Getting to the Finish Line with Accessories

“Accessories, art, plants and flowers bring “life” to any room. Always keep a little in the budget reserved for these finishing touches. Otherwise, even a space with the most beautiful furnishings will look like a showroom, not a living room.” ~ Linda Merrill

Last week, interior designer Vivian Benjamin kindly posted my quote on the importance of accessories in interiors on her Instagram. I thought it made for an interesting topic for a blog post.

Linda Merrill quote on Accessories

I can’t stress how much I truly believe this. I’ve done so many projects where the clients lose interest, or runs out of budget, before the finish line. Sometimes, I think we should be shopping for the finishing touches at the beginning.

Accessories tell the story

English tudor bastle Brent Darby photography Country Living UK accessories
Brent Darby photography | via Country Living

The simple space above is a good example. We first focus on the image as a whole – the stone wall, the washed out palette – it’s romantic and evocative. But it’s the details – the flowers, the bunnies, the pillow and books – which pull it together to give it “place”. The accessories actually tell the story.

Linda Merrill design Duxbury Garden Home armchair fireplace art accessories sculpture shelves
Linda Merrill design | Michael J. Lee Photography

My clients for this Duxbury Garden Home project were retirees who are well-traveled and avid collectors. When we did their new home, I was like a kid in a candy shop with her collection of accessories. What happened was that they had sold a large family home in Truro, MA a couple of years before and had put everything into storage. They then bought this attached home and my job was to turn a basic space into something special, comfortable and stylish. I’ll tell you, going through their boxes of art and accessories was like being a kid in a candy store. Not everything was precious or valuable, but everything did have meaning or purpose. Family heirlooms, children’s books once owned by grandparents, fine art and a sculpture from their travels in Mexico. It all tells a story and fleshes out the space. Without the accessories, we’d have a pretty chair and rug, and a fireplace, maybe the painting. Everything is lovely, but would certainly be a bit sterile.

Fleshing out the space with Accessories

Linda Merrill rendering dark blue bedroom white trim no accessories Linda Merrill rendering dark blue bedroom white trim with accessories


Linda Merrill rendering hallway runner blue grasscloth no accessories Linda Merrill rendering hallway runner blue grasscloth with accessories


Linda Merrill Rendering living room trellis wallpaper blue beige gray no accessories Linda Merrill Rendering living room trellis wallpaper blue beige gray with accessories

I hope you can see how big a difference the right accessories can make.

And this below is a photo I took (and a bad one, at that) of my Boston South End townhouse project. This is probably the best example I have of a “before and after”. We filled the room with beautiful furnishings from Baker Furniture, Maitland-Smith, Theodore Alexander, Restoration Hardware, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams and more. The lighting included a gorgeous antique crystal and bronze chandelier and pair of sconces and the carpet was handmade. The window treatments were custom. And you know what? It still looks bare, doesn’t it?

Linda Merrill design unstaged formal living room no accessories
Linda Merrill design, not staged or accessorized.

Et voila. The finishing touches included the addition of the sheer window shades, flowers and vases. The clients opted not to have a cocktail table right away as they had a toddler, so for the photoshoot, I borrowed this vintage brass Maison Bagues-style table. I also borrowed the art on the walls, which was added with photoshop magic. I think it’s super-obvious the difference those finishing touches can make.

Linda Merrill Interior design Boston townhouse living room Michael J Lee photography drapery accessories
Linda Merrill design | Michael J. Lee photography

Of course, how many accessories is the right amount is subjective. Some people like a lot of “stuff”, others prefer a more streamlined approach. For me, it needs to be personal, possibly functional, always beautiful. Also, remember, you can, and should, move your accessories around the house just to shake things up.

Some of my favorite go-to’s for accessories are Chairish, Etsy, antiques and vintage shops, Homegoods, Curated Kravet.

I’d love to hear your go-to’s for great accessories!

You will also enjoy:

5 Interior Designer Collections You Should Know

Studio 534 – Gorgeous Boston Design Center showroom

Cute and Quirky Planter Heads

xoxo Linda

6 thoughts on “Getting to the Finish Line with Accessories”

  1. Your quote is perfect! I can’t afford a renovation right now, but with paintings, books, sculpture, minerals, seashells, etc., my home looks fabulous while it’s waiting for the renovation.

    • Hi Squeak! That’s a great point – like great jewelry on a plain dress, the right accessories will make a place look finished even if there’s a lot of work still to be done!

  2. Linda

    If your clients are anything like me, they may well have two additional diseases to contend with:

    (i) decision paralysis; and

    (ii) decision overload.

    Overload happened to me on my recent apartment renovation. I had to make so many decisions, that I hit the equivalent of the long-distance runner’s “wall”. I reached the stage where I simply had too many inputs, and genuinely couldn’t cope. I was working full time at a demanding job, I’m single and had no one with whom to share the burden of identifying options, making choices and then sourcing stuff.

    Decision paralysis has hit me as a final surprise. I’m so scared of making the wrong choices, that I’m too paralysed to make any choices at all, and so everything is unfinished to varying degrees. If I spend what little money is left badly, then I’m really jiggered (at least that’s what my fear whispers to me!).

    Or a final problem: I see the perfect fabric/piece of furniture/whatever and either it’s gazillions of pounds (I’m in England), or it just won’t fit for whatever reason.

    Sadly I didn’t have the benefit of your advice- only just found your great site!

    But – where do I begin? And how do I (ahem)…get off the pot?

    These questions are making me want to eat cake!!

    • Hi Denise – thank you so much for your comment! And you’re so right, decision paralysis is a real thing – especially if you’re doing a major renovation because you had to make decisions on everything from the pretty parts to the mundane like placement of outlets and switches. I’ll add this topic to my list of future blog posts to discuss.

      As for how to begin, I always find that separating the “needs” from the “wants” to be a good place to start. The needs come first, and then the wants become a list of priorities. Some things we may want but the price gets in the way – in which case, is it something you want to wait and save for, or is it something you can take inspiration from and find an alternative? The big thing is – don’t let the perfect get in the way of the done. There will always be something better that comes along -it’s just the way it is. You just have to make the small decisions that add up to help you get off the pot.

      Finally, get at least one space completely done. Being able to walk into a room and saying “ahh…” is both a relief from what you still need to do and is also motivating to tackle the unfinished parts because it’s so nice to walk into a finished space.

      Good luck!


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