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tips on styling a retail space


While it’s fairly fresh in my mind, I thought I would answer an e-mail question I received about styling a retail space.  A couple of weeks ago, I received this e-mail from Allison of the Golden Sycamore.


“I was wondering if you could give me a little advice.  I feel like I’m pretty good at styling photos.  I know I still have a ways to go, but I feel pretty confident about it.  My booth, however, is a different story.  It just looks so bland and boring.  And nothing really seems to go together.  I think I’ve kind of figured out part of my problem.  I can style things at home with random home decor stuff I have around the house, but that stuff never comes to my booth, so I get my furniture there and it just kind of falls flat.

How do you (did you) balance having accessories for photos and accessories for your booth?  I feel like I’m going to need to buy a lot more so that I can constantly shoot things and then put them in my booth.  I feel like my pieces would sell better if they were styled better.  I just have a hard time transferring my photo styling to booth styling.”


I think that’s such an excellent question.  Styling for a photo shoot and styling for a retail space are the same in some ways, but very different in others.  I don’t think I have it all figured out, but I know I’ve gotten better at each event over the past few years.

tips on styling a retail space | miss mustard seed

Let’s start by showing a side-by-side example of a piece and how I styled it for a photo shoot and for retail.

Here’s how the Eulalie’s Sky cabinet looked for a photo shoot…

Eulalie's Sky Cabinet | miss mustard seed

…and for retail…

tips on styling a retail space | miss mustard seed

 I used ironstone in both of the shoots, but the photo shoot version is much simpler and I have one door closed and one door open to showcase the piece.  In the retail version, I have both doors open in order to maximize my display space.  I decided to group like items together, ironstone pitchers and other pieces with handles in this case.  I broke up the white with bread boards, stacked books and some boxwood wreaths.  I also put some tool totes, wreaths and other things around the base of the cabinet doors.  I have found retail spaces look best when things are arranged in a vignette, instead of in a row or individual pieces that are isolated or unrelated to other items.

tips on styling a retail space | miss mustard seed

Also, I want to use pieces that give some height, so the space doesn’t look flat.  I do that with taller pieces of furniture, old doors and, on flat surfaces, with things like scales, fans, tall pitchers, stacked books, suitcases, etc.  In the case of the table below, I used a wood dehydrator to give some height.  Notice that the basket of lavender is tucked under the table at an angle, relating it to the vignette, but allowing enough of the basket to be accessible for customers.  

tips on styling a retail space | miss mustard seed

This brings me to another point.  A retail display has to be practical for customers, so they don’t have to undo a complex arrangement in order to buy the thing at the bottom.  The display may look great, but that can actually be a deterrent to a buyer.  If you’re in a tight space, make sure people can move around in it comfortably and there’s enough room to actually see the merchandise.

Give some life to your space.  I use dried lavender, preserved boxwood and green apples as a way to do that.  I sell all of those items as well, but they serve a purpose to make everything else look more homey, too.   Well, I don’t sell the green apples, but I have given them to people who want a healthy snack at Lucketts!

tips on styling a retail space | miss mustard seed

Group things together that look good together.  I know that might be a “duh” statement, but it did take me a while to learn that.  In the arrangement below, I layered a wreath on an empty frame on an old door to create texture and height.  On the dresser, I used pieces that were warm wood, metal and white, so everything looked cohesive.

tips on styling a retail space | miss mustard seed

Show creative uses for the things you’re selling.   I stacked two small benches to show how they could be used together as a side table for a low-sitting chair.  Notice the apples in the ironstone bowl?  It adds just a bit of life to the vignette and suggests this is a good place to sit down, relax and have a snack.  You could achieve the same idea with a stack of books, antique spectacles, a teacup, a cool reading light, and a comfy throw and pillow.  Put some additional pillows and rolled throws in an oversized basket next to the chair to offer an easy place for buyers to grab inventory.

tips on styling a retail space | miss mustard seed

Notice I also have rugs in my retail tents?  That’s a great way to make the space feel a bit more like a home and shows off the furniture better.

tips on styling a retail space | miss mustard seed

 I do want to share one more thing to fully answer Allison’s question.  What about all of the accessories?  She said she has them at home for photo styling, but not in the retail space.

Accessories or “smalls” as most dealers call them, can be a pain to curate, especially if you’re in a venue that is heavily shopped.  It takes a lot of smalls to earn the kind of money you do on a large piece and they still have to be tagged and cleaned and hauled to the space.  But, they sell well and they add personality to your space.

