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It’s the Tops

January 12, 2010

Our living room console table was cleared of the holiday tree-in-a-basket and I was researching what to do next.  And then I stumbled upon a little epiphany. A Pottery Barn epiphany.  Say that seven times fast. 

These images all showed a similar way to decorate the top of a console table…


Do you see the pattern?

It’s what I dubbed the “SHORT TALL COMBO”. 

I’m a genius.  Especially when it comes to naming stuff.  Don’t be surprised when my child is named “BOY”. 

Back to the point.  Decorating console tables.  Apparently this combination of short & tall is an easy (and fabulicious) way to decorate the top of a console table.  Let’s go through it together for the person out there that is scoffing at my very clever moniker and my assessment that all these console tables are the same.

Here is an easy to see example of the short tall combo in action.  One side of the table top is sporting a low-rider…a piece (or pieces) that are low in height.  The other side is sporting a tall piece (or pieces) that is at least 35% higher than the short pieces.  It’s like that nursery rhyme with the tall skinny man who shares with his short fat wife…it’s one happy family. 

But since I am such an analyst, I had to know the details on how to make this short-tall combo work in my own home.  That’s how I came up with these simple tips:

Numbero uno tip is to leave some space on the sides of the console arrangement.  10-15% of the overall length of the table should do ya just fine.  It makes this tableau look less cluttered and more like an organized decor decision rather than just clutter that happened to find it’s way onto the tabletop.

Then I started looking at the actual width of the pieces.  The short one was actually longer – about 75% of the total width of all the decor pieces put together.  And the tall one was whatever was left over…in this example about 25%.  This can be a little finicky though.  The squattier one can be closer to 60% of the width…but the key is that it is still longer in width than the tall piece.  So tip #2 is stick to the 75/25 rule but allow yourself some working room.

Last tip of the day is know what counts and what doesn’t.  This tip is in terms of the pieces of decor.  If the item is resting on the tabletop then it is participating in the combo.  If it is hanging on the wall behind the console (or is a window or a chair railing or is a piece of art centered on the entire arrangement) then in the Bower Power book, it doesn’t count.  It becomes part of the background rather than part of the arrangement itself.   So if you have a large piece of framed art directly centered on the console & still resting on the tabletop…then proceed with the 75/25 rule of decor.  If you have a large piece of framed art NOT centered on the console & still resting on the tabletop….this would count as your “tall” piece.  Get it?

Now is time for examples. 

Also known as ex-wham-ples for those of you who don’t get it.  Literally, this concept will WHAM you in the head.

Let’s look at all those Pottery Barn tableaus again – but this time, I highlighted the short-tall combos for you to see for yourself.  Here you go:




Hit ya, didn’t it?

Yeah, I was pretty stoked when I realized the pattern.  It’s like seeing those hidden pictures that you have to stare into for an hour before it finally pops out at you.  Except this actually helped me with my home instead of just giving me a headache and one crossed eye.  Yeah.  I wouldn’t recommend driving after that. 

So now, tell me, are you gonna run home and decorate a console table?  I am seriously considering decorating the tables at Walmart and Target.  It would be great practice.  And it’s pretty amazing how those super-fly PB decorators have some hidden decorating concepts just waiting for us to find, huh?  Or maybe you have a different method to arranging your console tabletop….please share with it us.  It could be the tops :)

37 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2010 3:32 pm

    This is such a great catch! I’d never noticed this before. Now I feel the need to rearrange my tables! :)

  2. January 12, 2010 3:52 pm

    Wow!! I really want to run home and start madly rearranging things. And THANK YOU for the clear analysis because I would have come up with that on my own like….never.

  3. January 12, 2010 4:34 pm

    Ah-Mazing eye Mrs. Bower! I’ve always wondered if they had a secret math formula for making their stuff look so good…and you, my dear, have cracked it! Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us (some of whom are Math challenged ;) ). I hope you’re having a great day!

  4. Christine permalink
    January 12, 2010 4:38 pm

    I <3 the idea of going to Target and just decorating the ones on display… and I'm sure my hubby will, too, if that means I won't have to buy a console table to decorate. :)

    p.s. My inner vocab nerd can't help but correct your spelling of "epiphany". Don't blame me for my rudeness, it's the OCD.

  5. January 12, 2010 4:43 pm

    Good observation. I worked at PB for years & never even noticed that. It is funny, but I realized that I already do that naturally. I guess I was PB brainwashed :)

  6. Newby Mom permalink
    January 12, 2010 4:49 pm

    Let me start out by saying that I am a loyal follower of your blog. I am doing this with best intentions so please don’t be upset and by all means don’t publish this comment. Will you please correct your spelling? I think you meant to use epiphany. I don’t believe apifany is a word and I don’t want you to be embarrassed.

