Good Bones vs Accessories

This week I’m doing a little series on What I learned from the Painted Cottage.  We stayed there last weekend and I loved the warm, inviting feeling of the cottage, it was homey but not cluttered.  Although this cottage is not someones home, and I know there are some things that if someone really lived there all year around, would be added {like family photos, more books and toys} I still felt like it was a good lesson in how to decorate if you want this look.  And I LOVE this look.

Look at this room.  It basically sums up the entire cottage.  Beautiful wood floors, {the downstairs has painted concrete floors}, a wood beamed ceiling, deep inset windows with thick molding, let’s face it, this room would look great empty.  I’ve talked about my love of accessories over the years and I know why I gravitate towards collecting all my tchotchkes.  Most of my homes lack character.

Here’s a closeup of a corner of the front room.  The window casing alone is show stopping.  Add that to the floors, the basic yet hefty floor molding, and the horizontal painted paneling, and you have built in interest.  This room is not just a black slate, it is a carefully prepared canvas. {and a CLEAN one too, no dust anywhere!}

So, for all of you lucky people who own your home, the way to get the cottage feel is more about preparing the canvas than it is picking the right paint color.  Walls, ceilings, windows, doors, hardware–if all of that stuff is interesting and attended to, then half of the work is done.  Focus on the home itself, first.

Those of us who are renting have a more difficult battle.  I found myself fighting that battle with an over abundance of accessories. That is not the best choice of weapon. When you have 4 white walls and a small window with no molding and carpet it’s a challenge to get that feel you are after without changing the body of the room.  We have to focus on the furniture. The large pieces in the room will dictate the feel of the room.

See this photo. Imagine that the walls were just plain wall material, and the floor that you can’t see is carpeted like your run of the mill rental.  It would still look good.  The green dresser sets the tone with the lead role, the slip covered parsons chairs are supporting actors and the sunburst mirror really is show stopping.  Lastly, the pillows, shapely candle holders and antlers that you can barely see are all the perfect compliment to the main characters.  But, the main characters needed to be in place first before the accessories were added.  The old me would have bought accessories first, then wondered what I would set them on.

2 lamps, 3 pillows 3 wall hangings–that’s all the accessories needed

Usually, due to my budget, I find myself spending $12 on an accessory hoping that it will distract attention from my big piece in my room that isn’t my style.  That’s a wrong way to approach a room.  If I don’t like the big pieces, no amount of cute accessories will fix that.  It’s time to invest in large main characters that compliment my style.  And, that doesn’t have to cost more than an armload of cute accessories.  That’s another thing I learned from the cottage–I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow.

15 minute assignment:: remove the accessories from a room.  When you quiet the room, does it still tell the story you want the room to tell?  Are the leading roles right for the room when they aren’t masked with accessories screaming “look at me!”?

More style with less stuff is possible, you just have to know what to focus on.

Join me in the seasonal Cozy Minimalist Home Class to learn how to get a fresh seasonal look without wasting all your money or home.


  1. funny I am having the upstairs carpets cleaned and as I was decluttering to be ready, I was thinking “I have a lot of tchotchkes. Maybe I won’t put them all back” So at least one floor in my house is currently “quieted”. . . .wonder if it will stay there because I love my accesssories!!
    thanks for the post. . .good food for thought

  2. Over the years, I’ve decluttered a lot and I find that the result helps me feel more relaxed and centered. Too much “stuff” to look at can be too stimulating. I like seeing space. Makes my house feel bigger!

  3. I just had my house “fluffed” by a professional decorator and she hung two small wall sconces beside each other. I asked “What should I put on them?” She said, “Nothing.” She told me that the sconces were pretty on their own and they did not anything placed on top of them. I was skeptical but now that is one of my favorite things in the room. Good design can stand on its own.

