Vignettes vs. Attractive Utility

When did we all start doing this?

This trend is weird, right? Arranging groups of things in our houses that are supposed to look homey and natural and yet they can’t be touched?

The word vignette, of course, is a literary term that basically means to show a glimpse of something, to take a little snippet of a piece of writing in order to show the whole picture.

And at home, that is what vignettes in decorating are trying to accomplish. They are things from our lives, attractively arranged, to tell the story of what goes on in that room. When it happens naturally, it gives a house soul, like in these photos of rooms that are completely perfect:



(Can’t find the original source for either of these.)

What do vignettes try to achieve?

Some things in the pictures above are purely decorative, like the flowers and antlers.  Some things are functional and attractive.  But nothing is ugly.  And most importantly, nothing is pretending.

But…what if your life is not all Burberry raincoats and beautiful scales?  What if everything you have is plastic stuff from Kohl’s and is hiding in the closet? Well, then the problems start. Everything is put away when you are done with it, because it is ugly. So the house looks lifeless, and the urge to set up vignettes starts.

So the solution we have found is to pull out an excerpt from a fake story. “Here is a glimpse of my life, just me reading some antique books and enjoying these large vintage dice.”

Or perhaps something like this:

DSC03944 (1).jpg

Oh dear.

What can we do instead?

What if, instead of that, we searched for things that were attractive and actually useful? Not theoretically useful, like an antique rake hanging over the mudroom bench. (Even though I think that looks really cute.). But things that will be used by us personally. Like a pretty watering can, left out on the porch, that is also used to water the flowers. Or wooden spoons and rolling pins that are used on a regular basis, not just sitting there, like mine.

And what if the functional things of life were pretty? Cleaners poured into clear bottles instead of ones with tacky labels. Cutting boards made of wood, not plastic. Dish towels that are in patterns we like and colors that go with the house.

Then stuff could be out.  If people walked in to our homes unexpectedly, it would be okay!  Because the stuff itself is not ugly.  Our homes would seem alive naturally, instead of looking like a constant Home Goods ad, or like mine, looking perpetually empty because I stuff everything inside a closet, or in the office that no one dares enter.

Now what?

Attractive utility will be my new guideline for buying anything I might need.  My broom is dying, and instead of replacing it with another hideous shiny plastic one, I’ll be getting a pretty one like this.  It seems like avoiding plastic will generally result in a more attractive item, as will looking for something that could be, or is, handmade.

And while attempting to decorate my empty, beige house, I’ll be looking for things that will function, not just sit there.  Except flowers.  And pictures.  And pumpkins.  Now I’m really confused.

What do you think about vignettes?  Love them or hate them?  Or perhaps you are a normal person and have never given them a second thought?  Let me know!


13 thoughts on “Vignettes vs. Attractive Utility

  1. Pingback: Saving Money Burning Wood : Heart's Content

  2. Pingback: Put Decorative Items to Use for Attractive-Utility Homemaking – Hannah Means Grace

  3. I come from an impoverished background, so if it didn’t have some sort of utility, it wasn’t a necessity- which usually meant we had to wait until Christmas or a Birthday to get it (if we were lucky to get it at all). But to my mom, that didn’t mean it had to be ugly- even if it was cheap and functional… So “Attractive Utility” has always been my go to, save for in a few areas of my house (Like the Tea Room. But even then, attractive utility can be found mixed alongside purely decorative objects). And honestly, I prefer it that way.

    • It so interesting that you bring up the economic side of this. The whole farmhouse trend began by people copying simple utilitarian looks…. farmers “decorated” that way because there was no money for weird decor stuff. Of course now it has gone totally weird, but the original inspiration was houses like yours…nice and simple because that was the only choice.

      • It’s amazing how much stuff that’s popular right now really comes from the financially stable co-opting the necessities of the impoverished. And, of course, the irony is that it drives up prices- because “trendy” is always more expensive… Making it more difficult for those from whom it was co-opted to actually use it anymore.

        It’s something I think about frequently given my background- and not just relating to interior design trends; it’s a pervasive problem in all areas of consumerism, and certainly not isolated to its impact on the impoverished in western countries.

  4. I personally think a lot of that is like house staging that realtors and decorators do. I have things that I find beautiful or useful and sometimes both. Since I don’t have little children or puppies around anymore some of my “treasures” have come out of hiding and put into service, this way it is me not what I want others to think is me.

  5. Some of my favorite “decor” items are simply things I use. Especially in the kitchen. Wooden spoons in a white pitcher for a crock. A couple of wooden cutting boards that sit on the counter, leaning against the wall, nice dish towels that I love, clear glass canisters with copper scoops and fruit in a pretty bowl, small glass jars for coffee and creamer for my older daughter’s mini coffee pot. A cute teapot that lives on the stove. It’s all pretty and those are the things I love seeing. I wish this could naturally happen in my whole house, but not so sure. I will have to look around. The vignettes I do set up are really simple. I like books and containers such as baskets on my bookshelves and thought…wow my bookshelves aren’t really decorated…well because I actually want to read the books not just look at them backwards or stored because of too much decor taking up the shelf space. And on my makeshift hutch, I store pretty glasses and extra plates, old china, and cloth napkins we actually use regularly, but I stick in a small pumpkin or shell here or there to go along with it. I love this post! Well done!

    • Thanks Johanna! I love all the things you mention, and you are so right that the kitchen makes it easy. Kids toys are mostly hideous, and there are only so many throw pillows one can reasonably have. 😊.

  6. I suppose I’ve never really thought about it. I think the only time I had out useful-not-to-be-used items like that was when we sold our house over a decade ago. I’ve always preferred things to be functional AND beautiful but I’ve assumed it was because I grew up loving Heidi and Anne and those like them and wanted to live in their homes where things were made with hard work and love and had a purpose. I never really understood things like “guest towels,” formal China, and toys that you couldn’t touch. Not that there isn’t a purpose for things that are purely decorative; but things that pretend to be useful? Seems a little wasteful.

    • Love the references to Heidi and Anne. It seems like children’s books always have the coziest homes. Toys that can’t be touched is a new one to me! 😆

  7. TheFashionedWoman

    I believe it depends on the person’s personality type. For me, they work because I like to look at something pretty. But most of what I buy can be used. The only thing for décor purpose only is my childhood cookie jar. I don’t want it broken so it just makes me smile. I think that you are unto something though. Being intentional about buying pretty and classy is the way to go when buying purposeful items for our home that way it will always look just like that, home. However, if you over obsess then you will drive yourself mad because some décor serves no purpose but then you would be wrong in my humble opinion. Décor can serve as a way to usher in feelings of a season or a thoughtful loving memory. Every one has a purpose for the way their kingdom’s boundaries happen but one thing is for sure, everyone loves a happy kingdom where they are free to love and the King and Queen reign in sweet romance and harmony.

    • Yes, when I got to thinking about seasonal decor I didn’t know what to think! But also I have some stuff I love that is hideous (my deep fryer), and things like an entire Christmas village that serve no purpose. But liemy u say, ushering in a feeling or season does it give it a purpose. So if really means something to you, or you really love it, it will never be fake.

      • TheFashionedWoman

        I agree Katie, making a home is all about making the heart content and all the people who reside inside of it to bring forth the feelings of home and contentedness.

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