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Chances are your buffet is one of the most attractive and underused pieces of furniture in your entire home. So why not invite this fetching yet functional dining room mainstay to the party? Dressed for show, your buffet is guaranteed to wow your guests, whether it’s being used for food service during a dinner party or simply as a stage for a gorgeous standing display. Here are some tips for creating an eye-catching but simple summer look on your buffet.

Nell Hill’s visual directors Marsee and Becky picked this elegant buffet to use as a stage for our sleek summer display because it’s such a great piece. Hefty and strong with nice, clean lines, it adds strength to the space but is so understated it won’t draw attention away from the pieces we’ll stage upon it.

When decorating your buffet at home, start by focusing on what’s on the wall behind it. Make sure the scale of your artwork matches that of the buffet. That said, we picked a large oil painting to balance this weighty piece of furniture. Then, we hung similarly sized, but not matching, artwork on either side of the painting for a nice symmetrical look.

One of my favorite approaches when styling a buffet is to flank the display with a pair of matching lamps. Again, pick lamps that suit the scale of your buffet. For this hefty piece, a duo of skinny, skimpy lamps would never do. Instead, Becky and Marsee found these fetching transitional white pottery lamps. With their modern, organic curves, neutral color palette and traditional shades, these versatile lamps could fit with any décor and look lovely with our old-world buffet.

To create a light, summery look on our sample buffet, our visual team pulled together a delightful mix of clear glass pieces to use as the base of the display. I often decorate with clear glass in the summer because it’s refreshingly cool, clean and sparkly.

The secret to creating a great display on your buffet (or any tabletop) is to pick accents that offer visual variety. Even though we used all the same types of pieces for this example – clear glass – we gave it a kick by mixing together pieces with a wide variety of heights and shapes.

Go on a scavenger hunt through your china hutch and cupboards for interesting glassware, like the decanters, martini glasses, lidded jars, footed bowls and pedestals we used in our sample display. Notice how Becky and Marsee arranged the pieces is an off-sided pyramid, with the tallest items in the back and middle and the smaller pieces on the edges and in the foreground.

If you want a simple look on your buffet or if you don’t have a lot of time to decorate, stop here. I love the look of the bare glass. But if you would like to add a bit more intrigue, weave in some seasonal accents.

We really like to use fruits and veggies in our seasonal decorating at Nell Hill’s. So Marsee (left) and Becky (right) bring out the bags of citrus to add a twist of color to our tableau. Not only do the lemons and limes scream summer, they also pick up the subtle greens and yellows in the painting behind the buffet.

If you’re using real fresh fruit, check your display often so you can remove pieces that are starting to spoil. I learned this lesson the hard way at my home. Once, when I was decorating for fall, I put ripe red pears in the wall sconces in my living room and promptly forgot all about them. That is, until I was sitting with a friend in my living room and happened to glance up above her head where, to my horror, I saw that the pears had decomposed into a slimy mess. Now, I usually opt for fake fruit, which really confuses Dan. Once he breezed past a fruit bowl filled with lush green (fake) apples and grabbed one for a snack. Imagine his surprise when he bit into the piece of fake fruit!

That’s it! That’s all it took to style this inventive display that really perks up the staid and stately buffet. You could opt to keep this look all summer long, then for fall, recreate it using heavier pieces. Or, you could leave the glass base up all year long and simply switch out the seasonal treasures you put in the containers. For fall, you could tuck in red apples or gourds. During the holidays, try Christmas tree ornaments. In spring, add a forced bulb or two to the footed bowls.

Then, when you entertain, remove the seasonal décor and use your glass pieces to serve your food with style. For a cocktail party, fill different containers with bar fixings, like sliced lemons or olives. If you’re having a dinner party, use this display to show off dessert delicacies or appetizers.