Some accessories I buy and sell immediately and others I use as photo props for a while until I’m ready for a change.  That accomplishes a few things.  First of all, I have fresh accessories to mix into my photo shoots with things I already own.  It also usually helps something sell quicker if I’ve shown it off on my blog a bit before I sell it.

tips on styling a retail space | miss mustard seed

(I loved this space, Ekster Antiques by Caroline Verschoor.  She’s a master at styling a retail space!)

 I don’t think there is really a right or wrong way to style a space, but this is what works for me!  I’m sure many other folks in retail approach this from a different perspective, but that’s what sets each space or shop apart!  So, take what makes sense to you and add in some of your own creativity to get a look that suits you.

And for more display inspiration I would suggest walking through an antique mall or store you really love.  Take pictures, take notes and gather some ideas.  You can also follow a Pinterest board I have called display-spiration.

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  1. This was a great post! So helpful as I am gearing up for a season of shows and feeling overwhelmed!

  2. Susie says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share, your space always invites me in.

  3. Thanks for sharing this invaluable tips! Sharing now on my Facebook page. I’m also loving your new look website. I’m off to have a peek around …

  4. Thanks for the tips! I’ve had my booth for one year and am still working on styling. (Great question, Allison!)

  5. Celeste says:

    Marion, I’ve been following your blog for over a year now and I look forward to each post. Unfortunately, about a week ago I stopped receiving them. I attempted to re-subscribe, but it says that email address is already subscribed. Did you make a recent change that may have dropped me from the list? I hope I can continue getting your posts. Thanks.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this post! I did my first large pop up show last year and after seeing some of the other booth displays, I felt mine could use a little improvement. These are all really great tips and I’m anxious to use them for my next show! :)

  7. Marian, you shared some great tips for styling. I am drawn to retail spaces that have great styling, and that results in those businesses getting my money:) Your styling ranks at the top as far as I am concerned!

    The Barn House Boys who used to do a show on their property in Oregon are masters of styling, in my opinion. See photos from some of their shows on a a post I wrote for my blog

  8. Thanks for the help with styling. It’s always an issue in my booth. I love the rug you used in the flea market picture. I know that Décor steals was offering them at one time. I ordered some of the smaller ones for my kitchen. Now I’d like to have a large one for use in my booth. Do you know where I can order a large one? Thanks!
    Kim H.

  9. Cindy says:

    youre new format reads weirds on iPads.

  10. Suzanne says:

    I haven’t received your posts since earlier this month and checked to confirm that I’m still subscribed, but am not receiving them via email as before for some reason…

    • marian says:

      I switched mail servers, because many people weren’t receiving the feed through Feedburner. Did you try resubscribing? If you’d like, I can try removing you and adding you again…

  11. Great post, Marian! x

  12. The format for your site has changed completely and I can’t see the current post on the main page. The preview or “tease” section of the most current post is not on the main page any longer. Have to try to find it as the picture scrolls by—which is difficult to do. Did you change the layout?

    • marian says:

      We did change the layout, but we’re still working on it. That section is one that we’re still working on, so it will be easier to see the most recent posts once we get it fixed. Thanks for the feedback and your patience!

  13. Donna says:

    Marian, thank you for always being so gracious with your advise and tips! It blesses me so much and any chance I can, I do the same!
    I’ve spent the past 6 months reinventing myself after a 25 year career as a design consultant in the new home construction industry and where we now live there is no building going on. I’ve since taken a MMS milk paint class and two shows and lots of on line sales later I’ve now found something I completely love doing! Thank you so much for all you do for so many! Be blessed, sister!

  14. Thanks so much for answering my longwinded question, Marian! :) I struggle so much with the smalls. I think I just need to shop more and buy more and really pay attention to what is selling, so I can buy more of it! :) Thanks again!

  15. Pam Phillips says:

    Hi Marion,
    I hope I’m not being a pest but I’d thought I’d check
    With you about the velvet chairs not sold at lucketts

    And maybe I’m not getting your emails due
    To new server, are they still available?
    I’m getting your posts so I’m not sure?(love your
    Style and posts)
    So I hope you get this and your schedule will
    Allow you to think about and maybe consider the
    Fate of those two French GREEN VELVET
    Thank you Marion

  16. Great post, thanks for sharing!

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