Yesterday afternoon, after doing some computer work then some not-fun organizing in the basement, I decided I needed to do something in my house that was just for fun. I didn’t have very much time, so I picked refreshing the styling in the antique pine hutch in the living room. When I looked at it, I felt like I was just housing stuff, if that makes sense. Specifically, the ironstone pitchers. Instead of approaching styling the hutch from what would look best on the shelves, I was opting to store things that needed a home. The result was something that looks okay but could be better…more balanced, more interesting.
(The ironstone mold sitting in front of the door is to hold it open.)
I knew it wouldn’t take long, so it was a good project to start later in the day. When styling (or restyling) something like a hutch, the best thing to do is clear everything off to give yourself a fresh start. Even if you’re planning on using a lot of the same elements, it’s nice to have a completely clean slate. It’s also nice to wipe down the shelves and give everything a good dusting/cleaning.
The blank space can feel exciting and intimidating all at one time. I think it’s important to approach hutch styling recognizing it’s going to be a process. You don’t have to commit to anything ever. Just try something, move, tweak, scootch, and try something else. It’s never really finished, but just finished for now. Finished because it’s time to make dinner or finished because you’re happy with it. It should be a low-pressure, fun exercise.
Because it’s hard to talk through every tweak, here is a little GIF showing the progression from where it started to where it ended up…
hutch styling tip no. 1 | know where you’re going
I think it helps immensely to have some kind of vision of the story you want to tell through the styling on the hutch or open shelving. What makes sense for the room? What makes sense for the season? What do you want to display? What’s important to highlight? What will make it personal? The original arrangement, as I said, was about having a place to put a bunch of ironstone pitchers, but that left it looking a bit more like storage than an arrangement. It wasn’t saying what I wanted it to say.
When I came home from Isle of Palms with a large collection of shells, I knew I wanted to display or use shells I’ve been collecting over the years. Two plastic bins full of shells have been hanging out in the laundry room closet and, really, what’s the point of that? If they were important enough to collect and keep, they should be important enough to display. The trick is, this isn’t a beach house and I want the shells to make sense.
Mixing them in with the ironstone, old books, and a few other pieces makes it look more like a naturalist collection, a gathering of curated items instead of kitschy decor at a crab shack. This arrangement tells the story of three collections…ironstone, shells, and books. And, to me, it works.
hutch styling tip no. 2 | work big to small
Put the largest pieces you’re working with on the shelf first and then move to smaller pieces. When the larger ones are visually balanced, it’s easier to figure out where the smaller pieces should belong. This is also a great time to edit out pieces that make the vignette look too monotonous. In the case of this hutch, I swapped out the pitchers with ironstone pieces of other shapes.
hutch styling tip no. 3 | know when to stop
I sometimes have a hard time with this, but it’s important to know when to stop. That is completely subjective. Some shelves look great packed with pieces while others say more with less. I think it depends on the pieces you’re using and how they relate to each other as well as the hutch. Again, play with it until the arrangement looks right. I sometimes change how much stuff I like on a shelf with the seasons! You don’t (and shouldn’t) need to do the same thing or work in the same way all the time. The most exciting and interesting decorating can happen by trying something a little off-the-wall.
hutch styling tip no. 4 | it’s for you
Styling in your own home, even if it’s shared online, is not a spectator sport. It’s not being adjudicated. It doesn’t need a stamp of approval from anyone else. It’s about telling your story, sharing what you like, and arranging it in a way that looks good to you. It’s okay if other people don’t get it or it doesn’t fit their definition of what’s beautiful or worthy to be displayed.
Even though working on my house is a part of my job, there are times when I feel uninspired. Sometimes I don’t like something, but I also don’t want to take the time to change it. I find that little refreshes like this are a great way to get the ball rolling. Doing things makes you want to do more things. Creating leads to more ideas, more inspiration, more motivation. It’s like swinging the ball on a perpetual motion machine. The energy travels, transfers, and continues to perpetuate the movement.
So, if you feel a little stuck or uninspired. If you haven’t done anything creative in your home in a while, you feel burnt out from bigger projects, or you’re stalling on the next one, try giving yourself the gift of a little refresh. Pick something manageable and fun. Even if you don’t feel like doing it when you start and I can almost guarantee that you’ll feel a little lift afterward.
At the very least, you’ll have a new space to enjoy and admire for a little while.
If you like the look of this arrangement, I gathered up a few items you might like…