  4. Beautiful cottage! I’ve honestly come to the conclusion that I love multiple looks and styles in a home. Sometimes I want everything clutter free, all coordinated and put together, but most of the time I love the coziness that comes from collected items, photos and layers of different fabrics in a home. What I don’t like is to have accessories for accessories sake, if that makes sense. I think the above cottage and your home are equally beautiful, rented or not. :)

  5. Food for thought. Thanks nester! I resist decluttering because each item holds meaning for me. Whether who I got it from or where I got it. Somehow I hold my memories in each item. I need to learn to keep the memory not the item. :)

  6. This could not be more timely, Nester. My husband and I just spent several weeks/months purging MANY items from our home. We shuffled several hundred items out of our house, I kid you not. The most ironic part of all this is that we ended up keeping our favorite pieces of furniture that we’ve had since we were first married 13 years ago (and even repainted some of it) and a couple decorative items that have particular meaning to us. The only things we have on the walls are two prints we bought in Bermuda when we went there 12 years ago, a large clock in our kitchen that we were both drawn to, and a framed print that we bought years back and have always loved. We’re thinking of letting our kids paint a canvas to hang in our living room (like you had your boys do) and that will be it (aside from some family photos here and there). The things we have always liked best have stood the test of time, and we love our house now more than we ever have. We quieted every single room but added enough interest to each one that we’re not bored any which way we’re facing. Our house seems cozy despite the lack of accessories, and your trip to the cottage resonates in my mind each time I wander through the rooms in my home. I showed my husband the pics you posted of the cottage, as well as your own home with your slip-covered sofa, etc., and he was very much drawn to them, as I was. Now that I’ve written a novel, I want to say thank you for helping the rest of us to evolve in such a real and genuine way! You are very appreciated.

  7. I couldn’t agree more. Today’s modern home is void of so many character features, it’s like we’re all working within the same walls and doors and floors. HOME features are indeed what sets our preferred look apart from hundreds of others.

    This is where I try and encourage feature walls. I’m still not so patiently waiting for the right boarding to arrive on my doorstep so I can add character to my fireplace wall.

    I recently toured a lovely home full of antiques and amazing staging. While she took me for a tour, I mentioned, “Don’t you wish you lived in a 100 yr old home to have the character to match your look?” She nearly fell over because I GOT her. She had all the right components, but not the right background. And I too struggle with the same thing. Most of us do.

    There’s simply greater risk owning a 100 yr old home. In a perfect world we’d all live in one and be married to carpenters with plumbing as their hobby on the side. :)

    • Funky Junk Interiors,
      I had to laugh when I read the last line of your comment. My dad drove an 18wheeler in his true profession; however he was an electrician/carpenter/plumber/roofer and was a master of ALL those trades….and get this our house was over 100 years old!!! Growing up in that house is one of the best memories I have of my childhood. If only my new hubby were more like daddy….oh well I love him

      I know exactly what you mean….I told my hubby I want our home to have a simple, clean, uncluttered feel to it. Your home by the way is beautiful.

  8. Good exercise!! I like my stuff, but I don’t think my house likes it. ;)

  9. Nester – reading your blog is like a mini- design course for me. I love understanding basic “principles” that can guide my thinking as I decorate. This makes so much sense to me in my home. Last year I bought bedroom furniture that I love on Craigslist and invested in a clearance Pottery Barn mirror that is show-stopping. I love the bones of my bedroom and it’s been very easy to accessorize because I love it already without accessories.

  10. You are soooo right. This is something I have struggled with for years. I finally learned to save money on accessories, paint the room and buy furniture first. I’d love to have all that architectural stuff but I just have a regular house.

    Question – Do you know of any tutorials on how to get a finish like that on the blue dresser. I have a desk and chair I want to paint but I am afraid to start it because I don’t know how to get that look.

    Love your blog! (and Amber Herlocker is my hairdresser’s daughter. I’ve known her since she was a kid. Such a great girl)

    • Claire, I asked Angela about that–that greenish/blue dresser she bought like that–it has LAYERS of chippy paint–I saw red, yellow blue and green all painted on there!

