Emily Henderson

My five favorite secrets to good styling and full decorating.

Trays, footed things, books, stools and benches.  

I bet you thought i was going to tell you my favorite thrifts stores in the valley, right? And what, have EVERY Designer in Los Angeles tar and feather me? Nope.  


There are some random things that make a huge difference in styling. It’s like the ‘belt’ in fashion – you forget about it until you NEED it to really make the outfit pop, but it isn’t the most fun things to buy. They are the things you don’t think about and you don’t know you need, but then you look at your space and you can’t figure out why you aren’t satisfied.

They may not be the amazing sofa or chandelier, but these things are what makes your house (and photo) look so full of life, layered, collected and personal.

1. TRAYS.  Sounds so boring i know. Like what do you think i am, a butler? Is this a 1910 English Tudor? Am I Mr. Bates during teatime serving Mary and Matthew Crowley? 

Ah, but trays are a secret problem solver.  They are good for every surface; coffee tables, consoles, nightstands, vanities, barcarts, buffets, entrance tables, etc, etc, etc…. 

And I simply can’t get enough of them. 

Not every surface needs a tray. But every surface likes a tray, every surface can USE a tray.

Here’s what trays do:

1. They corral many things into a single pretty. simple shape, making something that could be messy now visually neat. 

2. They create seperation between surfaces and objects which adds texture and depth.  Sometimes just objects on a table (especially if they are similar in finishes and colors) need a layer in between to create some contrast.  

3. They function as mini tables or large coasters.  A tray on a pouf? Boom, thats a table.  A large tray on an ottoman? Boom thats a table.  

On a nightstand? Yes.   

Nightstands are full of a lot of little things – necklaces, glasses of water, alarm clocks, etc, and these things need a home.  


Sure. Even on your VERY well and possibly over-styled toilet.  But she looks good….

2. Footed Things.  WHY? Why things that are footed? They are the perfect curvy answer to all the square or rectangular like books, boxes and yes, trays on coffee tables, shelfs or consoles.  

Footed things add feminine curvy shape to counteract all the squareness of those oh-so-masculine shapes.  Just when your eye is all tired of looking at squares, you give it a curve.  It’s the perfect contrast. 


Footed things (vessels, bowls, vases or compotes) add vertical space as well as horizontal.  Very technical, i know. But its not just a tall vase or candlesticks – its visually more well-rounded and does two jobs at the same time, whilst still letting the eye be guided slowly instead of quick jerks.  (i should write style porn, i know).  Count how many footed things are in my shelves above. Lots.  

3. Books  Oh you think its weird to buy books for styling and in a way it is. But every client i have shows me interiors of fully styled rooms and one of the reasons they feel so personal and so finished is because they often have really pretty books. I’m not saying to go out and spend $1000 on art books, but when you see them, like them and can afford them, BUY THEM.  It will only make your house more interesting and more full. You’ll notice that catalogues rarely have books and thats one of the reasons that they don’t necessarily look like someone lives there.  Books make a space look lived in. So just start collecting and don’t stop. You’ll never have too many beautiful big art books, i promise. 

a brave little mix

.pretty nook

4. Stools.  There is always a place for a stool.  They can act as cocktail tables as well as extra seating and can be placed a lot of different places or strewn around to look effortless. 

Under consoles – often this space can look really empty, so stick some stools under there.

Extra tables next to seating:

Next to a vertical piece to guide the eye up.  Often the space next to larger pieces is empty and can feel lonely, so by sticking a stool there with maybe a stack of books on top, the transition from the floor to the top of the larger piece is smoother, your eye isn’t forced to make this big jump.  



5. Benches.  I’m ALWAYS looking for benches. It’s become a thing where if they are vintage and attractive i buy them no matter what because we ALWAYS find a place for them and they only stay in storage for a few days. What’s good about them is that they are narrow so in general they don’t take up a lot of actual space, but they do occupy a lot of visual space.  All those empty areas that you feel unfinished can be easily filled with a bench with some books on top.  boom. 

Here’s where i put them:

Under a wall of art.  Art can hold a wall on its own sometimes, but a bench underneath the art fills that low horizontal space that is empty as well as giving the art a visual platform or pedestal:

Jean Louis Deniot's Apartment in Elle Decor; art, gold bench, marble



At the foot of a bed, duh. A bench, two x-benches or two chairs at the end of the bed means luxury.  In New York we would never have been able to fit it, so to me having actual furniture in your bedroom means that you’ve made it….or left New York.  


No one likes the end of the bed on its own (unless its a beautiful bed). It’s like walking into the back of a sofa – sure, it can be pretty but in general you want to distract from it with a prettier piece of furniture – like a bench. 

In front of a fireplace.  I love a low bench in front of a fireplace, especially if its a non-functionaing fireplace.  

Or even more importantly across from a fireplace.  In general the fireplace is the focal point of the living room so when you walk into the space you want to actually see it and often when we put a huge chair across from it it obscures the view of it. So a low bench is the perfect piece of furniture to be placed opposite the fireplace, while still provide seating.  

Sometimes the best secrets aren’t the ones that are juicy or shocking, but instead its the things you don’t think about, that can be actually very inexpensive and simple yet make the biggest difference.  Don’t think you need a new sofa to fix all your problems, add layers, texture and depth with my five secret ingredients: trays, footed things, pretty books, stools and benches. 

This post was in partnership with smartwater

smartwater, simplicity is delicious.