  7. January 12, 2010 5:01 pm

    oops. Newby Mom – you are right. I forgot to hit the spell check today! Thanks for pointing it out….I am changing it right now. And don’t be embarrassed about telling me…I have brain farts just like everyone else and need friends like you to tell me that I am having a baby-brain moment :) In fact, I wish more people would tell me that kinda thing as nicely as you did! THANK YOU!!!!

    XO – KB

  8. Leslie permalink
    January 12, 2010 5:11 pm

    Whoah…I am a math/engineering geek, and I don’t analyze decorating that thoroughly. (I am saying this with a tinge of sarcasm and a tinge of awe – I have to clarify or most people think I just sound mean :). Thanks for the tip. I just thought of my little console type table…everytime I look at it I keep thinking something looks off. This tip will help.

  9. January 12, 2010 5:12 pm

    Hi Leslie –
    My current job includes data analysis so maybe that part of my brain never shuts down…either way, I am glad to hear that I am in good Geeky company!
    XO – KB

  10. January 12, 2010 6:04 pm

    I totally agree with you on the whole Pottery Barn catalog = inspiration! I was just pouring over the console tables yesterday. I love them all, but totally HATE their crazy high prices. It just breaks my cheap heart. Totally didn’t notice this equation though! It definitely helps when trying to decorate in our own homes. You’re so smart! ;)

  11. Mari permalink
    January 12, 2010 6:52 pm

    Love it! You ARE a genius! :) I’m off to decorate a console… you don’t even know. ;) Thanks!

  12. Amanda permalink
    January 12, 2010 6:56 pm


    But now all I can think about is how much I need that side table for my living room… hmmm…

  13. Ann permalink
    January 12, 2010 7:08 pm

    You are super clever and funny to boot. Thanks for teaching us how to decorate a console table and going through the exercise of figuring out the 15% on the sides and the 75/25 rule.

  14. ErinEvelyn permalink
    January 12, 2010 7:38 pm

    Katie, I get that wall decor centered above a console table “doesn’t count” in your decorating math lesson….. but it kinda sorta DOES matter …. when you step back and look at the overall picture. One thing we need to keep in mind when choosing a “tall” piece is that it is important to visually connect wall decor to the the console rather than having it visually hovering above. (This can help disguise small-ish wall decor or pieces that are hung too high.) To balance and connect the visual “weight” above (wall decor) & below (console table) the tallest piece is probably the most important in the vignette. Hard to explain mathematically though. ;)

  15. January 12, 2010 7:40 pm

    I absolutely agree with you. My post is more about a simple solution to tabletop decor….but you are right about keeping the big picture in mind. It’s amazing how so many different aspects come to mind when decorating…color, balance, texture, scale, etc….it’s like it couldn’t ever be fully explained :)
    Thanks for chiming in…especially for remind people who forget to step back & look at the overall picture.
    XO – KB

  16. January 12, 2010 7:52 pm

    Great tip! I looked at my console table and it is almost there… a little work and I’ll be good! Thanks!

  17. Kristem permalink
    January 12, 2010 8:16 pm

    I really like this perspective. How well would this translate on a smaller table or say on a longer and much bigger desk?

    I am getting lots of great ideas for decorating and your blog is inspiring me to finally make some changes! Off this topic, have you ever tried or seen any good ideas for making some simple and chic canvas wall art? I can’t find any good DIYs.

  18. January 12, 2010 10:47 pm

    Hey Kristem,
    As long as the scale is correct – I think it would translate just fine onto a smaller table. A desk would be a little more difficult because you always want to leave a workspace. Maybe you could take a look at Pottery Barn’s site for desk ideas? Surely there is some similar formula for success :)

    As for your DIY question, are you trying to make canvases from scratch or just modify some storebought canvases for wall art? And what I would suggest is that you pick out a piece you like that costs a fortune and just attempt to do it Kristem-style.

    Let me if you have any other questions.
    XO – KB

  19. January 12, 2010 8:29 pm

    katie bower you are my hero! i was just doing research last week on what to do with my table decor. thanks for the wonderful advice!

  20. January 12, 2010 9:01 pm

    oh my gosh, i’m TOTALLY whamed, right in the face! this is good stuff lady…it’s the small things and usually something as OBVIOUS as this when you point it out…but i’m glad you pointed it out cause we’re searching for the perfect console and you better BELIEVE i’ll be going back to SHORT/TALL when picking decor! gracias and great blog!

  21. Elizabeth permalink
    January 12, 2010 9:17 pm

    hey! i love the set ups. I am a new follower of your blog – i love it. Do you know where that “&” sign in the picture with the blue wall is from? I love it!