  11. Couldn’t agree with you more! We painted our family room this past weekend and we decided to remove the shelving on both sides of the fireplace. It just adds an extra 24 shelves to decorate hence more clutter and not to mention dusting! :) It looks so much better.

    Thanks for sharing your decorating knowledge and inspiring us decorators in the world :)

  12. Great assisgnment! I love it!

  13. I love this place! It’s so tranquil. I’d feel right at home and I think you’re right. A few personal touches and it would be a perfect home. I always want to declutter – the man of the house wants to add more and more. I have many sentimental things but I don’t think they need to be put everywhere. Love this and the horizontal paneling made my heart sing.

  14. Such a great reminder! I could use a good edit! My problem is I can’t stop collecting! Even though I have no where else to put the stuff! And once I decide what not to use, I still can’t get rid of it!

  15. I LOVE this post! It comes on the heels of some small deconstructing around here. We moved all the clutter and extra furniture from our master bedroom, and I like having a blank slate. We own but ours is a very simple home–lots of space but no ornamentation at all. I, like you, love the simplicity of the cottage. That is my mantra right now–simplify. Thanks for the post, Nester.

  16. We just moved into ANOTHER rental, and my husband and I have been talking about minimalizing the STUFF a lot the past few days. I was in the process of writing a post along the same lines. love it!

  17. I don’t know. I love simpleness in decor, and as much as I love those rooms, I feel like they are missing the depth, character, and the warmth of home that I think only family pictures, books, kids artwork, favorite quotes, and carefully chosen accessories that kind of tell a story can bring. I guess it’s just my decorating personality? It looks like a lovely rental cottage, and I would die to stay there , but I love coming home to the things that make our home “ours.” Oh, and girl! You can’t forget Miss Clairee in Steel Magnolias: “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize. ” :)

  18. “Are the leading roles right for the room when they aren’t masked?”

    An interesting point to ponder, and one I’m not sure I can answer affirmatively. Add to that the challenge of being a renter myself…

  19. I love your observations. Thanks!

    I struggle because I do need a couple large pieces that I haven’t been able to find at a price I’m able/willing to pay. In my case, I think it would make a huge difference. I’ll have to think about it more.

    • Be patient Janel, I really believe it’s possible to find whatever it is you are looking for for a great deal!

  20. Wow you are so right…we are also in the process of turning a rental into a “home” and it is definitely a challenge…thank you for all of your insight.

  21. I agree with Melissa from 320 Sycamore! Please don’t forsake all your fun accessories, Nester. They give your space so much personality and character, and, if I’m being honest, it’s much easier for me to a copy your $12 accessory than it is a “good bones” piece.

    • I wanted to ask Nester if she wasn’t feeling well…as if I know her. I can’t wait to see how she’s going to translate this for her home. I know it will be beautiful….but I love her accessories too!

      • Y’all! Heart you both!

        No, I am NOT EVER going to forsake my love of accessories! However, I do find myself focusing on accessories MORE than the bones of a room, and then I wonder why it doesn’t look right. Remember, you can find good furniture for great deals {my $18 dresser and $15 table to name a few!} .

        Strip a room, add bones then add accessories! But by all means ADD ACCESSORIES!

  22. Ok, you nailed it. That’s me, too!! We’re putting our home on the market SOON so i’m in the de-cluttering/staging process….and I have a LOT of accessories. Why?? we live in a home that’s a dime-a-dozen Arizona track home (or is it tract home??). We have upgraded cabinets and tile and that’s IT, no interesting details, no architectural interest, NOTHING. And it leaves me dissatisfied. Now i know WHY!! And I try to accessorize the character and charm that i so desperately want!! DUH! I get it now.
    In our next home, I will focus on the HOME and the details….then get the big furniture peices I LOVE…and the accessories will just accent what’s already there.
    Can’t wait to read more!! you’re on to something!!!!

