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 vignette from Josh Hildreth’s “Collector’s Cabinet” space at the 2017 DC Design House in Potomac, Md. Hildreth, a Reston, Va. designer, was careful to arrange objects under the photograph that related to the powerful image in the photograph. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

When creating a vignette on a chest or console table, don't ignore the space around it. Relate artworks to whatever you select to display just below. "Ask yourself what this artwork says to you," Josh Hildreth says.

Beneath a framed art piece, combine items that have warmth, texture and whimsy. Lighting is key. Possibilities include a picture light or tabletop uplight. If you use a lamp, choose one that does not obscure your art, with a lampshade in a color that connects with it. He prefers the look of one lamp vs. two lamps when focusing on an artwork. Balance out the end opposite the lamp with an object that is 25 to 35 percent of the height of the lamp base without the shade.

If a piece of furniture is modern, folk art might be a good choice; for an antique chest, modern art glass. Select books related to the artwork (or not) and place them in a stack; this arrangement can add height to objects placed on top. Think creatively: family photographs under a portrait or a stack of berry-toned books under a still life. Says Hildreth: "If it's too cluttered, remove an item or two."

The tranquility and rich colors of a photograph by Trine Sondergaard of a woman in a Danish 19th-century bonnet spoke to Hildreth. He selected two for his "Collector's Cabinet" space in the 2017 DC Design House, placing an olive wood chest underneath one. On it, he carefully arranged a few items. There are books about photography; atop them, a wood sculpture by Jim Perry that contrasts with the soapstone top of the chest. The black resin doe lamp is his "quirky" element. He chose a vintage Turkish olive oil container because of "how the rough, humble nature of this domestic piece contrasts with the grandeur of the chest and photograph."