.

    After searching in your photos for the piece of meat (pork chop), I laughed out loud when I realized what you were describing. How funny! I've seen those in older apartment complexes in our area, but not too many homes any longer. At least the update made that one look much nicer.

    Oh, I spend a lot of time lusting after many of the Ralph Lauren tablescapes too. I especially loved the one they showed not long ago for his etheral and glamourous Mayfair collection. If I were a single woman, I would have something similar, at least for awhile.

    ~ victoria

  • DesignTies says:

    Fantastic post, Maria! And the work you've done for your clients – the vignettes you've created – are perfect!
    Victoria @ DesignTies

  • Tracy @ comfortandluxury says:

    Terrific post, Maria! Love your Pacific Rim styling and the North Vancouver design inspired by David Jimenez… especially the layered frames and zebra tray.

  • Lauren says:

    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!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    Great post Maria! Love the vignettes and tablescapes. Very informative and I got some good ideas.

  • DesignTies says:

    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 🙂


  • Design Junkie says:

    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.

  • Struggler says:

    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!

  • Thunder-Moon Creations says:

    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!


  • Brillante Home Decor says:

    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.

  • Mary says:

    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!!!

  • Lauren says:

    MARIA!!!!! Congrats on being in the Post AGAIN!!!! so happy to see you in there!!!!!
    xoxoxooxoxox huge hug!!

  • Between you, me and the Fencepost says:

    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.

  • Live In Full Color says:

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


  • Joyce says:

    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!

  • Debbie Pearson says:

    Lots of terrific information along with beautiful settings as examples.

  • Morning T says:

    Your work is beautiful and it's fun to see where you get your inspiration from. Great post!

  • simply seleta says:

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


  • susan says:

    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 🙂

  • Brenda says:

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

  • Sedona @ MyDivineDelights says:

    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!!

  • Pearl Maple says:

    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.

  • Tammy@InStitches says:

    I must have missed this post somehow… Great advice and photos. Yes, my grandmother had lots of knitted ways to cover tp rolls !

  • Anonymous says:

    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?

  • Maria Killam says:

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

  • The Shiny Pebble says:

    great post!

  • Pinky says:

    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

  • Erin A says:

    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!

  • lynne says:

    Maria, you are a genius..

  • Barbara@HausDesign says:

    Another great post Maria! I noticed you mentioned trays in the ingredients for a great tablescape. I wrote a post recently about how much I love trays for their versatility and beauty. Check it out if you're interested!

  • Inspire Me Heather says:

    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.

  • krt says:

    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?

  • Maria Killam says:

    The best locations are (in order ):

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

    Have a great time,

  • Donna says:

    Maria, This is a superb post! So many good ideas to take away and use in just the right places.

    I really appreciate how you explained so thoroughly just how to accessorize. The photos are perfect too.

    My favorite is the one with the pitcher of orange juice and the green things in the kitchen. That is a fantastic vignette!


  • MSH says:

    I really appreciate that you were able to incorporate your client’s storage needs into your vignette (e.g. jewelry tree, boxes, valet tray). Especially when people have modest spaces &/or budgets, useful + beautiful is a very happy combination!

  • Peggy says:

    Maria, do you have any suggestions for how to select and tablescape a coffee table when you have small children? I’ve considered ideas like chalkboard tops, just repainting it with a fresh coat of white when needed, etc. but I think those ideas will just look messy. I would consider glass, because it’s easy to keep clean, but I worry about safety. I would lilke to have some decorative items on the table, and my six-year-old will respect them, but it’s still less than ideal. Your thoughts?

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Peggy,
      Since I don’t have children I can’t speak from experience on what to do here. The brickmakers coffee table could be an option, here’s the link to a photo on my pinterest boards where you can look at all of them. For my sister I found a flower pot, put a large plastic round green ball in it, 2 childrens books with a yellow turtle carved out of wood sitting on it. The kids don’t touch it. I need to post it sometime! Hope this helps, Maria

  • Rachel Olsen says:

    Been reading your blog for about 6 months – love it and have learned so much, also got the ebook – this might be my favorite post!

    I get that the books’ spine/cover colors are the most important consideration but does the subject matter, matter? Should I make them all fashion books, all food books, or all travel books if stacked together? Or can I mix and match the subjects in different stacks/rooms so long as the spines work together? Thanks.

    • Maria Killam says:

      The subject matter should be of course whatever interests you but you could totally mix them up!
      Happy styling 🙂 Maria

  • joan says:

    I don’t agree with your dismissal of the extended granite over the toilet “porkchop.” Why not make the most of the space in a small bathroom? Maybe you prefer the tall over-the-toilet etageres? ( just kidding) It is a great spot to keep hand lotion, tissues, etc. Also, too many vignettes on top of tables may add to more attractive photos, but in reality just take up space and add to cleaning time!

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