24 May 2010

Un Tableau Vivant

According to Merriam-Webster online, a tableau is either 1: a graphic desciption or representation, 2: a striking or artistic grouping, or 3: a depiction of a scene usually presented on a stage by silent and motionless costumed participants. The more I study and consider interior design, the more I know that a good interior is a series of fabulous tableaux. Each tableau in a space is like a motionless actor on stage and when all the tableaux speak to eachother and flow seamlessly, there exists a tableau vivant and a space that possesses that thing without a name.

If you take note of the shots in design magazines, they are rarely birds eye view of an entire space, but instead they focus mostly on parts of the room. I suppose it's not easy to capture a whole room in a way that a reader can appreciate all the details, but I like to think that the photographer makes those decisions based on how complete a room feels or how well the seperate tableaux speak to one another, or perhaps the decision is made solely on what will make a good photograph. In any case, I want to know what makes a good tableau. What are the required elements? What is the formula? Unfortunately, I fear that there is no such thing and believe it is more of a sense you have or don't have. However, I do believe that a good tableau is like a good piece of art and in this case, we can consider the elements and principles of art to better understand a home's various tableaux.

My favorite resource for inspiring tableaux was domino Magazine in which designers and civilians alike would arrange favorite objets d'art in the most beautiful and fascinating ways. The tableaux vivants are present in nearly every domino spread, no matter the style or aesthetic.

This tableau has a strong focal point or central emphasis and contains a lot of objects of various sizes and shapes. It remains harmonious through repeating elements such as monochromatic color and rectangular shape. It could feel cluttered, but seems light.

The living room of domino creative director Sara Ruffin Costello is one of my all time favorite domino spaces. A true tableau vivant, which still consists of various smaller tableaux, but it is difficult to distinguish where one ends and another begins. C'est magnifique!

Yumm! I love the play with scale in this space. That tripod floor lamp is the indispensable item in this tableau. If you took it away, the room would still be great, but it wouldn't have that certain something. I also love the arrangement of items on the sideboard/server. The layers of pictures, sculptural objects and candlesticks have a unifying effect. Maybe that's not the right word, but the space would feel incomplete without it.

My new favorite place to see beautiful homes and tableaux is Lonny Magazine. It is an online publication by some of the same people who made domino so great. They're all about accessible design that doesn't cost a fortune.


Here are some of my favorite tableau from Lonny, demonstrating that a good tableau is all about collecting and pulling items from different places, eras and styles.

This beautiful bedroom is proof that a well done tableau does not always involve lots of stuff. It is about curating carefully to achieve an aesthetic that makes you look forward to coming home.

Although I think the best way to make beautiful tableaux is to practice, you can start by considering elements and principles of art such as color, line, form, space, harmony, texture, balance, and unity. It is important to constantly evaluate your tableaux and don't be afraid to change them often and purge when needed.

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