Eve recently wrote asking for assistance with her ledges (potshelves to some of us). She’s in a new home and hasn’t been faced with decorating those pesky ledges before. Lots of newer homes have those shelves and they can be quite daunting, but I’m here to share some tried-and-true designer tips so you can all have beautifully decorated ledges.
She wrote, “I have vaulted ceilings with big plant ledges that wrap from the dining room into the hall and then around into the kitchen. I have never had them and am at a loss as to how to decorate. It’s seen from the dining room which is more formal, hall, and kitchen (which also has a family room) which is more casual . I feel overwhelmed. Can you help?”
5 Designer Tips for Decorating Ledges
First, a few basic rules for those high potshelf ledges.
1. Scale, scale, scale. It’s very important that the items you choose are not too small. Remember they’re over 8′ up there and if a person is seated in the room, those accessories are quite far away. Make them big enough to see! Go as big as you can – if you’ve got the height, use a child’s rocking chair as a starting point, add a pot with a trailing plant, a straw hat, a small broom or garden tool and you’ve got the basis for a clever, unusual display.
2. Vary shapes and textures. Interest is developed by contrasting shapes and textures. Mix a basket, a metal tray, a ceramic rooster, and a wooden chest.
This display has a round metal shape, a square picture, a tall narrow glass apothecary jar, a red bamboo pot and a red striped woven basket as well as a gently Asian theme. Notice how the round piece and art piece on an easel are about the same size and height, creating balance. Greens soften some edges and fill in empty spaces.
3. Don’t feel like you have to fill it up all at once. The best arrangements usually evolve over time. The whole length of the ledge doesn’t have to be filled at once (or at all) and you can certainly start with a few things you already own and build from there.
4. Develop a color theme. Arrangements of such varied items can start to feel disjointed if they aren’t held together in some way. That can be by theme (gardeny, tropical, travel souvenirs, etc.) or by color. Color is often the easiest because you will likely be working within the color scheme already established in the room. Just make sure a few things in the whole of the grouping are connected by color.
5. Add a touch of whimsy. Don’t take yourself too seriously. An unexpected item (remember my recent article about that? Read it here) could be just what your ledge arrangement needs to make it memorable.
Ledge Decor Explained
If you don’t have enough to totally fill a long ledge, start with a couple of smaller groupings. Eve, perhaps you create one on the kitchen side (starting in a corner usually makes sense) and something a little more formal and balanced for the dining room. If you can see through the space to both sides of an arrangement, just remember to have things with pretty backsides. This arrangement started with the 2 quite tall narrow vases. Adding a wide metal pocket for greens and then stepping down again in size to the little leather chest makes a good foundation to build upon later. The color works together without each piece being the same color.
Sometimes you have a ledge or above kitchen cabinets that is screaming out for decor but you don’t have much height to work with. Too much height or not enough height can be equally a problem. (Just like if you have straight hair, you wish it was curly and those of us with curly hair wish it was straight!) Especially in kitchens it seems a default design decision is to stuff the upper cabinets with greens. I think you can do better than that, but if you want only greens, be sure to do something like above where you use a mix of textures and colors. I’ve used variegated ivy, a boston fern (laid on its side) and a big leafed pothos – already it’s more interesting.
I’m creating this grouping with the assumption that there’s only 12-14″ in height above a kitchen cabinet. Using easels I added a tray on one side balanced by a trivet and a small canvas painting (about 6×6″) for a spot of color on the other. Aren’t those greens looking better already?
A few more things have been added to the vignette: a touch of metal with the fleur-di-lis finial, an oversize faux pear, a golden ceramic wine holder and at the end, a green finial. A wine theme was developed but isn’t used for every single piece. Notice: color repeated, shapes repeated but also a variety of shapes included, a variety of heights even when only working with 14″ max, a variety of textures including metal, ceramic, canvas, wood and plants.
A variation on a theme shows there is more than one way to finish a display – switching out the finials for glass bottles and instead of the gold pear there’s a textured ball (too hard to see, so not a great choice) in front of the rectangular tray.
More Ledge Info
I wrote a couple of articles about this last year and as I reread them, they have some excellent tips and ideas. There’s a step by step photo tutorial and one filled with designer tips and showing you some ledges from my home as well as what NOT to do.
Eve, I hope you found some ideas and help in these suggestions and photos. I actually love decorating ledges (except for all the up and down on the ladder!) but it does take a little time and persistence. It’s easier to fuss with a table display and keep changing it til you like it than to change a display that’s 8+’ up. But I’m here to tell you, it’s worth the effort. The room will feel more finished and you’ll be so proud of your efforts.
If any of you feel like you’d like another pair of eyes on your ledge decor or accessory grouping, send us a photo and we’ll be happy to help.