  22. January 12, 2010 9:20 pm

    You go girl – very good. I just re-shopped my den downstairs and did a complete update of all of my accessories -and then I came up here and saw this! It’s great! Now I gotta go back down and see where I did it right…

  23. January 12, 2010 9:20 pm

    Awesome – I love patterns… you may have just discovered the tip of the iceberg.. I bet the same applies to mantles :)

    Good stuff!

  24. shannon mignone permalink
    January 12, 2010 9:25 pm

    Great observation. I noticed I already do this inadvertantly. My console table when I walk in my house has a tall thin vase and two little pics of my darling pooches….

    Oh, just stumbled on here – love your blog!! Keep up the good work!

  25. January 12, 2010 9:25 pm

    Oh Katie Bower, you are my hero! Wait…let me say hi, and apologize for being the creep in the corner who has never made a comment, whoops! Anyway, just wanted to say that I wish I had half your brain to have noticed all the percentages involved in arranging a console. Now I know :) Thanks for the tip!

  26. January 12, 2010 10:21 pm

    Can you do this for mantles? I’m having some trouble with mine. :\


  27. January 12, 2010 10:30 pm

    I totally used this idea tonight at home. I admit, I spent the whole afternoon ANTICIPATING going home and doing this. Thank you so much for your hard work analyzing these pictures and sharing them with us!

  28. January 12, 2010 11:48 pm

    This couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m arranging a bookcase in my bedroom and I think these tips will still hold true. Thanks!

  29. January 13, 2010 8:08 am

    Aha! It all makes sense now. My hall table has been looking a little boring lately. It’s because I took away the ‘tall’ thing and put another ‘short’ thing there. The two shorts are not working for me.

    Ps. I wish all decorating tips ended with yo.

  30. lisa permalink
    January 13, 2010 9:18 am

    Great eye! I need to go rearrange now. I also use PB catalogs as magazine inspiration.

    I wanted to let you know I nominated you for a little blogger award on my blog. Hope to get to know you better! :)

  31. Jennifer F permalink
    January 13, 2010 12:35 pm

    LOVE this post…it’s genious!!! It’s funny because I am a math/science person, but totally didn’t not see this pattern. I am decorating challenged, so putting things in a simple form like this really helps out. I tend to buy random things I like in a store and over time, but then can neer figure out how to put them together. Do you have a similar post, or can you write one, on dining room tables? And not for when you are entertaining, but just how to decorate the table for everyday. Thanks!!!

  32. January 13, 2010 8:29 pm

    LOVE this post! It’s so hard to figure out how to place everything on the table. It’s also hard for me to put away some items, even though I know it’s needed. Now I need to go rearrange all my tables!

  33. Kristen permalink
    January 13, 2010 10:17 pm

    Kristem would be an interesting name.. I apparently wasn’t double checking my spelling :P

    I have been trying to decorate my workspace for months and nothing has really made it feel homey or welcoming. If you ever feel inspired to do a blog on DIY office decor, I wouldn’t protest :)

    I want to make the canvas art from scratch. but everything I have found that I like is way too far out of my price range. I didn’t know if you had any good ideas on what kind on mediums to use… or maybe I could decoupage on canvas like you did for your other art… I already got some great ideas to spray paint some current pieces I own in different colors to fit the new decor, but my ideas are a work in progress! You are quite motivating though!

  34. January 13, 2010 11:27 pm

    I thought Kristem was possibly a misspelling but who am I to judge if it was typed correctly, right?! Glad you came back to let me know!

    As for your canvas – if you have a store bought canvas, I would suggest either watercolor paint or acrylic paint (craft paint works well too)…you could even water down some flat wall paint if you had it on hand. And I would practice first on some thick craft paper or construction paper to get the hang of the consistency. Then just go for it. Usually I find that it is easier to have my inspiration right there next to me…either a photo or a picture pulled up on the computer.
    Hope this helps!
    Happy painting!
    XO – KB

  35. January 13, 2010 11:25 pm

    Can you figure out some magical formula for nightstand decor as well? That’s what I’m currently stuck on!
    Thanks for pointing out the pattern Katie!

  36. Amber permalink
    January 13, 2010 11:49 pm

    What a fabulous post!!! Do you have a similar post for mantles? My mantle needs some serious help and I am all about equations.

  37. January 14, 2010 4:04 am

    Ok, catching up on my Bower posts for the past few days ~ it’s fate, my poor garage sale console table is bare now that Christmas is over & I’ve been struggling with what to do ~ never fear, Katie Bower is here! :) Thank you, off to shop my decoration cabinet now!

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