Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Room with Two Views

Creating a vignette is quite an art, isn't it?

When I see beautiful vignettes, like Steven Gambrel's below, my analytical (and slightly design-obsessed) brain kicks into overdrive.

Which is probably why Steve from An Urban Cottage invited me to to partake in a kind of dual post.  He knows I geek out on stuff like this.

Separately, we're posting what we see in this particular image:  A Room with Two Views. 

 My View on this Room

I think there's a reason why round mirrors, particularly the convex variety, are so pleasing to the eye.  They're really like a kind of bullseye drawing your attention to them, don't you think?

There's something quite beautiful about a rectangular shape topped with a circular form.  Think of the familiarity of the human head above square-ish shoulders, a round moon rising above the line of a horizon.  This vignette automatically works well because the beautiful pairing of the round mirror above the rectangular table.  It instantly anchors the scene. 

 (I've included copies of this image several times so you don't need to scroll up to see it again.)

The next thing I notice is texture, particularly contrasts in texture.  I see the gleaming glassiness of the mirror; the smooth, cold of the marble tabletop; the the rough, primitive quality of the leaning basket; the chalkiness of the white bowl, with the organic feathery, quality of what I take to be coral.


Then there is repetition.  Lots of it.  Repetition of black, white, grey, the natural textures of the basket and rope, the gleaming elements from the gilding on the picture frame to the nailheads(?) on the black tray to the mirror.

Repetition also comes in the form of shape.  If I were still teaching elementary school, I would ask you how many rectangles you can find.

For me, the most interesting part of this vignette for me is the repetition of the U-shape. Note how the U-shaped white bowl in an inversion of the U-shaped lampshade.  It creates a particularly interesting kind of balance in this asymmetrical vignette.  You can find U-shapes in the cloche and in the lamp base too.

 Let's take a look at how the vignette plays with scale.  Most of the pieces are really quite large.  One way to tell how large is to use the door knob as comparison.  The door knob looks teensy, doesn't it?  It makes you realize just how large the mirror, lamp, bowl, and cloche really are.  Everything feels very weighty, very serious, very substantial.

And of course, since I'm so interested in interior photography, I can't help but analyze how this vignette is photographed.  One of the first things I noticed when I saw this photo was the tripod in the reflection of the mirror.  See how the camera is flipped off to the side to take the photo vertically?

The tripod sits directly in front of the vignette, not off to the side, so it is photographed at a 90 degree angle to the subject.  The camera is placed just barely above table height.  You can see in the reflection that the camera is about the height of the banister, not at eye level where most folks tend to take pictures.  (A low camera is a flattering way to take pictures of a room.)  Also notice how there is not a ton of negative space in the photo.  The vignette fills almost the entire frame.

Now that you've read my dissertation on the subject, here is a review.

This vignette works because of:
  • shape
  • repetition
  • contrasting texture
  • balance
  • scale
  • how it is photographed
  • and the bones of the room don't hurt either!

Interested as I am to hear what Steve thinks?  Click here to get his view on this room.


  1. Thanks, Camille, for your perspective. This was fun!

  2. Fun idea. I'll read Steve's next. What I wonder is, was the creator of the vignette conscious of all those things/analytical or did it come together instinctively?

    1. Hey, Jen. I've wondered exactly the same thing. I bet he consciously put together the sea-inspired things. You can see them throughout the house when you take the tour. But I think the some of the balance, scale, proportion, texture stuff comes instinctively to Mr. Gambrel.

  3. Great idea. Loved both perspectives.

  4. Just came from Steve's. This was a fun idea and now I need to go back and read his again!

  5. Loved this pairing of perspectives.

  6. Found you via AUC. Fun to read two different takes on the same set up.
    Very personal/subjective, like art always is.

    I don't think I could live with the wonky basket under the table-I like it, but I can hear that Chanel quote rattling around my brain- "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory." That's so ME. Others will have a different view, but that's what makes the world so interesting :)

    1. I agree that we all take away something very different from this kind of art, Susan!

  7. Loved your breakdown AND Steve's - you both have an amazing eye for this stuff! Hope you're well Camille - I haven't been by for a while - I have been focusing on kids and a new design biz but I have missed your blog! I hope to by stopping by more often now that "school life" is starting to fall into place. :)

  8. I have come to you via Steve, whom I follow avidly, and find the two interpretations fascinating. Your think like an abstract artist, alert to scale, texture and form, while Steve sees the story. I am sure that Mr Grambel knows exactly what he is doing on all counts!
    A delightful exercise, I hope you will both do it again sometime.

  9. love hearing your thoughts on this tablescape! It has always been on of my favorites.

  10. I always wonder how they went about the styling too - ah to get inside the brain of someone such as Steven Gambrel. I also think that the board and batten that was installed helps to anchor this vignette as well - particularly the mirror. And big props for including the same photo multiple times so we don't have to scroll up - very thoughtful. Now heading over to check out Steve's take. Nice perspective Camille.

  11. So amazed by your insights as usual! I loved comparing how you and Steve analyzed it. It's like taking art history classes when I was in college and learning what each object in a painting symbolized. I'm pretty sure convex mirrors were sexual. I'm serious! Google it!


  12. I love both of your interpretations what a great post!I loved reading Steve's interpretation however I would have noticed the same things as you...too we do things automatically without knowing sometimes. Stephen Gambrell is a genius in my book. He can't do a thing wrong!

  13. The bowl and the lamp observation was brilliant! I happen to love everything about this vignette. I think it needs the basket underneath to fill in the negative space and balance it. Good job both of you!

  14. So interesting to compare your and Steve's analysis of the vignette. I so agree that one of the reasons the photo is great is that it is taken just above table level - and I've noticed that angle used a lot in magazines, but I always wonder why that makes it a better photo. Do we not like to see large expanses of flat surfaces or do we want variety from the views we always have or...? Interesting to ponder.


I enjoy reading every comment.