Melissa Gulley: Editing is the New Accessorizing

May 31, 2011

Years ago, if you wanted to accessorize your house you shopped antiques stores, hit up small boutiques and visited design centers. Nowadays, we still have those options, but add to that 1stdibs, VandM, Fyndes, ebay, every department store (Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, JCPenney) and every discount store (Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, Kohl’s, Target, HomeGoods). How many of you hesitate to splurge on that fabulous accessory because you suspect that a version of it will be in HomeGoods in the blink of an eye? (Oh, the things that can keep me up at night!)

I can watch any given HGTV decorating show and marvel at the overuse of accessories. Will we look back at the 2000–2011 era and see it as a decade of over-shopping and over-accessorizing? When you walk into a cluttered house in 2020, will you think to yourself, “wow, 2009 called and wants its accessories back?†Sometimes I feel like I’m in tchotchke hell.

Occasionally I’ll walk into a new client’s house and am struck by how similar it is to a cluttered retail store. Often the client will say that nothing works and they need new furniture, when really they just need to get rid of 75% of everything in the room. If they just bought a few nice things that they love, it would actually save them money.

Here’s an example of one room where I think somebody was heavy-handed with their use of accessories:

Photo courtesy of

I used to love a hunt–flea market, antiques store, estate sale. Heck, put a basket of stuff next to the register and I’m lost for an hour. I loved searching for that unique item, either the perfect period specimen or an odd-ball whackadoodle piece that visitors marvel over. Much to my horror, it seems that Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware have made the coveted find a commodity… and then HomeGoods discounts it even further. That’s right, with a computer, a few bucks and a minute of two of time, anyone can have the perfect find. Having a house of treasures now is commonplace and cheap.

Coco Chanel once said, “get dressed, then remove one thing;†editing became the new accessorizing. Unfortunately, it seems we’ve fallen into a bad place for a while.

I was recently at a client’s house and she asked what she should put on her bare side table, other than a lamp. “How about NOTHING!†I said. “Nothing? Just leave it bare…naked?!,†she asked. “Yes, the eye sometimes needs a place to rest and the grain of the wood is so beautiful, why cover it up?â€

Less can often be more–we need to find beauty in negative space. “Less is more†can be a very calming, hassle-free, less-expensive way to decorate when it’s done right. And just think how much less we would yell at our kids about not breaking things! Now do you see the upside? Do I even need to mention quality over quantity?

Interior design by Melissa Gulley

Interior design by Stephen Knollenberg, as seen in Architectural Digest

Interior design by Tom Scheerer; photo by Pieter Estersohn

Interior design by Paolo Moschino, as seen in House Beautiful

Ina Garten’s home, as seen in House Beautiful

Interior design by Melissa Gulley

Interior design by Melissa Warner, as seen in Traditional Home

Interior design by Melissa Gulley

Notice that none of these pictures show overly accessorized spaces, yet they all have personality, charm and warmth. When you get the foundational elements right, you need fewer accessories. Spend some time editing, and you may be amazed with the results.

–Melissa Gulley
Melissa Gulley has been designing high-end homes in the greater Boston area for more than twelve years. She has been the interior designer for This Old House, and has been featured in numerous national and regional magazines, newspapers and Web sites. She blogs at Follow her on Twitter.

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