DESIGN HOW TO: Our favorite essentials

If an item is functional, versatile, unique, interesting, decorative and also moveable and small-ish in scale, it definitely fits into our “essentials” category. There aren’t many furnishings that can be moved from room to room and house to house like these pieces can, but this functionality combined with a certain style-forward look means we’ll reach for one or more of these over and over.

Whether it’s a small basket, side table or garden stool that finishes a look, or a more substantial console, center hall table or chest that starts a look, these decorating essentials serve double or triple duty. They’re what we look for in vintage and antique shops as well as from our wholesale vendors, and we collect them for times when we want a unique touch that’s perfect for a nondescript or awkward space.

Take a look at the following ten categories of essential decorative items – this is just a starting list of many great things you may already have many of these in your own home. Be on the lookout for them online, in store or local vintage and antique stores!

ACCENT CHAIR – this can be any small chair that is chosen for its size and unique style. It can be easily moved which makes it perfect for extra seating. We used the accent chairs shown above in a keeping room, foyer, desk and great room, and each has a very distinct personality that reinforces the room’s look and feel. For accent chairs, we think the more unusual, the better, and the one time comfort is not a top consideration.

SLIM CHEST/CABINET – a chest of drawers or cabinet is one of the most versatile furniture pieces you can have. It is at home in a foyer or hallway, as these we used above, or in a dining room or bedroom where space may not allow a large a large dresser or sideboard. It is an essential piece for storage as well as decoration, as it anchors lighting, artwork and accessories. Try a small chest or cabinet on any empty wall, and go from there.
SMALL TRUNK – these are great for filling awkward spaces where no other typical furniture piece will work. A large trunk works great at the foot of a bed, and provides storage and seating, as ours here do, and a smaller one works under a console to fill space. A small trunk can also serve as a side table by a chair or sofa, and it makes a perfect spot to hold books and magazines inside, and hold a drink on top. Use a small trunk for a cute coffee table.

GARDEN STOOL – these are available in lots of colors and patterns and provide a pretty, glossy ceramic surface in a room where an additional texture or material is needed. Often used as a side table, as we did with the ones above, they can also be used for extra seating, indoors or outdoors. These are a combination of new and vintage finds, and in different shapes and price points, they’re a wonderful addition to any room in your home.
WOVEN BASKET – made of rattan, white oak, wicker or other materials, these are one of our favorite things to collect. They offer great texture and natural color and look great tucked in any spot that needs a little softening. The ones we used above hold towels in a bathroom, firewood in front of a fireplace, small rolled rugs in a hallway and dried herbs in a foyer. We make sure at least one chair in every room has nearby basket full of magazines or books.
ROUND TABLE – we reach for a round shape any time a table needs to fit in, around or between other shapes. A larger, taller version of a round side table, known as a center hall table as the ones we used above, can work well in between two chairs or when a substantially sized side table is needed. These are also great for filling in an awkward corner space, like the one we used, top right, that softens the space beside a stairway in a large foyer.

SLIM BENCH – a bench is extremely useful when you need seating with a low profile, such as at the foot of a bed. We also use them here in a closet dressing area and as auxilliary seating for a bonus room where we needed a low-profile piece in front of two glass entrance doors. A large bench is also great placed under a large canvas, or a small one placed under a pretty window as we did with the antique bench pictured above at lower left.

ACCENT/SIDE TABLE – there are tons of small tables with different looks that fit into this category. Their primary function is to hold a drink or small item, and of course, to be cute. We like to use these in a wood (or rope, top right) when a warm, natural touch is needed, and we use gold, silver or black metal or painted finish tables when that touch is needed. A pair of these, bunched, works great as a coffee table in front of a small or sectional sofa.
OTTOMAN/FOOTSTOOL – this is an item we frequently find in vintage and antique stores and then reupholster in a special fabric for a particular spot (see all of the above except for lower right). We also source new ones (the hair on hide ottoman on casters, lower right) that we often use singly or in pairs. For that space where a slightly quirky, moveable piece that has a functional or purely decorative purpose, these small pieces are perfect.
SLIM CONSOLE – a slim console can be used in a hallway or foyer (as the ones we used here) or as a sofa table. Less depth means more versatility and the more areas that the console will work, so we like the depth to be 18″ or less. Usually with an open base, they’re great for displaying items below and art or a mirror above. This piece can create a defined, decorated space where none existed before, making it an extremely useful item for any home.