Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Lesson in Tableau-ing

I think that creating successful and effortless looking vignettes and tableaux either comes naturally to you or it doesn't. The biggest issue that I have is that my tableaux come out looking too forced or too uptight- a result, I believe, of my need for symmetry and order. I realized that I needed help, so who better to turn to for advice than the master of the tableau, Deborah Buck. That's Deborah at top in her recently relocated shop Buck House, holding her recently published book titled, what else, "Tableau". But for most of you, I'm sure you already knew that.

Deborah approaches creating tableaux as an artistic and intellectual endeavor, one that requires some thinking on one's part. She recommends first finding a common thread that can be woven throughout your vignette, but it shouldn't be one that's too obvious. OK, so how do you do that? By listening to what the objects have to say. (Did I mention that Deborah likes to anthropomorphize objects? For example, a vase is a "she" because it's a vessel, while a heftier piece is a "he". Makes sense to me.) The idea is to create a conversation between the objects, and in order to foster a pleasant conversation between these pieces, you have to listen to them. If you just force disparate objects together, you might end up with an argument on your hands.

Going back to what I said earlier about my need for symmetry, I asked Deborah about how you achieve a balanced composition without the rigidity. The answer to that is through the use of odd numbers. Deborah advises against putting four of something together, for example. If you have a pair of something, that's fine because they serve as guardians. And the other key is to give the objects their own oxygen. You want enough space around them (and around your vignette) in order to keep your eye moving. If things get too crowded, your eye gets stuck. As Deborah said, "soak an area and then create an area of rest around that." Oh, and how do you know where to put something? Deborah said wherever your eye rests, put something there.

Deborah includes such interesting objects in her tableaux, so I was curious if there was anything that she didn't like to use. As it turns out, she loves to use almost anything as long as it speaks to her. It might be something priceless, or something from the five and dime. The one thing that doesn't speak to her, however, are skulls and skull motifs. That's something that she feels is too dark for her tableaux. And in regards to trendy accessories (the ubiquitous coral, for example), Deborah said that if you love it and it's very "you", then embrace it and use it in a way that hasn't been done before.

The most important thing that Deborah stressed is to keep your vignette personal. After all, these objects that you've culled must say something about you. Otherwise, would you have purchased them? Compiling your objects into a tableau is like creating a narrative, one which might reflect your history, your travels, or your interests. Figuring out the narrative means that you'll need to start thinking- really thinking- about your past, your present, and your future. The end result is not just a beautiful tableau, but perhaps a different and more sensitive way of thinking.

(For more information, or to purchase Deborah's book, visit the Buck House website.)

A few vignette shots from Buck House with Deborah's signature striped walls:

An image from "Tableau"

(All photos courtesy of Deborah Buck)


  1. First, love the ribbons in the window.

    The advice about allowing objects to converse and putting things where the eye naturally rests is so helpful. There's still plenty of time to do a holiday tableaux!

  2. This is great advice. I have always wanted to convey more freedom in arranging items--now I know why: the balance between ying/yang, male/female, space to breathe and the conversation between objects. I guess it is all about the positive, balanced flow of energy between all of the pieces. This is exactly what I needed to hear! Thanks.

  3. Love the tableaux info 7 suggestions!
    Thank you for sharing....
    may all your Holiday events be beautiful ones!

  4. Stunning photos, I need this book! (I'm addicted to symmetry.) Thanks for sharing...

  5. The tableau's are superb. They really draw your eye into the scene and you notice the wonderful details!

  6. Great advice and photos! Arrangements have always come naturally to me, but I think anyone can benefit from putting more thought and understanding into anything. I look forward to trying these principles. Thank you for sharing.

  7. So interesting- i just posted on this yesterday and we hit on many of the same points. I think styling a tableau or vignette is similar to any other art form- let your creativity take free rein and have fun! Robin

  8. Anonymous10:05 PM

    We love Deborah! Great post!!!!

    Eddie + Jaithan

  9. Anonymous10:06 PM

    Hi Jennifer! Great post! Deborah is such a talent and one of my best friends! Jaithan and I are looking forward to seeing you in Atlanta. Have a Happy New Year!

  10. What a beautiful job she's done in these images! There really is an art to it... Thanks for sharing her advice. Now I want to go rearrange all my bookshelves and tabletops!
    XX Kate