Magazine Quality: Style a Vignette

Have you ever noticed that houses in magazines have a certain indeterminable sense of style about them that makes our own homes seem less than? Even though most featured rooms are from “real homes,” they look kind of… staged.

Well, that’s because they are. When you see a stylist credit on a magazine spread, that means there was a professional who came into the room and tweaked things to make the space look more appealing. Some stylist tricks are simple–adding a bouquet of fresh flowers that matches a room’s color palette, for example. Sometimes stylists practically make over a room with brought-in props. I’ve been paying attention to the methods, and there are a few ways you can do your room up magazine-style for less than the cover price of your favorite shelter title.

One of the best and easiest ways to get that styled look in your home is by creating vignettes. This is one of the things that stylists do ALL THE TIME. If you look closely, you’ll often see that items used in vignettes are culled from elsewhere in the home, as shown in alternate views. In one photo, some glasses and a visually compelling bottle of Hendrick’s gin rest on the kitchen counter (where gin should be, at all times!). Then you notice in photos of the living room, that exact same glass and bottle combination magically appears as part of a styled vignette with lime wedges on a mirrored tray set precariously yet casually atop an ottoman.

So what makes an effective vignette, and how can you whip one up in your house in three steps?

1. Start with a surface: In our case, a low wooden trunk that we literally found on a curb was perfect. It was visually compelling, but too low to be useful as, say, a coffee table. It was just getting lost in the room, like Danny DeVito in an auditorium full of Dutch men. Take a look around your house: have any un-used or under-utilized tables, trunks, desks, or wooden crates?

2. Tell a color story: I had a calendar print (which we discuss here) in a float frame (which we discuss here), that had just been propped against the wall for a long time waiting for a home. I noticed how well the golden and brown accents in the print looked with the muted yellow paint and bronze hardware on the trunk. With that, a color theme of muted brown, gold, white, and turquoise made itself clear.

3. Add dimension and carry out a theme: The real key to a good vignette is having multiple shapes to create depth and height. I had found a small woven rug on the clearance shelf at a local big-box store and was using it in front of the door; with white, gold, and turquoise stripes it was a perfect fit with the color scheme of the vignette, and the size was perfect under the trunk. The husband had found an old globe at a thrift store for $4. The muted colors of the continents looked lovely with the other elements, and combined with the old trunk and national park print, established a subtle travel theme. With the color and theme in mind, the last small element was a folded map of Maine with an illustration of a lobster that mirrors the tones on the globe.

Although we loved the dense vignette that resulted from the propped print, we know ourselves well enough to predict that our inherent clumsiness would one day cause that frame to fall and shatter. We re-style the vignette so the image hung on the wall–low enough to still be at one with the globe, trunk, and map, but still high enough to visually sync with the round mirrors on the wall. I cozied a cardboard Eiffel Tower (a $4 yard sale find that we already owned) up to the group, which fit in perfectly with the color scheme, and worked well thematically and spatially.

One of my favorite parts of the new arrangement? The fish-eye mirror reflects our aqua ceiling in a way that mimics the aqua sky in the print, and the rounded shape is just similar enough to the globe to create another subtle similarity that ties everything together. To me, this is the key to a pretty vignette: when all of the elements are tied together in an organic, relational way without each individual piece having to match every other piece.

How about you? What unused (or under-enjoyed) items are sitting around your house that you could make a vignette with?


7 Responses to Magazine Quality: Style a Vignette

  1. Alexis says:

    Looks gorgeous! Finally, a look at the floors! Is that the living room?

  2. LeeLee says:

    Great home style post. Great images and tips.

  3. Very nice! But I think you should have put the rug at a jaunty 15° angle and added a rose-and-country-blue flowered recliner.

  4. Sharon says:

    After I read this I looked at some of my favorite magazine pages and you’re right about all the best rooms having little attractive arrangements like this! I had never realized how often I was seeing “vignettes”.

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