Display your treasures without cluttering your space

Today's home styling is all about open shelving and displaying our treasures. But how do you create a look that's creative and beautiful rather than cluttered and busy?

Open storage lets you place items in a tidy way, and disparate items can be grouped together and displayed to good effect. Courtesy of sophieconran.com
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Do your research

The reason why the homes in interiors magazines look so gorgeous isn't just because they're naturally beautiful. As well as a photographer, every shoot has a stylist who is employed to make everything look "just so". If you want your home to have that same styled-by-a-professional feel, it stands to reason that you need to look at what the professionals are doing. Next time you're flicking through one of these magazines, don't just glance over the objects in the room shots - notice how they've been laid out and arranged. Create a style moodboard by tearing out your favourite images, or get pinning on Pinterest.

Use symmetry

On a macro level, find a central focus and draw a mental line through your room, then try to ensure that each side balances the other. You don't want to create an exact mirror image, but don't squash all your furniture onto one side, or have lots of height on the left and none on the right. If you have a television in one corner of the room, a strong lamp in the other will help lessen the effect of what is for the most part (while it's turned off, at least) a large, square, black object.

Declutter selectively

If it looks good, leave it on display; if it doesn't, throw it away or hide it. Unless you're going for ultra-minimalism, the trend these days is to leave your house looking lived in. Displaying some of the day-to-day objects that we use becomes artistic rather than messy. So while your functional black stapler should live in a drawer, those coloured pencils would look lovely in a glass jar on your desk. Likewise you could keep most of your clothes shut away in your wardrobe but leave a favourite dress on a pretty hanger hooked over the door.

Tell a story

Do you want your kitchen to give off a fresh, summery feel? A bowl of bright yellow lemons on the work surface will work wonders, as will a couple of pots of live herbs growing on the window sill, or even a neat row of flip-top glass bottles filled with water. In the lounge, something as simple as perching a pair of stylish glasses on top of a stack of vintage fabric-bound books on an occasional table will give the room a sense of life. Start to see everything as a prop that adds to the overall atmosphere and impression of a room.

Choose open storage

Of course, you can't just leave stuff lying about all over the place, no matter how attractive it is in its own right. The saying "a place for everything and everything in its place" still applies. Open storage allows you to get the best of both worlds; styling key items in a tidy way. For example, it's become very fashionable to have some open shelving or a dresser in the kitchen or dining room on which to display piles of your favourite crockery. In the bathroom, soft piles of towels on an open shelf will subtly create the feel of a relaxing spa, while wicker baskets will hide the razors and sticking plasters.

Make the most of books

Bookshelves are a particularly great place to style functional objects into a cohesive whole that forms a real statement, particularly because the relative uniformity of books keeps them from looking too cluttered. Try arranging your books by colour, and even add a few accessories that blend in - an ivory candle, a large pebble and a limestone statuette on the white shelf, for example, or a small plant, a jar of emerald buttons and a jade box on the green shelf. This isn't about getting everything to match exactly, but creating a rich and varied look that is bound into something cohesive by a common palette.

Create visual boundaries

A group of disparate items can be pulled together using another object to form a visual boundary. This works on a large scale - for example by grouping sofas into a seating area that is defined by a large rug - or a small scale, such as arranging bathroom beauty products or kitchen tea-making paraphernalia on an attractive tray. It's all about making things look like they've been placed rather than randomly left.

Odd numbers

A simple but effective point to note is that when it comes to grouping objects, avoid even numbers. No one really knows why, but collections look best when there are odd numbers of items. A collection of three vases or five candles will look far better than two or four. Try it and see.

Go large

Filling your house with lots of little bits and pieces can make it look cluttered. Styled rooms often contain fewer but larger accessories - a giant vase or a supersized lamp. Don't underestimate what your room can handle. If you have lots of little bits and pieces, group them - remembering the rules about odd numbers and visual boundaries. Consider whether to invest in something like a large printer's tray to hang on the wall or even a display cabinet to help you turn a jumble of odds and ends into a real statement piece.


To make the most of your newly styled items, you'll need to be sure that people can see them properly. Good lighting design can make a room, highlighting the best bits. Use direction spots on the ceiling to pick out key areas, and task lamps to do the same on a smaller scale. Under cupboard lights will keep your kitchen surface displays on show.

Take photos

Sometimes what we miss in real life is easier to spot in a photo. Take a few snaps of the room you're styling and study them. What stands out and jars your eye? Which colours aren't working? Which objects need shifting? Are there ugly cables sticking out from your TV? Play about until you feel you've got a result you're comfortable with. Remember, although you may be going for a professionally styled look, ultimately this is a home you're creating, not a movie set.