For me, it all starts with location
The room that you put your dresser in will always influence what you put on its shelves. It sounds obvious, but it’s something that’s quite easy to bypass because we’re almost preconditioned to think that a dresser is where you put your finest glassware and wedding china.
For example, the dresser in my family’s kitchen is next to the breakfast table. When it came to filling it, I decided to put all of the crockery that we tend to use for muesli, fruit and toast. In fact, I have a few big glass jars filled with various cereals in there as well – a dresser can be like a mini pantry too. I then added our big teapot and cups along with a stack of side plates because we’ll often sit here in the afternoons at the weekend for tea.
You’d naturally want to put different things in a hallway dresser and a dining room dresser. So, always start by thinking about what happens in and around the room, and what makes sense to have close to hand.
It doesn’t have to be about function
Dressers are so versatile. They’re undoubtedly good when it comes to storage and using day in, day out. But, I still love to use them in the traditional way – as a display piece.
For me, the best place for this is in a dining room. This is where I’d use a dresser to keep special pieces for supper parties or occasionware like ice buckets, decanters, whisky tumblers and cocktail-making bits and pieces.
I get real joy walking past and seeing everything kept together safe and sound. I know some people say dressers like this can feel a bit precious, but for me, it doesn’t feel untouchable, but more an exciting prospect of special occasions to come.
Split your dresser into sections
I find this is an easier way to approach how I’m going to arrange the contents. And then, work your way through them so the overall look is balanced.
If you were to divide your shelves into six sections, you might stand a serving plate up on one of the middle ones. That’ll then dictate that you’re not going to repeat that on the shelf above or below it or to the side. It would look like too much of a repeat. You might want to move diagonally though and do something similar there. I always think of it as like moving around a chequerboard.
It’s important to think about palette
Whether your dresser is about function or decoration, you’ll still want it to look the part.
Colour is one of the biggest considerations. Choosing one block colour is an option. It’s a way to make your dresser feel highly curated and edited. Or, if that feels too put-together and restrained for you, stick to a palette of no more than three of four complementary tones that work with the rest of the room.
Not only will a palette make sure your dresser isn’t too much of a hodge-podge, but it’ll help you to decide what gets to make it onto your dresser’s shelves and what won’t.
Think blocks rather than scattering
For me, the worst thing you can do with your dresser is to fill it with lots of little bits. No one thing stands out then and it just looks messy.
Instead, go for volume and group things in blocks. Plates – stack them high. Mugs – make a teetering tower rather than a long and sensible line (you can do the latter, but I think this works best when it’s done in a very minimal, contemporary space).
Then apply these blocks to each of your sections so each part has a clear feature.
Texture is another thing that’s really key to your dresser.
I love to store a tablecloth and linen napkins in mine because it brings in such softness. Try finding a basket that’s not too deep so you can fit it on the shelf of the lower surface, and stash all your linen in that so it’s one soft heap.
And go beyond the obvious
When styling your dresser, one of the lovely notions to bear in mind is to think of yourself as a collector. Mix in the unexpected and use it as a place to bring together curios, treasures, artefacts, old books, new books, stacks of magazines piled high, even as a makeshift bar cabinet with all sorts of intriguing bottles. Put picture frames in there, starting with the larger ones and then filling in the gaps as you go. Overlap things, move them around and let it evolve with you.
There really is no one way to style a dresser. It’s a collection of things from then and now, and a collection of things to come.
My one rule above all others is to have fun with it and keep trying new things.