HAPPY TUESDAY, FRIENDS. I’m so thrilled with today’s post and so glad you’re here! Let’s catch up: earlier this month, we convinced our dear friends at Lulu and Georgia to loan us a tiny truck with a few of our favorite picks from their site.
Our pitch: We wanted to show how you can make big changes to the feel of a room with just a few tiny tweaks. We grabbed one of our all-time favorite sectionals to serve as a base, enlisted the help of Emily Bowser, a site-favorite EHD alum, and then shot three TOTALLY different looks. Once we finished, Bowser and I spent nearly 8 hours on Zoom as I pored over the photos and asked her every question in the book: Why does this vignette work? Why did you use a black tray instead of a white tray? How did you plan this pillow combo?
Below, you’ll find a ton of knowledge, some beautiful inspo, and some very sweet cat photos. (Also, honest reviews of the product we borrowed for the shoot – Lulu and Georgia’s Black Friday sale (25% off sitewide) is on now and there are a few things we loved, wish we had kept, and wholeheartedly recommend.) LET’S GET IT POPPING, OKAY?
Textured + Relaxed
Caitlin: I love this take on your living room! It looks so natural with everything you already had (ie everything on the walls and ceiling). But can we just jump in by talking about this end table doing double duty as a drink cart? I feel like in corners, I usually see plants…and…chairs? I don’t think I’ve seen a ton of corners styled out with end tables.
Bowser: Well, I needed something in the corner, and this felt like a nice hit of black that spoke to the rug. As a cat owner, I need to keep my plants in the air. And I think that a chair over there would feel too big with the scale of the chaise, so it’s a nice little place for a vintage tea set up.
The tiered levels are great, too. I mean, what that bowl is actually doing right now is hiding my wifi router behind it. But this table was a good, chunky size – the size of a small bar cart, so it was perfect for a beverage area.
Caitlin: So usually on the blog, I’ve read Em talking about threes – and you have that on the coffee table with your vase, books, and catchall – but there’s only two things on the end table next to the sofa. Why does that work in this instance?
Bowser: I think it’s because the vase is so particular and odd. Special. It’s already a statement. I think if you wanted to do a third thing, it’d have to be smaller than the tray, which would be SO TINY, or bigger than the vase, which feels like it would crowd the side table. There are also already stacks of books underneath, so in a way, it is three. You can’t really tell either, but the glass is tinted, which is nice.
Caitlin: Ooooh, yeah, I thought I was getting a tiny hit of tint. And AH, cute, tiny, cappuccino cup in the close up shots! That’s such a sweet middle ground.
Bowser: Yeah, the tint is great because it doesn’t show fingerprints as much. I love a glass coffee table – I have one – but I have to clean it all the time so know that going in. The bottom on this end table is marble, and I think it’s real because it’s REALLY heavy. It feels stable, like it’s not going to fall over on you.
Caitlin: How did you land on these pillows? You’re mixing rust, green, and blue – and obviously they’re tonal – but what in your stylist brain made you put these all together? Why do they look so good?
Bowser: First off, I loved the rust pillow in the left corner. I also loved the greenish ones – they were especially very comfy. A lot of times we work with pillows that you don’t really want to lay on because they’re more scratchy or decorative, but I ended up using these in every set up because they’re neutral but also felt like a color.
But something that surprised me a little here, more than the color mixing, which works because they all could kind of pull as neutrals – is that I could mix in blue with black. Even though that pillow is indigo, it’s dark enough that it still gives you the general feeling of a hit of black that echoes throughout the space. Same thing with the throw – it’s dark blue – and the rug is black and white, but they still work together.
That rug was actually a lot less statement-y than I anticipated. From picking it on the website to seeing it in person – I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually a little more chilled out.
Caitlin: Can we talk about this tray/chaise situation? This looks SO GOOD. Spatially, can you walk me through where on the chaise to put your tray? Like, is there a formula or ratio?
Bowser: I actually didn’t think about it like that – I thought about it more as a tool to break up the pattern of the blanket. The good thing about a tray is that you can – and should – move it to wherever you’re sitting. It’s a nice substitute for an end table. But instead of worrying about placement, maybe think about what looks best to your eye when it’s layered.
