Grouping objects in a pleasing arrangement is the goal of a vignette. Designers work hard on their tablescaping game, creating small compositions layered with texture and color that draw raves on Instagram. We asked some local designers to describe their process.


A bookshelf in Erica Burns’s second-floor family room at the 2017 DC Design House in Potomac, Md. The Bethesda designer played with various colors and textures in filling the shelves with a pleasing arrangement of books and objects. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The key to styling a beautiful bookshelf, says Bethesda designer Erica Burns, is to mix books and objects in some colors pulled from the room but to also bring in other hues so it doesn't feel "super-coordinated."

In her upstairs family room at the 2017 DC Design House, she has books both stacked and standing, some in hues of green and yellow, colors found in the room's upholstery and art, some not. "I didn't want it to feel too contrived," she says. Tucked into the shelves are sparkly geode bookends and a stone bowl filled with balls. She suggests looking around your house for things that might work together or hunting for more offbeat vintage items, such as her woven tribal basket, moss spheres and box made of bone.

The key to a bookshelf that looks casual and authentic, Burns says, is to "start throwing up books and objects, then move them around. . . . It can take a lot of rearranging." The rules she follows: Mix different shapes, spread out brighter and heavier objects so it feels balanced, hang art on the shelves to create depth (she used a sunflower print in a floating frame) and play with textures, including woven, transparent and reflective so "it all doesn't feel like the same dimension." She displays books upright with bookends and stacked with objects on top. She says that a good general rule for the ratio of books to objects is 60/40 — unless you really own a ton of books.