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What Do You Think About “Vignettes” In House Decor?

Let us now revisit the cranky, snobby, but good-in-a-pinch High WASP world. We will turn our blue-eyed, sun-crinkled gaze on home decor. This is dangerous territory. We take our houses very seriously, even more so our homes.

Today we are quite crabby about vignettes. The glorious Mise prompted our crise de snob, her post here. I’ll wait for you to return. Apparently Mise was incited by this post, here.

You see, High WASPs don’t do intentional vignettes. We only find ourselves, mysteriously, in possession of some stuff. Sometimes our kids make things. Or objects return in suitcases, from travels. We collect early American folk art, or saucers, or Vietnamese betel leaf holders.

And one day these things appear, also mysteriously, on surfaces. Because one cannot suspend them in midair.

Let’s say one day you realize you’ve put three boxes in a row. When, you do not remember. You consider that two are for addictive substances, betel nut and tobacco, the other for jewelry, which is also an addictive substance in your culture. Two are from Vietnam, the other from your mother and father’s 1950’s New England wedding.

You survey another surface.

You see the plaque for longest alumni voyage to an old Nassau function. The prize, by the way, was you got to donate A LOT OF MONEY to your alma mater. There’s the photo of your daughter at 7, dancing, intimating future brilliance. Clay fish and penguin origami courtesy of son. More intimations of brilliance. To say nothing of the howling coyote from a Colombian-American friend.

You decide the time has come to Change Things Up.

You place the box next to a bowl retrieved from the vignette formerly known as The Inside Of Your Cupboard, and study the ratio of gleam to patina. You admire those goggle-eyed goldfish, and wonder about their Chinese symbology. You think for the 1000th time, “Mom, thanks for the wonderful present!”

Then you realize the cigarette box needs polishing. Right. Into the cupboard with its other tarnished silver friends it goes. Who knows what kind of nefarious fun they’ll get up to.

You sigh, and move the betel nut box next to some other betel nut boxes, all in the vicinity of an old Chinese export hatbox. On the hearth. Hey, it’s not yet cold enough to use the fireplace for anything else. Huh. They’re all similar colors. Serendipity.

You retrieve the goggle-eyed goldfish bowl, and nestle it next to the coyote, something Swedish is just across the way.

Now stand back, survey your work, and retrospectively invent a narrative. Let’s plot, meaning both to invent and to diagram, what we actually did. Vignettes are only props for stories, and let us make our stories as true as we can.

33 Responses

  1. Hmm, I’ve never really thought about it, but I do have vingettes here and there throughout the house. Ceramic bowls, glass art, picture frames. Some are intentional, most not. I love the collection of boxes you have featured.

  2. This vignette thing confuses me. It’s much nicer to think about the random surface groupings as a museum of your life, sort of. Signifiers. I visited Georgia O’Keeffe’s studio awhile ago and she lined her sills with pebbles, sticks, etc, all arranged geometrically and by shape. Those are records of landscapes, I think. Why worry if it constitutes a vignette? (In other words, I’m with you, LPC.)

    I suspect that awesome fish constitutes some kind of “vignette” all on its own.

    1. I could perhaps have been more clear, except I was trying to behave well and keep my snob self at bay. I like stuff, when it shows up organically, and the theme is barely seen. I don’t like purchased assortments, or anything overly studied. There. I said it:).

  3. PS I might go look around my house and see what kind of alleged “vignettes” have taken root accidentally, in the LPC-way. I definitely accumulate things on surfaces in the same manner, even without money or WASP roots.

  4. I don’t really like the idea of vignettes. I like my things, and I like to find a place for them where I feel they can rest companionably with other things. It seems however that I have unintentionally come up with some vignettes as I tried to reach compromise between what I wanted on my surfaces and the dictates of my realtor in the name of “selling the house”. Perhaps this requires greater thought…. or just another cup of coffee.

  5. Ah, another indication that I can never aspire to High WASP-dom. I fear I will never achieve Vignettes – the best I can hope for is Constrained Clutter of Somewhat Related Objects.

    I am good at themes, though! :)

  6. I can tell the devilish fun you, Mise and her fellows are having; my friends and I go one mean-girl step further, we doubly ridicule by mispronouncing the aspirational French, we say “veen-yay.” I email my best malapropism buddy in Texas, “Have you set out autumnal veenyays yet?” She repies wordlessly with a very sick-humor iPhone pic. We laugh heartily. And then because the Episcopalians did such a very good, very early job on me, I feel guilty for 60 whole seconds.

  7. This ” thing” should be interesting for me. Finding just the right definition for vignette was hard though, is there one? Small gatherings of stuff, here and there?
    If so, I´m really not s o interested. Things need to have a function for me – most things.
    However, I change the place of “my small gathering (s)” from time to time, or remove them, sometimes for good.

  8. Charming post, O Best Blogger. I am entranced by the clay fish that sits tooth-and-jowl (so to speak) next to the howling coyote. I have vignettes all over my house, although I never called them that. Who knew there was a term for clustering random memorabilia into a visual story. I thought I was just being artful……

  9. A definite, albeit subconscious vignetter. I don’t like clutter, but I love my “things”. So I do arrange them in ways that are pleasing to my eye, and yes, in certain instances, to keep a collection of things together. My grandmother did it, my mother does it, my mother in law does it, and now, even my daughter does it. It’s evidently genetic.

  10. I love your son’s anglerfish! It is very true to life. He is indeed brilliant. And I also love the goldfish bowl. It seems indeed to have been effective, by the way. Please accept my belated congratulations on the new job. That posting cheered me considerably.