  23. I hear ya, Nester! I have been going through this recently. I finally realized that no matter what I put into a room in my home, it just looked like stuff in the room. I decided to buy NO MORE ACCESSORIES and to instead work on trimwork, wainscoting, the flooring, board and batten – anything to make my home itself more interesting. And wow what a difference it all is making….


  24. You are so right. I am working on saving up for the right bones. Looking to strike a balance between the strong pieces, artwork, family, photos, and the like to make our house a home.

  25. Oh nester, I feel like this post was meant for me and me alone! I moved into a rental back in March. I’ve lived here for 4 months now, and I still haven’t settled in. Here is the kicker. It’s my dream home. I’m sure your thinking, “What? A rental?”. Yes! It is over flowing with character. We got really lucky that we were friends with some friends of the owner. It has a beautiful wrap around porch, lovely wood floors through the entire house, huge windows with fantastic molding, etc. My husband can’t figure out why I haven’t made it look lived in yet. I think I now know that I am scared to take away from all of the features by covering it all up. Also, my furniture really doesn’t fit the style of this home at all. Which bothers me a ton. I don’t have the money to go buy new furniture so I’m really not doing anything with it. The home looks like an old farm house, even though it’s only 5 years old. It’s in a very nice, well to do neighborhood, and every other house (Inside and out) looks like it belongs in a magazine. I just didn’t know where to begin. I have a bunch of “traditional” things.
    Anyways, you just set off a light bulb in my brain and I couldn’t thank you enough! I’m going to quiet each room (even more than they already are) one at a time and really try to find the substantional pieces they need. Maybe then I won’t feel so overwhelmed!

  26. i almost fainted when i saw this post….i had to wait and come back to read with no distractions {kids}. i have been having this major inner conflict b/c i have been feeling my home is too cluttered with accessories. i never thought that was wrong until i started looking at some of the homes i am most drawn to- two of my friend’s homes that i love the most are simply, beautifully done with very little accessories. their pieces of furniture stand on their own and make the statements. also, my sister-in-law’s custom built home- same thing. and, the homes i am drawn to in blogland are the same way! so, this post could not be more timely….and since i trust your decorating sense as gospel i know you and i BOTH can’t be wrong, right? LOL love ya girl….

  27. Wow…earlier this morning, before reading this post, I took everything off of the walls, desk, and bookshelves in our office. 1. because it needed a good cleaning and 2. because I don’t like the feeling with the dark walls and all of the stuff. (Did the same thing last week in my daughter’s room) So I completely get what you are saying and I am going to set a different tone in this office space…after it “quiets down a bit” : ) hope my family doesn’t mind the piles of stuff as I go through it. We are renting as well its a newer track home(in the process of buying it if all goes through) so I also tend to overdecorate a space with stuff.

  28. I need/want/like both the accessories and architectural detail. I’m a stuff kinda girl. I love lots of layers. That’s what does it for me. Architectural elements are just one of those layers. Those type of details make a huge difference! I always pay attention to crown and mouldings and (sp?!) hardware and fixtures….. Love it!

  29. I whole heartedly agree!!! Just look at any Pottery Barn catalog!

  30. Okay, so I’m so glad that I vacuumed that corner you photographed! :) This is a wonderful post, so applicable. And, it is so interesting to see the house through your eyes.

    Thank you!

  31. You got me thinking…and looking around my house. I am fortunate enough to live in a house (that needs a lot of work, which is how we could afford it) with very good bones. I like finding the balance between austere and lovingly lived-in. I’m off to take a few things off my beautiful, plain walls.
    Thanks for more good advice!

  32. I love to take an item and move it from one room to antoher – my husband always wonders what I am doing – I say decorating for free! Thanks Nester for the beautiful photos from that cottage!

  33. Love that house! What a Fun assignment, I will definitely do it – & I am sure I won’t put some of the stuff back. Sometimes I think I accessorize too much.

  34. What a great post and assignment. I just need to actually find the 15 minutes to do it.

    My sister just called me the queen of accessories. And I don’t think she meant it as a compliment.

