Accessories meant to complete space, not confuse homeowners

“There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.” Logan Pearsal Smith (1865-1946), American educator, “Afterthoughts” (1931)

For some reason, accessories tend to confound people more than a houseful of furniture. It seems easy enough to buy sofas and chairs, dining room sets, beds, dressers, etc., but when it comes to buying the finishing touches, I find that a lot of folks get very shy and skittish. I’ve had the privilege of visiting homes where the furniture is in place, but the walls are bare, tabletops are empty, floors are naked, and sometimes even the windows have no coverings. And the owners are at a loss.

Owners usually say something like, “When I walk into a store and see all of those lamps, and paintings, and ‘stuff,’ it just confuses me, and I don’t know where to start.” So instead of wading in and testing the water, they do nothing — and their rooms sit empty. Does that sound like you?

I’m here to tell you that finishing off your space should not be frightening. When you think about it, you will easily spend hundreds of dollars on a sofa, but be unsure of buying that $50 accessory. Doesn’t make sense, huh? You can certainly spend thousands of dollars on accessories too, but let’s assume you’re not buying priceless art or top-of-the-line carpets. Here are a few quick things to consider.

First of all, accessories are key to completing a space and making it your own. You can, of course, make mistakes so you need to have some idea of what you need before you walk into the lamp, carpet, art or accessory venue.

Style, color and size are three determining factors when choosing items to complement your décor. One of the most common mistakes I see is the size component. For some reason, people buy little, tiny things when their space cries out for a larger, more impressive piece. One large bowl, lamp or decorative jar is much more appropriate than a group of smaller items. Small accessories tend to collect dust and get lost in the equation.

You may have also heard of “the rule of three.” When grouping items together, for some reason the eye is much more comfortable with odd numbers of things. Group your accessories in threes, fives, etc.

Collections as accessories are another confusing subject. The theory is that if you have three or more of something, voilá, you have a collection. So, if you have a collection, display it as such. Put your like things together and don’t spread them around the house. When placed alone, they lose their importance and are no longer part of a collection. Just a personal note, be careful of the type of collection you display in your public areas. I believe that personal items such as trophies, plaques and commendations belong in a private space and not in your main rooms.

While I’m all about eclectic design, there also are some parameters for mixing accessories. There should be some factor tying them together and they should relate to your furnishings.

While we could spend hours on lamps and rugs, here are two quick tips. Buy your lamps based on the intended function. If you need the light for reading, make sure it is the correct height and in the right place. If its sole purpose is to look pretty, you don’t have many restrictions.

Rugs need to fit the space. Not only should they relate to your furniture, but the biggest mistake people make is that they buy rugs that are too small. In a seating area, the rug should be large enough to tie the furniture pieces together. Under a dining table, they should be big enough to allow the chair to be pulled out and remain on the rug. Rugs that are too small resemble clothing that is too small — and leaves arms and legs sticking out.

If you have specific questions about your space, please write to me and I’ll try to help. But, just keep in mind these few tips and you can finish off your space like a pro.

Carolyn Muse Grant is the founding president of the Architectural & Decorative Arts Society, as well as an interior design consultant/stylist specializing in home staging. Her Inside Spaces column appears weekly in the Home section of the Review-Journal. Send questions to

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