“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen”

John Wooden (UCLA Basketball Head Coach 1948-1975)


You might find it odd to see a quote from a basketball coach in a design post, but this little quote got me to thinking. Have you ever purchased furniture, even special ordered it, carefully considering the upholstery color and texture. You compared it to your wall paint and carpets and agonized over your choices. You even brought samples home to view them in daylight vs. evening. And then, when it’s all over and the furniture is delivered, you feel a little let down? You know something is not quite right, but you can’t put your finger on what’s wrong.

Doubt and panic begins to set in. You think, “I chose the wrong fabric, wood, or fill in the blank”  “I should have picked the blue one!”  “ I should have watched more HGTV!”

Relax, take a deep breath and think about that little nugget of wisdom from Mr. Wooden: “It’s the little details. . . [that] make big things happen.” There’s nothing wrong with your choices, your room just isn’t finished. You focused on the big picture items but forgot about the details! I’m not sure what details are important to basketball, but for interior design, accessories are the “vital details” that bring your room together and turn it from bland to grand.

Accessories include everything from small items such as throw pillows, artwork, “knick-knacks” and lamps to larger pieces such as area rugs, ottomans, accent wall treatments and occasional tables. The careful selection and placement of accessories can make or break your design vision. Even the smallest of additions to a room can make a big impact.

For instance, look at the photo below. The basic “bones” of the room are great. A neutral, monochromatic palate is made interesting with textural contrasts: a fabric sofa, leather chairs, wood accents and a lush shag area rug. A splash of color is added with a painting over the sofa. This room should be a feast for the senses but it just “feels” a little sad, doesn’t it? What’s wrong?

Finishing Touch - Why Accessories Matter

The vivid artwork adds a touch of drama. As the only piece of color in the room, however, it makes everything else seem a bit stark and drab by comparison. But add only the smallest of details, two colorful throw pillows, and a big transformation takes place!

Finishing Touch - Why Accessories Matter

How does something as insignificant as a couple of throw pillows make a room instantly more appealing? It is no accident that the pillow color matches one of the colors in the painting. That simple repetition of an accent color helps establish a visual flow in the room. What is a “visual flow” you may ask?

Let’s take a look at the room again. Before the addition of the pillows, your eyes are drawn immediately to the artwork and then to the furniture, which appears as a grey monolith in comparison. Your eyes do a little back and forth dance: painting (excitement), furniture (bland), excitement/bland, excitement/bland. It happens without you thinking about it. Your brain just reacts to the juxtaposition of colors in a specific way.

Finishing Touch - Why Accessories Matter
Finishing Touch - Why Accessories Matter

Accessories properly selected in both color and placement should lead your eyes on a path. This visual trip through the room allows you to fully appreciate all the subtlety and texture along the way. With that little toss of the throw pillows, your eyes flow from the painting to the pillows, glance from the subtle texture of the fabric and shape of the sofa to the supple leather of the chair. From the chair, they stroll down to the soft, lush area rug and rest briefly on the ottoman and matching chair before traveling back up to the painting.

You transverse a pleasing circular path visually through the room which creates a soothing, relaxing journey for the eyes.  What a big improvement over the disconcerting back and forth that occurred before the pillows entered the mix!

In addition to adding cohesion and flow to a newly furnished room, accessories are also a fairly inexpensive way to transform an existing room. Changing artwork, pillows, lamps, etc. is a lot less expensive than new furniture and can give your “old” room a much needed update. It can also be a great mood lifter to switch out accessories seasonally. Use warm colors and textural accents in the winter, bright colors and fun patterns for the summer.

Finishing Touch - Why Accessories Matter
Finishing Touch - Why Accessories Matter

For the design newbie, avoid clutter and keep things simple. Don’t mix too many patterns and colors together. It’s best for accessories to be limited to two colors with one color taking precedence. Unless you are particularly confident in your design prowess, leave the mixing of patterns and more colorful palettes to a design professional. If you do not have a designer and are purchasing new furniture, be sure to take full advantage of a knowledgeable furniture sales associate. They usually have design training or a flair for design that has been honed by years of helping customers make selections. Plus, most stores offer accessories that have been especially selected to complement their furniture.

So don’t forget the accessories. They are the little details that will make your room sparkle! They are vital to creating a visually cohesive and attractive room whether your furniture is old or new! Scroll through these room settings for ideas and inspiration. Pay careful attention to how the accessories create visual interest that tie the various elements together through the placement of color, pattern and texture.

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