Caitlin: Since we’re talking about blankets…how did you decide on this throw placement? Why go this casual, thrown route instead of a more precise, across-the-chaise fold that we see around here so often?
Bowser: I think that’s cute sometimes! But this looks more organic, and it’s also nice for sanity. When we make things too neat and then you sit on them, it can be kind of anxiety-inducing to have to fix it every time. I think this styling, in general, also just feels more natural – you have the olive branches and rattan – so I don’t know if a precise fold would have been a little too formal. Also, depending on the size of the throw, a toss like this can make it feel bigger because you’re not clearly defining its borders by folding it up.
Caitlin: The scale of this table looks great. And is that a pitcher on top? I love how farmhouse and classic it feels on top of such an organic rattan top.
Bowser: That coffee table is BIG – bigger than it looks here because the couch was so massive (127″!) that it can dwarf a lot of things – but this table is an awesome large choice (especially if you have kids). It’s not heavy and you’re not gonna hit your head on it. It was also nicely flat, as I sometimes have problems with tables like this being too dome-y.
The pitcher is also REALLY nice. I would have kept this. It is a nice textural difference, too – smooth ceramic, organic woods, the raised stripe on the rug, the boucle chair – it’s a good balance.
Caitlin: The sectional also looks so good in the corner. Were you ever worried about it overwhelming the space?
Bowser: There was SO MUCH SEATING. It surprised me that a room as small as mine is – it really only fits an 8 x 10 rug – could comfortably fit something so big. I mean, right now, I have a side table and a standing lamp in that corner, and in a way, it’s a dead space. But I think that since this sectional is white and there’s space underneath, it’s not imposing or too big for the space. It just worked.
Saturated + Bold
Caitlin: Can we talk about this incredible rug?
Bowser: I mean, this rug is SO FUN and versatile. I’ve worked with this rug before. The stripes aren’t too orange, and the lighter ones have a little something to them – I don’t know if I’d describe it as a light pink, but it’s not a stark white.
Caitlin: Is ‘cream’ the word you’re looking for?
Bowser: AH. Yes. Cream.
Caitlin: But wait – that’s the boucle pillow from the first look, right? And that’s the striped pillow that you used in the next look, too. You really mixed and matched!!
Bowser: Sometimes, it’s just nice to have these solid base pillows, especially if you’re the type of person who likes to change up your space. I think a lot of the time we hear about changing your pillows, but I don’t think people realize that you don’t always need to change every single one.
Caitlin: It’s like a capsule wardrobe!!! Like, there aren’t a ton of major changes – you only had one sofa, 3 blankets, and a few pillows, but the vibe of each of these are so different.
Bowser: I guess the only other thing I’d note is that when you’re styling with pillows, you want to consider the scale and shape. You don’t have to, but it’s nice if at least one of them can be a different shape, like a lumbar or a circle…or even a bigger euro-sized pillow in the back.
Bowser: Now this coffee table, the glass one, is a very decent size. I really liked the corners of it. They kind of extend and they’re squared. A glass coffee table is great if you have a patterned rug that you don’t want to cover up, which is why I used it here. The rug had a really bold pattern and brought a lot of color that I wanted to highlight. I have a glass coffee table for that reason.
Caitlin: Does having such a graphic base inform any of your other decisions?
Bowser: Since the rug is more modern, the circle pillow and the velvet feels more appropriate with it. Saturated colors feel more appropriate. And you’re right – it’s not just because of the color, but because of the pattern.
Caitlin: So wait – why white tray instead of black tray here? Would it feel too heavy?
Bowser: I think it would have felt a little heavy, but maybe more than that, I feel like it would have been a black hole. I also think the colors pop more on the white.
Caitlin: This vignette is so good. The purple florals are also such a nice touch in contrast with the vase, which looks SO GOOD with the pillow. It’s all really saturated and jewel-toned and pretty without being loud. HOW???
Bowser: When you’re a stylist – and I’m not really a hoard-y type of person, most of the things in my house have purpose or meaning – but there are also just things that are pretty, like a bowl full of beads.
