The Art of the Tabletop Tableau

I think the best interior spaces are the ones that tell the story of those who live there. Well-designed spaces are not just a collection of lovely furniture, artwork, lighting and accents. They are those that add a bit of magic, a mirror into the passions and pursuits of the home’s inhabitants.

One of the easiest ways to offer snapshots into your life story is through the displays on the tabletops that dot your home. Creating complex, layered displays is a hallmark of the Nell Hill’s look. We love tableaux that intrigue a guest enough to pull them in, then reward them with something of wonder or whimsy, a whispered clue about what and who the homeowner cherishes.

When I visited my friend Marsee’s townhome, I almost lost my breath when I saw all the vignettes she has so carefully created throughout her home. Every surface held a story to be explored and enjoyed. She is the ultimate nester. One of the things I love most about Marsee’s tabletop tableaux is that each one is unique. Yet, they all are similar enough to create a harmonious flow throughout her home.

I asked Marsee to share her secrets for crafting tabletop tableaux…

First and foremost, make sure you can use the space.

It’s easy to go wild building displays, making them reach high above the surface and spread across its girth. I’ve done this more than once in my life! But in Marsee’s smaller home, she can’t afford to not have every piece of furniture be fully functional. Keep plenty of tabletop open for things like drinks and books. To save space, she decorates with pieces that can double as storage, like baskets and boxes.

Repeat common elements to create continuity.

Marsee likes to decorate with old books, small picture frames, small wood boxes, urns filled with shells or other treasures, fresh flowers, antique statues, potted plants and candles. Before she creates a display, she spreads everything out that she might want to use. Then, she tries out different combinations until she likes what she sees.

Try a tray to hold a display together.

Trays are one of my favorite ways to ground a vignette. They collect a group of items and make them work as one. Some of Marsee’s displays start with a tray, but not all of them. See what works best for the items you want to display and the table where they will live.

Display only the things you love.

One of the cathartic things about downsizing is giving yourself permission to get rid of things you no longer love. Marsee wisely put many of her accents into boxes and held on to them for a while after she moved into her townhome, just in case she changed her mind about anything. She did. Several pieces she thought she no longer wanted she ended up really missing. She salvaged them from storage and now they make her smile every day.

Make even functional collections beautiful.

Marsee is a girl who loves her coffee. You will find a coffee makers stashed in several places in her home, from her kitchen counter to both of the townhome’s bedrooms. But instead of just plunking down a Keurig, Marsee makes the coffee service areas beautiful by staging them with lovely dishes and cups, linens and interesting accents.

Take your time.

Sometimes Marsee’s displays come together instantly, but most often, she tweaks them for months before she’s fully satisfied. She’ll add something here, take something out there, switch items from one display to the next. I do the same thing, and it makes Dan roll his eyes. I love the idea that my whole home, from one small tabletop design on up, is always evolving, as am I.