  35. Colleen P. says

    I think you’ve just nailed what my home is missing-interesting detail. I’m essentially a cottage girl stuck in a mid-century modern ranch in a GREAT neighborhood and area of my city, and one can only do so much without it looking completely out of place. I don’t want to leave the area, so I must adjust the house to get it to what pleases me.

    However, we have done some things to it-one of the first things we did after buying it was put up a small crown moulding throughout-elaborate mouldings wouldn’t have flattered the style of the house, but what we did really brightened the place up. I really do think that board and batten would work well with the rectangular “feel” of the house, at least in a couple of the rooms, and bring it some of the architectural detail it desperately needs. Oh, and I must have big ol’ yoodge honkin’ baseboards! Love ’em! Oddly enough, the other day in a magazine I saw EXACTLY the type of crown moulding we used, along with big huge deep baseboards, and it looked PERFECT! I can hardly wait!

    Eventually, most likely when He** freezes over, we’re getting new windows, and I think I’m going to get trim on them that makes them look like multi-paned windows rather than just big expanses of glass, and some nice deep sills so the cats can arrange themselves decoratively on them (they’re the perfect accessory-you don’t have to dust them..well, usually… and they take care of moving themselves around.)

  36. Colleen P. says

    Oh, and it’s definitely time to rethink the accessories-I find I’m not really big on them, but keep obtaining them anyway to generate some interest, but as this post so clearly points out-it ain’t workin’!

  37. What a great insightful post! I absolutely agree that bones matter! If the bones are good you only need a few well-chosen accessories & the cottage is a perfect example of that! In our life this has translated into *major* deferment of accessory-purchasing so we can save for bone-improvements: pine floors, new hardware, new window casings, wider baseboards, bathroom redos, etc. It feels like I’ll NEVER get to the ‘fun’ decorating part but this part is far too important to ignore. We’re living in purgatory but heaven will come!!

  38. Nester, you’ve inspired me come to a starting point for my master bedroom! Now I have the steps to take from what it is now, and all the way to the vision I’ve had for some time. (All while using what I have, and figuring out what I will eliminate, and making a list of pieces to look for). Yay!

  39. Ohhh but I still love my tchotchkes!! :)

  40. Please come quiet my house, Nester. Pretty please.

  41. ummmm. i have mixed emotions about this post.

    one- if this means you will soon be listing all of your extra “schtuff” on ebay, im giddy already.

    two- i really look forward to seeing photos of your home cuz i think your decor is very carefully placed/hung but still seems inviting enough to live around and even pick up and touch. so if this means your home will soon be UNnestery, i am sad! you are one of the first “home” blogs that i actually felt a real person lived in!

  42. I’m spending time in our summer house which is a uncluttered haven. I love the empty spaces here and the lack of accessories. It gives me piece of mind.

  43. Hmmm, I am finding this post seems to have been written just for ME. Not sure if I should say “thank you” or “OUCH”! This sorta makes me want to strip my room of accessories RIGHT NOW. Looks like it’s time to play! Thanks for the inspiration.

  44. Nester, this is a great post! I really struggle with balancing the accessories, and not over-doing it. I am fortunate to live in a home built in the late 70’s with a lot of character; the opposite of the new homes built these days where they all look the same. I have a large wall over my couch in the living room, with two shelves above it. I left the shelves empty for months, trying to figure out the right combination of things to put on them. When I finally finished, I thought I liked it, but I couldn’t stop looking at it and second guessing… Like I stood in the doorway staring at the wall, asking myself, does this look like a wall in a Ground Round or does it look like it belongs in a house? It is a fine line sometimes!

    Love your blog and your inspiring photos!

  45. Oh. My. Gosh. I SO wish I’d read this post years ago, when I was so guilty of buying a ton of accessories to try and compensate for the ugliness of my rentals. I slowly learned, but man – when I think of all the money I wasted on “stuff” – it could have added up for at least one great rug or furniture piece, if not more…

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