A Few Variations …

I also wanted to show you another way our visual team has styled buffets at Nell Hill’s Briarcliff. We anchored this display with a matching pair of blue and white Asian ceramic lamps. Then, all we did was place a French dessert server in the center, filling it with dishware, a figurine and some bouquets of fresh flowers. You could also use this amazingly versatile shelf unit to display food when you entertain. I have a dessert server like this one on my kitchen island, and I have a blast styling and restyling it for the seasons. In fact, I love this piece so much that I had it reproduced as part of my Mary Carol Home Collection signature line. It’s a great price and selling like hot cakes — check it out at Nell Hill’s Online or at the stores.

For yet a different look on your buffet, try using a large floral arrangement as the focal point. Here, we made a wild and wonderful arrangement in an olive oil vessel. We tucked in an intriguing accent lamp, some books and a figurine and called it good.

Next Week …

Are you ever baffled by how to style the high places in your home – above the kitchen cabinets, on top of your armoire or bookcases, or on that challenging ledge in your two-story entry? Next week I’ll give you some simple solutions for making the high places the highlight of your décor. Come back and see me!

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31 Responses to “Serve Up a Beautiful Buffet”

  1. Judy Rengert Says:


    I just finished reading your blog on decorating your buffet table. I have been searching for a buffet table for quite a while and would love to know more about the one that you featured on your blog – entry date 5/24/2010. If it if for sale, could you provide information including length, height, width and price.

    Judy Rengert

  2. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Judy —Love that you love the buffet–I think it is gorgeous and timeless. Such a unique piece you could feel comfortable passing down from generation to generation. It measures 21 (D),78(W) by 34 1/2(H) and sells for $3,086.25. Call Janet for more details–(816)746-4320.

  3. Korinne Says:

    I too love to pull out the clear glass serveware in the summer for display. Beautiful buffet!

    I will eagerly anticipate next week’s post as I just purchased a home with high space galore in the kitchen and master bath. (I desperately need an idea for that bathroom!)

    As always, love your designs as much as strolling through your stores!

  4. Catherine Hopkins Says:

    OMG, I have your book and I love it. Bought it in Tulsa at this cute shop all about setting tables (the name escapes me). I just found your blog by accident while roaming around. Awesome!!!

  5. Catherine Hopkins Says:

    I am adding you to my bloglist right now.

  6. Dee Ann Doxsee Says:

    The perfect ideas! Buffets have always been a favorite of mine and how marvelous to utilize them in such unique ways…..
    With my lamp,I’ve added candles; wedding pictures of our children and for a french twist, a small wrought iron chair that was my aunts at one end…on the seat of it, a vase that i love.
    On the wall aboveis my grandmother’s ornate, framed, mirror….
    It’s a “Precious Memories” spot, for sure!!!

    Awaiting the next blog …You all are the best!

  7. Lisa Brown Says:

    I love, love your stores!!! I have been looking for a weathered urn or olive oil vessel as you show in this post to use as a centerpiece for large floral and natural arrangements. Can you give me some choices and pricing? Thanks so much! Lisa

  8. Patty Says:

    Thank you so much for the pictures. The visuals are SO wonderful and the step by steps procedures are so cool and generous of you to provide. It shows the security Mary Carol is all about. You are the best!

  9. Glinda Reynolds Says:

    I have a solid walnut buffet that my husband purchased for me several years ago. I love decorating it with seasonal items and I am never at a loss since Nell Hill’s came to Briarcliff!! I have utilized several items from the store and married them with items that I own. Needless to say, the setting is always changing!
    I love this blog as I continue to get wonderful ideas from you on how to use what I already have on hand!!

  10. Sharon Says:

    Great ideas!!! Tell me … what are people doing with their old hutches that sit on top of their buffets. Any ideas??????

  11. Mary Carol Says:

    Lisa—The olive oil vessels are beautiful—each with their own timeless history. They range from $93.50 on up—based on the size. Come in and pick one out today–or call Janet for more information @(816)746-4320.