But for the flowers…it was an interesting choice, because it was purple with orange. I’m not a flower arranger, I’m a ‘stuff things in a vase’ person, and these just fell really nicely. More importantly, though, while there are some flowers out there that are black, oftentimes a dark purple is the best choice if you’re looking for a plant that’s a little higher impact. I wanted to see the green of the stems and the richness of some color.
Caitlin: This table vignette was one of my favorite things from the shoot. What were you thinking about when you were pulling it together?
Bowser: Something you do find a lot is that you want to mix up shapes – you don’t want 15 circles. But sometimes it does happen that way, like on this coffee table – pretty circular tray, circular mug, circular candles – but what’s inside each of them are VERY different things. Like, liquid and fire and plants. They’re different elements.
Caitlin: I feel like this is going to be SO HELPFUL for folks who want to play around with things that they already have on hand, but who maybe feel stuck in figuring out why certain vignettes aren’t working in the same way that they see on the blog every day. I also think that hearing you break it down like this has made it a little more clear about what I’ve been missing before, if that makes sense?
Bowser: YAY. So like, here, to go even deeper, one is kind of tall and skinny, one is going out more horizontally like this (gesticulating wildly, imitating…flowers?), and one is contained. So we’re repeating shapes, but the contents are so varied that it’s still interesting. Plus, the flowers and candlestick speak to each other because they’re similar colors. So like, usually it would bother me a little bit that there are 3 circular things and I’d think, ‘oh, give me a rectangle,’ but the contents make it really special.
Caitlin: Lastly, can you walk me through the pillow picks here? I think that I historically have matched my pillows on both sides of the sofa, despite knowing that’s not maybe not super on-trend. How did you plan these?
Bowser: Well, in this case, none of the pillows are the same. I actually usually like at least one of the pillows to be the same! But let’s look at this more: the lumbar pillow on the left and the back square pillow on the right speak to each other. They’re not the same – they’re even slightly different colors – but they’re similar enough. And then the orange two obviously speak to each other, despite being different shapes. Sectionals are HARD for throw pillows. This one was easier, because you can just throw a blanket at the end of the chaise, but true sectionals (with no chaise) get tricky.
Caitlin: It makes me feel better to hear that this gets challenging even for pros. Why did you go with the pink throw at the end of the chaise instead of one of your other options?
Pink, rust, and green feel very on trend right now. To me, this feels like a millennial’s living room.
Caitlin: Starting it out – this rug feels kind of similar to the previous rug in that they’re both striped in a similar color palette. What’s the big difference to your eye?
Bowser: So this one is a little bit more brown, and obviously the other is a little bit more orange, so I just ended up going WAY more neutral with the styling here. I could have also used the rattan coffee table here, but this is the famous Emily table!
I love a coffee table that’s not a rectangle. Ovals are usually the most versatile. Generally – and I mean, it depends – couches are more squared, so when you’re looking at a space, you want to think about differing your textures and differing your shapes. Here, the sofa is a rectangle, the chaise is a rectangle, the rug is a rectangle, the room is a rectangle – it just gives a different flow. So I do love this coffee table – the white top, the wood bottom, the black iron legs. It’s versatile, a good size, and a good shape. There’s a lot of styling capabilities. I get why Em picked it for her own home.
Caitlin: So, my not-stylist math brain is looking at this and thinking that the white top looks good with the art and the black legs look good with the other hits of black in the space. Do you ever think about that when planning your spaces?
Bowser: Right right. So even though this was a neutral story, it was okay to roll with a black tray here because there’s the black legs, the black sconces, the black frames, the black in the pillows. If I had used the white tray here instead, it may have felt a little weird or disconnected. You don’t always need to change everything – you just need to find a way to pull the elements together.
Caitlin: I see. So like, this is how you made California Cool work for your house as-is without having to change everything in the space?
Bowser: Exactly. In this case, figuring out how to make it work meant that I could flip the coffee table and the tray without worrying about it clashing with the things I didn’t want to change. There’s a little bit more contrast than a typical “California Cool” room, but it makes sense for the way that we actually live.