    Over the years I have accumulated myriad small creatures, hand-carved and mass-produced, brought back from our travels and bought at toy stores to be deposited en masse in Christmas stockings (as was the handful of brightly-colored plastic frogs I pulled from mine one year, compliments of X), and they mostly wind up inhabiting the tops of bookcases and occasional tables in my study. Sometimes they wind up in rather interesting tableaus–gathered raptly listening around a brilliantly-painted Oaxacan salamander as it imparts its cosmic wisdom–or once–when I was in thrall to a rather morbid sense of humor–looking well-sated, surrounding a plastic Neanderthal skeleton lying on its back. Until now, I hadn’t realized I was such a natural vignette artist. (And that awful particle board bookcase in the spare room with the finish rubbing off that I can’t bring myself to replace because it’s still serviceable? Shabby chic, all along! I can now sleep at night.)

  11. I love (to use another loathsome and overused word) AUTHENTIC narratives, such as the ones you’ve displayed and so kindly shared with us. I hate, hate, hate the feeling of contrived vignettes. They almost offend me, although I have no idea why. Perhaps they strike me as something one would see in soulless model home. Yes, I guess it’s the matchy-blendy fakeness which I hate. Give me real and imperfect any day of the week.

  12. What lovely things you have, Lisa, clearly yours by right and natural accumulation rather than by the consumerist need for an objet here or there. Though I may mock vignettes, I am all for the notion – they remind me to heed the whole as well as the sum of its parts, and even The Inside of Your Cupboard has a certain energy derived from things in association, including dust. Am I right in thinking that a High WASP’s sensibilities are such that she would not notice the existence of a vignette to a sufficient extent to be condescending about it?

  13. My mother was not a “High Wasp” or anything close, but she was an artist when it came to the vignette, and happily, it is something I believe I learned growing up surrounded by wild art and New England antiques.

    I recall her masterful groupings of treen, her ability to create vignettes that were also hung on the wall, and as I look around my own little home, on a much smaller scale I’ve done the same.

    I particularly adore worn but geometric objects – much like the boxes and containers some of which you show here – and the juxtaposition of the very old and the contemporary. Mmmm. Delicious.

  14. In my family we are called “surface people”, because if there is a surface we put something on it (or multiple somethings). I’m a fan of rhinos on every surface, but various family items are interspersed.

    Mostly I just like to be surrounded by pretty things.

  15. Oh, I love ‘natural’ vignette’s such as yours…items collected over time, cherished, thrown together on a whim, and all mingling nicely because they come from the same spirit.
    On the other hand…sterile, souless, unloved merchandising makes me a bit unwell…our homes shouldn’t look as if we have a credit card machine at the ready, unless of course, one is playing ‘shop’ with the little five year old that lives across the street, and are actually using the old credit slider from the former business to make purchases…those vignette’s are pretty fun!
    In love with the clay fish and the penguin…
    xo J~

  16. Lisa,

    I love the Asian goldfish bowl and your containers grouped together, they look great en masse, and I’d say that is a vignette.
    Are there rules for vignettes?
    I haven’t a clue.

    Off to do some research…

  17. I do vignettes only very occasionally and then they tend to remain long past any memory of arranging them. Life rushes on around them . . . I suspect I’m naive to think I will someday take more time for this kind of story-telling through objects when I hit retirement. . . I know I’d love to, at least . . .

  18. :) I delightfully refrain from vignette-ing to avoid occasional, absent-minded gifts thrust in my direction. What resides throughout, conversationally holds its own.

  19. I like to action objects and objets into pleasing arrangements on top of buffets, chests of drawers and other affiliated flat surfaces. They make me happy. If this is a vin-whatsy, I’m at peace with that.

    Meanwhile I’m concerned you don’t post enough on WASP Food and I’d like to know what WASPs think of certain flowers- I say no to red salvia in the garden and anything that screams municipal park. Like a canna. Thoughts?

  20. Good question, I have them and proudly display but at the same time cannot stand clutter. Therefore, mine are mostly tributes to my homeland of Kentucky with various folk art wooden turtles and fish here and there and maybe the occasional flower pot painted by Lallie. However, most of them are tucked safely away into one particular cupboard as they are cherished, just not enough to dispaly. Does that make any sense whatsoever?

  21. And all this time I’ve been calling them tableaux! No matter the name, one of my deepest pleasures is combining and recombining visual displays of my family’s life and travels, both physical and metaphorical. I am always amazed at how the oddest assortments of things will click. Like people. Wink.

  22. “Vignettes”? Really? When I hear folks doing this kind of thing intentionally it makes me wonder whether or not they are living a genuine life. Don’t they go places, get trinkets for gifts, collect interesting doo-dads, or find something delightful in its own right that it must come home with them? I pity folks who feel the need to create something so generic, so lifeless, so BLAND as a composed vignette. It’s so sterile!

    There, I said it. Sometimes it pays to come from the bourgeois strata of society. (wink)

  23. BTW, I have shelves of flotsam and jetsam from my own life up to now and yes, it is artfully arranged and grouped in ways that please me. I’m not saying displaying one’s life’s treasures is wrong; it’s the store-bought trinkets meant for no other purpose than to be displayed that bother me. Just felt I needed to clarify myself a bit.

  24. I can’t imagine creating vignettes, but I am certainly with you about placing items around your house that make you smile. I love the way your various boxes look together. I would be very tempted to place your son’s clay fish next to the goldfish bowl from your mother.

  25. Lisa, like you I simply keep items of sentimental value given to me, made by the children, or found on travels and then they just naturally seem to sit well together.

    Art by Karena

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