Stuff - how to display it, not drown in it

We all acquire stuff as we go through life and most of us would, if push comes to shove, agree we're more hoarder than Marie Kondo aficionado. Interior designers Studio Dean urge practicality and suggest we can be a bit more judicious about what we keep and then use some of that stuff to make our homes look cool, not stuffed to the gills

By Coco Piras
interior design by Studio Dean

Don't pack your shelves like sardines in a tin, urges interior design Cathy Dean of Studio Dean, which may come as a surprise to those of us who thought that was the point of a shelf. 

Occasionally we're forced to confront the sheer amount of stuff we have - in my case it's having solar panels installed which requires the installers to be able to get to fuse boxes, the loft space and run up and down stairs. Initially they couldn't, so I've piled things into corners they can. And I have found myself thinking what is all this stuff? and I vow to take it to the recycling centre. Soon.

So Cathy Dean's wise words strike a chord because I realise that every surface I have is covered with stuff and things could look..and more pertinently life would be ..a whole lot better without so very many belongings.

'Interior design photos are gorgeous, but they are guilty of one thing. They encourage the perception that to have a beautiful home you can’t own lots of ‘stuff’. If you think about it, those with stylish homes who are true connoisseurs of art and design are the most likely to own a lot of eclectic pieces that they have collected over the years. The question is – where do they put it?' 

'So getting the interior design look does not mean creating a blank space. Interiors experts will never erase you or your things from the masterplan of your home. Instead, they make beloved belongings shine and inject love and personality into the space – in the most stylish, showstopping way possible.

Well, that's encouraging, an interior design who recognises that people's stuff is a collection of what they love.

Now think about how to style your stuff like an interior designer would



Do a cull, not a completely clearcut of your stuff, says Studio Dean
Studio Dean.. a darker room

Analyse your stuff
The first thing to do, if you want to rationalise your stuff, not take it all the recycling centre, is, says Dean to 'take time to really look at your things. Observe how your tastes have developed. Notice what you don’t like any more, where you might have made a mistake. With the things that still spark joy, think about what you love about it, what drew you to it, why you still love it – then think how your home can reflect what you see in that painting or object.'

'By doing this you can also see which colours you are most drawn to and choose a theme to suit your true tastes. By really diving into what you really love and why, you will escape the trend and algorithm-generated ideas of what you think you like.'

Considered decluttering
Dean says: 'Not all of your belongings are equal and you must have a good clear out to begin. Don’t keep things just because you have spent money on it. Be ruthless. Everything needs to serve a purpose. If you never wear heels but you have sentimental heels, they need to go. Vinted is your friend. There’s no such thing as just in case. Also – did you know you only need two or three sets of bedding? If you buy a new set, get rid of an old one.'

Curate your collection
'When displaying your objects, some things need their own world,' says Dean. 'Other things need to look good together. We always like to take inspiration from how nature does it. Look out of the window and you will see different heights and shapes which all work together naturally. Symmetry isn't natural. Feel free to group your objects asymmetrically, heavier to one side, and with different heights. To pull objects into a group, pop them on a tray to ground them. Prop a picture behind to add height.'

“Remember to also curate your artwork – we always look at the client’s art and what they love and work it into our design schemes and make it really personal. We recommend you stay neutral with your interior design to let your art stand out.” 

Use shelves wisely
'Say it with me - shelves are for display, cupboards are for storage,' says Dean. 'Shelves should never be crammed with stuff. If you need to use shelves for storage, baskets are your friend. Get beautiful baskets the right size. These will stay stylish even when full. Make sure to keep the baskets out of eyeline. Think like a supermarket - eye level shelves are full of pretty things. Lower and higher shelves can be filled with baskets.'

Use storage space
'Should you display it or store it? Be realistic. We all have mismatched mugs and strange-looking sentimental objects. If you can’t bear to part with them, you need them hidden away, so allow yourself to have storage. A good interior designer works with your real life, mugs-and-all, and will help plan clever storage solutions into your space.'

Make considered purchases
'I had an empty sitting room wall for five years while I was waiting to find the right art,' says Dean. 'I knew if I bought a ‘filler’ I would never get round to finding the ‘killer’ piece. Art should be bought through love. Art isn’t a commodity, it is a luxury. I always encourage people to go to art fairs and local galleries, instead of shopping online' 

'You don’t need to spend loads – make it part of your social life and have fun looking. Art is not just part of interior design, you can curate it over years. Never go out to buy art. Like buying jewellery or finding a partner on demand, it won’t work - you have to love it.'