Storytelling With Vignettes

I remember years ago going to woman’s house with a group of friends after a book launch party (I was a +1). Lynda’s  home was eclectic and every corner told a story. I was particularly drawn to the home office which was adjacent to the living room. There, two thirds along a wall sat an old waterfall dresser that had been returned to its former glory. On top of the dresser sat an old war era framed photograph, a carved marble table lamp and a Fada radio, amongst other memorabilia. I do remember feeling a bit warm and fuzzy but also a little sad. I was dying to ask Lynda what it all meant. The rest of the house was a mixture of themes but this office was distinctly styled in a 1940’s “art deco” theme. Even the desk looked like it was an original Johan Tapp.

Eventually, after spending time chatting with the others, Lynda and I introduced ourselves properly and got to talking and a little bit in I asked about the office, I mean, after all we were there for a post book launch party drink and chat, not lessons in one’s taste in décor. Either way, her eyes lit up and she practically dragged me back into the office explaining that the photo was of her grandparents who were so much in love with each other their whole lives and died only months apart. The lamp had been one of her grandmother’s favorite possessions and she would often sit beneath it reading Lynda stories in the armchair that was now angled in the corner. Her grandfather would often listen to news of the war on the radio in the kitchen, or at his desk that was now in this office.

Lynda explained that she had a very close relationship with her grandparents, and putting their items around her workspace helped fill her with calm and inspiration. If she felt stressed she simply looked around her and the peace and confidence her grandparents instilled in her would fill her again. Now I know why I felt so warm and fuzzy.

That night years ago was the first time I learned about what a vignette was and “the rule of 3” or “the rule of odds”. Turns out Lynda was an interior designer turned author. She explained to me that what probably caught my interest was the layout of her “vignette”. Even numbers in design look too organized and create tedium. It seems that we as humans are unconsciously programmed to look for the creative, interesting, and the beauty in things, and that odd numbers can spark the appreciation of those qualities. The left side of the brain breaks down what we see into individual components, whereas the right sees everything as whole, and so in working together, the brain looks for balance in compositions that are interpreted by the mind as well-blended and attractive to the eye.

In designing, you have positive space. This is the space that an object takes up. Surrounding that object is negative space. This space helps to define the object by making it the point of focus or center of interest. The other items surrounding the main object are usually paired and this helps to make the arrangement look more pleasing and harmonious to look at as well as its ability to draw your attention in.

KINFOLKANDSOULVIGNETTES1– Here are 2 pictures that show a good use of negative space. Notice how the space makes you linger a little longer looking for and admiring the objects in that space.

The rule of 3 likes to employ the use of assortment, textures, shapes, and different heights of objects. This is called a hierarchy. Again, the mind is enchanted with variables and is quickly bored by things that are too alike. Generally there is a theme and cohesion involved when grouping objects together. Some have similarities like color, types of use like books or vases, or materials like wood or metal. It might be a particular theme like coastal, modern or shabby chic, amongst others. In Lynda’s case it was a collection of her favorite things that reminded her of her relationship with her grandparents, so I guess the rule is that it should be a scene that brings you joy.

And by no means feel as if you have to adhere to the rule of 3. Designers have been known to use 5 and even 7 or 9 objects in decorating. It is true that you are only limited by your own imagination. When working with a larger number of objects, just break it down by trying to keep the objects in groups of 3 or 5.

So what are the steps to create a vignette?

1.    You already know to arrange your items in groups of 3 or 5 for the best layouts.

2.    Make sure you have good lighting because vignettes don’t look that great in dully lit areas, otherwise use a lamp. Be careful with this because it could end up being the anchor (your main piece) for your vignette depending on it’s size. It’s ok if that’s what you’re aiming for, but you may want a painting or mirror, plant or sculpture to be your anchor.

3.    Your anchor starts at the back with the other objects working their way towards the front creating depth. Think triangles. This is the shape decorators mostly use to pull off their vignettes. Move the objects in different triangular configurations until it feels right.

4.    Remember to vary the height and scale of your objects so as to create interest and harmony.

5.    Don’t forget to choose items that go with the overall theme of your home otherwise you will have a display that looks out of place in your home.

6.    The sky’s the limit. You can use books, trays, nature and personal items to create your own story. No need to go shopping for this one. And just play around until you feel it works for your personal style.


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