The paint on the wall is dry, curtains are hung, the furniture moved into place. So why does the room still lack oomph?
Aha! The accessories have as yet to be conjured up.
Accessories—those meaningful objects that perch atop mantels, coffee tables and credenzas—are more than just grace notes that ornament the room. Accessories are the personality, the spirit of the home owner, that infuses the space with humor, flair, warmth and individuality.
The room must have a chair to sit, a table to set a glass, a lamp to light. But the chore of the accessory is to articulate the resident’s mind, to recount the story of the person who lives there, to reinforce the owner’s experience, interests, even aspirations.
And the more unusual, or perhaps eccentric, the accessory, the more arresting it becomes. So I always suggest choosing these objects as carefully as you would your furniture, your floors and your finishes.
Selecting a piece that speaks to you, intrigues you and appeals to your unique sculptural taste is always a plus. Because remember, you are the viewer who will most often behold this object—not your guests, friends or relatives.
Designer Kevin Hart of East Hampton, a master at selecting and juxtaposing accessories says that accessories, once gathered together, often surprise.
“You never know how objects are going to converse. An empty picture frame attracts me, then I add a found bird’s nest for shape and texture, then a primitive mask; creating a spiral of interest. One focuses on one central piece which draws you to the next, then to the next, in an ever-increasing spiral that soon includes the entire room.”
Mr. Hart suggests taking one’s cues from a cherished painting.
“For instance, I extracted the blues from this painting—the aquas, the lavenders, the blues—in assembling this art pottery, but chose interesting shapes—a gourd-like pot, a vase with open jagged petals,” he said. “It is all placed on a severe Japanese wood chest, black and tan, which highlights the gentle colors.”
In another corner of his striking living room, Mr. Hart has assembled a seemingly disparate collection of objects: a smooth ebony ceramic horse whose knob-like mane echoes the ebony bobbin hat stand that supports a Tibetan child’s cap beneath an ethereal oil landscape. This dynamic triangle of objects is held strong by a stone carving. There is a tension of the mix here, also bringing into play Mr. Hart’s varied personal interests—narrating a story of his life and travels.
“Everyone has their own way of seeing—10 artists drawing the same model will have 10 different results,” he said.
In collecting, each individual sees differently. Of course, there have been trends the general public has gone mad for. Remember weather vanes? Everyone had to have one! Patinated finials and garden urns? Mercury glass (and the prices went through the roof!)? Balls of any make: seeds, nuts, ivory, rattan, wood, Bocce balls! Snow globes? Paint-by-number paintings? The list goes on, enumerating what accessories populated the pages of shelter magazines and then trickled down to Pottery Barn.
In assembling collections, the sky is the limit. Collecting thematically is quite common.
Certainly the more unexpected, the more interesting. For instance, antique button-up shoes displayed by size, wooden heads of antique golf clubs, Chinese snuff boxes, World’s Fair salt and pepper shakers, or perhaps an ensemble collected by color.
I collect items in warm, wood tones and ambers with subthemes of pyramids and home workshop assemblages.
Or maybe by material. Kevin Hart displays a collection of brass candlesticks, some with curvaceous structures, some attenuated, some short and some encrusted with detail.
Variety is the spice and dynamic tension of life. Why hide the silver away when I am sure you have a collection worthy of a first-run show! Just grab a pair of silver gloves and work on your compositions. Remember, the art of triangulation (with a high point and two low points) aids in a successful visual result.
Once selected, where are the best spots to strut one’s stuff? The entry hall console or center hall table offers up a star turn, as does the living room coffee table. Bookshelves create a marvelous opportunity to animate the wall, combining books and periodicals with shapely objects.
And the least attended space, I find, is the dining room whose table when not set and not in use is a desert, swept clean of interest. The sideboard is a pedestal that begs for personality—a series of candlesticks collected in a tray, a shapely samovar or a curvaceous white china cache pot flanked by two eccentric animal-inspired flower vases—as Kevin Hart has so successfully implemented.