  12. Linda Riley, now in AZ Says:

    Helllllo, old friend!!! I am sooo thrilled & pleased to see n’ read your postings here, & am definitely glad you’re starting to sell some of your treasures online, MC!!! (I bought something when I first discovered you online, of couuuuuurse!!!)…

    Oh, how I MISS the JOY of how FUN you are, and shopping at your stores! Am hoping to get back to Ft. Leavenworth “sooner rather than later” (Jim goes back to hunt birds there every year, but I can never seem to make it!), to visit old friends…. Of COURSE will make it to Atchison~ maybe you can take a quick break (for once!!!) & we can chat over a nice cuppa!

    THANKS, and warmest regards to all those great gals on your team, too!!! (I STILL have “Dan’s drink” ready to pour if you ever get our way!)…


  13. Betsy Woods Says:

    Dear Mary Carol,
    You never cease to surprise and delight! You have come a long way since you started your shop in Atchinson, KS. I will never forget how excited I was to visit your shop when you first began and many times thereafter. We talked about your Grandmother, Nell Hill and my Grandmother, Mary Laura Hill both from the same area.
    We now live in Saint George, Utah, but visit your stores every time we drive cross country. I could not be prouder of you. You are amazing- keep up the good work.
    Betsy (Hill) Woods

  14. Nance Says:

    Love these ideas! How about something for outside decorating….say maybe a table and buffet for an outdoors picnic?

  15. Karon Huey Says:

    I have had extremely busy day today and what a nice surprise to receive your latest blog! It let’s me relax and read what wonderful decorating ideas that you bring to us all. You always have such inventive and fresh ideas on how to decorate that are wonderful and uplift my spirit. You are a true jewel. Thank you again for sharing them with us. It makes me want to visit your store that much more!

    Abilene, Texas

  16. Rebecca Gibson Says:

    I am very excited to read about the above cabinet decorating. We are flipping a smaller 2 story and really need help. Cabinets that were so popular in the 80′s-90′s, medium oak and desk across the room with the same. A very neutral paint and open soffits in both kitchen and laundry. They are still bare. I see in model homes so much fake greenery there but don’t think I could live with that till it sells. Also, I am called upon frequently to help people stage their homes and never have a great answer for them on this subject (except only use your colors and run don’t walk to Nell Hill’s). Please help us!

    Rebecca Gibson (I’m the one with the moose head if you remember)
    Lee’s Summit, MO

  17. Sharon Says:

    To Sharon From Sharon – regarding the hutch on the buffet… I took mine off and put it in the garage a couple of years ago. What a new piece of furniture emerged!! After using it as a sideboard in the living room, it is now home to my new flat screen tv. That would never have happened in the original form. Someday I will put the hutch back on, but probably not for a while.

    Loved the subject for this blog, and am looking forward to next week as well! Thanks Mary Carol!!!


  18. Sue Says:

    Thanks for the beautiful photos, instructions and advice! Love the blog, I was becoming a facebook regular just to see the photos of your store on your page! Keep up the fabulous work, I can’t wait to get to KS! Sue

  19. Cyndi Bonus Says:

    I can’t wait for ideas for above my kitchen cabinets — I have been needing to update for awhile and cannot seem to come up with any good ideas. Not sure if you would remember me, MC. We met a few times back when you brought your beautiful items up to Des Moines for the Junior League Gift Mart and then I have been to Atchinson a few times. All the pieces I have purchased over the years work wonderfully in my home. Thanks for all your help and ideas!

  20. Jean Says:

    Gorgeous Buffet ideas! What great ideas for easy changes and a “new feeling”

  21. Diana Beggs Says:

    I truley enjoy reading your weekly blogs~ The are filled with great ideas!

  22. Marilyn Domann Buehler Says:

    It is interesting to see that the blue and white porcelain lamps anchoring the buffet is still an unresistable design, as seen in Style at Home in the dining room of my former home.

