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.
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…
…and for retail…
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.