Making a Scene

I thought I'd use some photos I took this morning at the antique mall to illustrate a little 'How-To' on Displays. I really believe displays are an opportunity to tell a story, and set a scene. Invite customers in, intrigue & delight them with ideas and inspiration - as well as products. So let's look at how to put together a 'vignette' display to tell a story.

Step One: Start Big. Put the largest item into the space. Whether it's a table or a sofa or a shelf unit, it will help you make decisions about what else goes where for impact. The shot above shows a big table in a small space - but it fits!

Step Two: Add props and other large items. Even though the vintage linens are for sale, in this display they are also props. They add color and interest to the background. The chairs add more color, and more levels for product to sit on later. A chair at a table - no big deal. A chair ON a table? Interesting. Catches the eye. Also helps maximize space use - go vertical! I placed a tablecloth under the chair to minimize damage to the tabletop and lighten up the large surface. In this shot you can see a table lamp on the far side of the chair...

...and in this shot you can see that I adjusted the chair angle and moved the lamp up on top of the chair. It throws more light from this position and makes the linens stand out. Small adjustments make a big difference! The warm light from that lamp and the minilights tucked into the tree and under the table pull your eye in - and since this display is located underneath a large florescent fixture, the yellow light helps balance that blue light so the colors in the linens appear as they should.

Step Three: Another 'fixture' helps fill in the space - adding a metal serving cart on the side of the table provides additional space for more product. This could also be a shelf unit, etagere, or cabinet. This setup shows that you can fit a LOT of merchandise in a small display. Measurements on this space are 2 1/2 ft. deep by 7 1/2 ft. wide!

Step Four: add the small product - bring the eye in close with details. I try in cases like this to not overload the table, because the table is also for sale. If it's just a prop/fixture, you can load it more heavily. (Though remember: leave some empty space in your displays! The eye needs a place to rest. Crowding in lots of product - especially brightly-colored products like these - can easily overload your customer and STOP sales).

Same thing on the cart - add products, neatly corraling them in baskets, bags, bowls, etc. to make it easy to shop & keep clean.

My final touch was to add an old waste can used as a flower vase, with red geraniums in it. This adds a touch of nature to the composition, and helps to lead the eye from the table to the chair to the lamp to the linens.

Here's the final composition, bright, happy and vintage in style. You can see (sort of!) that underneath the table, there are baskets and more items for sale. This is a bit of an overflow area, and I've only placed large sized items there for visibility. (More light under there would help, wouldn't it?!) Remember: never put food on the floor - not even in baskets. Get it up onto a chair or table or shelf instead.

Now, these are pretty much one of a kind items for sale here, but you can do this with any manufactured line of kitchen linens and dinnerware. Use manufactured linens on the clothesline, add a stack of tablecloths to the cart, layer stacks of bowls, plates, and cups to the tabletop and this kind of display would be workable for any home decor store. Props like the geraniums and maybe a big bowl of fake fruit will set it off and make it personal for your shoppers.

And if you want to REALLY go overboard, hide a CD player in there and put on some Glenn Miller tunes, playing softly. You've just created a scene!


  1. Thanks for the tips Deb!!! One of my problems in setting up a display for a show, is, that the customers also want to buy my props!!!! Some seem kinda irritated that my big ol watering can, for instance, is not for sale. I have been trying to remember to tag NFS on items so people are not dissapointed that the item is a display piece. I also thought of playing a CD with birdie s chirping in my space as I sell faeries and elves.

  2. Oh, I LOVE the birdsong idea, Colleen! Perfect for your charming booth & products.

    As for props, I got 'cha. And I know it's more work, but if you can find and use items that ARE for sale (like another big old watering can instead of your favorite one), you'll avoid the disappointed customers AND make a bit more money! Enlist help in this - give your friends a list of the items you need, and have them keep an eye out at garage sales!

  3. Deb, showing your display technique was very inspirational and beneficial. Lighting always brings people in. They say to go with the 3 senses, sight, listening, and smell. Thank you for sharing.

  4. This is just a fantastic post! Thank you for all the great tips.

  5. Love this...I have an antique mall, and recently set up a similar display. Though I can see now I really need to add light!

    I try to have everything in the store for sale...I've seen people get so irritated when they see NSF on pieces and that's just not how I want them to feel in our shop. It might be different for me though...I always know I will be attending auctions and finding more!