  23. Mary Carol Says:

    Hey Sharon girls—Love the interaction between everyone—delightful! Like the 2nd Sharon suggested if your top section of the hutch is removeable—you of course, have a whole new look–and many looks at that! You could place a big piece of artwork on the wall then decorate the top of the buffet—as suggested above. Other ideas on the wall would be artwork, coupled with plates or mirrors –making a gorgeous display of art. If your hutch stays put, then change the look completely. Lighten it up for spring and summer—take everything out then make a change of light/white cream pottery, small pieces of artwork , inter-mixed with glass and fun spring dishes. The ideas are endless……..

  24. Mary Carol Says:

    Nance—I am just going to give you some bullet point/product ideas for outside decorating. I believe that is something we will be addressing on the blog in the very near future–stay tuned. I love lanterns outside with my battery candles (for safety), 3 risers on a buffet with fresh flowers in pots —you can put some fresh sticks in the pots then hang (by fishing wire) our little sparkling glass votive holders. Makes quite a statement at night—-Just a litlle for now, hope that helps—stay posted for more on the blogs.

  25. NANCY HOFTS Says:

    A great idea to change the look of your buffet top is with color. Either paint the inside back a fun color, or if you’re more cautious, a neutral cream, soft white or sage green. If you can’t or don’t want to paint, cut cardboard to fit snug against the back of each shelf. Then get out the glue gun and cover the cardboad with fabric to match your decor, or wallpaper, or even the unique designs of scapbooking paper. Create a college of old lace, antique buttons, pages of old books, etc. and display white ironware, or blue willow, or floral china, old books,on the shelves, the possibilities are endless. The best part is it’s totally removable when you yearn for a different look.

  26. Jan Miller Says:

    Mary Carol, I always love visiting your website and especially enjoy receiving the blog.

    Though I have lived in Arizona for 16 years, I am still a Missouri girl and as you know, my entire Arizona home is decorated with beautiful furnishings and accessories from Nell Hill — Atchison and Briarcliff.

    All of my friends love your website and the gifts I give them for birthdays and Christmas from your stores.

    By the way, Linda Riley…….do you live in the Scottsdale area? I always love meeting people from back home.

    Happy Memorial Day weekend to all. Jan Miller

  27. Sheila Gregory Says:

    Anxiously awaiting next weeks’ blog re: decorating above cabinets. So tired of what I have up there now. All your ideas are great and love seeing how to put them together with the photos. Thanks so much!

  28. Bridget Says:

    Oooh how I love your blog! I hope others are loving it too! It is so helpful at answering decorating dilemmas. It’s like decorating school with MC! Yay! Everytime I read a post, it reminds me that I need to get to one of the stores. I finally got up to Atchison yesterday, and as usual, found lots of fun things. Keep the posts coming, they are so much fun. Thanks for doing it :)

  29. Ann La Barre Says:

    Dear Mary Carol,

    I am new to Nell Hill – I found your books and fell in love with your style…now I found you on-line…wonderful! Your ideas work nicely with my decor. Your words of wisdom are helping me decorate my new house. Yup, just bought my dream home a few days ago and it is coming along nicely…much to do, but I think you would be proud of the outcome. Thank you for your outstanding work!!!

    Ann La Barre

  30. clearance furniture sales in north carolina Says:

    Nance—I am just going to give you some bullet point/product ideas for outside decorating. I believe that is something we will be addressing on the blog in the very near future–stay tuned. I love lanterns outside with my battery candles (for safety), 3 risers on a buffet with fresh flowers in pots —you can put some fresh sticks in the pots then hang (by fishing wire) our little sparkling glass votive holders. Makes quite a statement at night—-Just a litlle for now, hope that helps—stay posted for more on the blogs.

  31. Nikon SLR Reviews Says:

    Wow, that was a very informative piece! Thank you so much for your fantastic writing, i’ve bookmarked your site so I can stay up to date with your stuff.

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