Caitlin: UNEXPECTED MINIMAL STYLING MOMENT. Let’s talk about it, yeah? Just matchbooks and flowers, but it still looks considered!
Bowser: There’s a backstory to these matchbooks, actually. One year for Christmas we did an EHD White Elephant and we had to bring things from our own homes, so we had to find things we didn’t use anymore. Sara brought matchbooks and we were laughing because her apartment had just burned down and she brought a whole bowl of matchbooks.
Caitlin: Sara framed matchbooks for me last Christmas too!!!
Bowser: It is a stylist thing. We collect matchbooks. Vintage matchbooks. I think it’s because they feel like they have a story to them – they’re used, or from places that don’t exist anymore, or they’re from the 70s, and they have fun designs. They’re fun to look at. It’s weird – you don’t really want to use the matchbooks. I mean, I guess if I was in a really tough spot, at least I’d know I have them? But I also have the famous framed matchbooks that I did for the Atlanta project. I LOVE THEM SO MUCH. The ‘Head East’ one on top is so cool. If you’re traveling, bring one home from a place that you go. It’s nostalgic and special.
Caitlin: Putting on my reader hat – I like this side table vignette a lot because it feels ACHIEVABLE. You have a vessel and a bowl. I guess that’s two vessels? Anyway, what makes this look finished and polished? You know, beyond just telling people to get plants and get matchbooks.”
Bowser: So these are both kind of circular, and they speak to each other in that way. I like that one of the vessels is totally smooth and round and the other is octagonal. That’s the right shape, right? It’s nice to bring in some angles to break things up.
Caitlin: VERY INTO this tall grass. Is this the same pitcher from the first look?
Bowser: It is not the same pitcher – it’s a super tall vessel. Behind the pampas grass there’s actually a handle wrapped in rattan. Pampas is very recently in vogue and it’s kind of a pain in the ass, but I recently learned that you can spray them with hairspray and they won’t shed. It’s nice to have something that you can just leave out instead of having to get new things all the time.
I also really like these trays. They’re a nice, big size – they’re hard to come by at this scale. It has a nice lip, a nice handle, and they’re versatile. 10/10.
Caitlin: OK, here’s where I’m stuck. You have this cool-toned throw and these warm-toned pillows – including a mustard one on the other end of the sofa – but they still look great together. I feel like I’ve tried to give this type of neutral-mixing a go before in a past apartment when I pulled a warm antique rug with a really cool gray sofa, but it just looked a little off. SOS?”
Bowser: People should be a little less scared of mixing cool and warm tones. It’d be one thing if I was trying to mix a jewel tone or a warm yellow with a cool blue, but these are all still true neutrals. It’s about the undertones.
The couch was also a great backdrop. It wasn’t a warm white, and the coffee table is a bright, cool white, so it’s not that stark in comparison either. It ended up being a really good canvas. I think sometimes pieces can get lost in a white-on-white scenario, but this is a great mid-toned backdrop.
A Corner Cat Bonus
Caitlin: BREAK DOWN THIS VIGNETTE WITH ME. It is so cozy! And clearly, Daffy loves it 🙂
Bowser: The chair was actually very comfortable AND it was a swivel. It would actually be something that I would keep. I also didn’t find my cats were that interested in it – like, they liked to lay on it, but weren’t trying to tear it up, which is rare for boucle.
For the pillow, I liked the size and scale alongside the curved back of the chair. I really like how this end table is pretty versatile – it fits against a couch, but it’s also great against a wall in a tight space. It’s great for a corner chair situation, but it’s really interesting – plus, it’s a lot bigger than a pedestal table. And then for the other selections – I just liked how cozy and bright it felt.
AND THERE YOU HAVE IT – a big bunch of stylistic guidance from an all-time favorite alumni, plus a few of our new favorite pieces. THANK YOU to the folks at Lulu and Georgia for loaning us some pieces and for giving us the opportunity to learn AND blog about the findings. 🙂 Again – their Black Friday sale starts today where the whole site is 25% off if you want to scoop up some goodies for your own holiday refresh (I know. IT’S SO GOOD).
And now, I throw it to you…do you have any questions for Bowser? Wanna make any shifts to your space? LET’S CHAT. xx