Those of us who love interior decorating are passionate about creating an environment in our homes that is warm and welcoming, fills our senses and reflects who we are. Even though my personal decorating style is ever evolving, there are a few cornerstones of the look I love, the distinctive touches that make up the “Nell Hill’s style.” Here are four simple tricks and techniques I use in my home to weave in my personality, making my home a reflection of all I love. I hope they will inspire you as you feather your nest, too. 


1. Tuck natural objects into displays.

I am fed by the natural world. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not an outdoorsy girl. You won’t find me backpacking into the mountains or kayaking down a river. But spending a quiet moment in my courtyard, watching the birds flit around the trees (and my pathetic cats trying unsuccessfully to stalk them) fills me with peace and inspiration. So I always weave pieces of the natural world into my year-round decorating. I like how this little nod to nature gives my décor an organic feel and keeps things from being too fussy.

One of my favorite icons is a bird’s nest. I love how playful and unique each one is. So I use lots of faux and real nests in my own decorating. Sometimes you’ll find them perched discreetly in the branches of a floral arrangement on my table, or on top of a candlestick on my mantel. In the photo above, we placed little faux nests under cloches on each place setting of a dining table decorated for spring entertaining.

Another wonderful way to welcome Mother Nature into your décor is to use flowers in your decorating, especially this time of year when the garden is bursting with so many blooms ready to be snipped and tucked into a vase. I like this messy bouquet of faux tulips at Nell Hill’s Briarcliff because it doesn’t feel fixed and fussy. You could replicate the look with just about anything in your garden: branches of forsythia, dogwood or red buds, a compote holding a tight mound of hyacinths or hydrangeas, or a cluster of little vases that each contain a single daffodil.

Weaving natural elements into your décor doesn’t need to take much time. For this stunning centerpiece, we just ringed this lovely blue and white jar with a fern wreath. The wreath adds color and a bit of wild excitement to this very elegant tablescape. Love it!

I am crazy about moss balls right now. These cuties are organic and earthy, yet structural, giving a tableau a pop of bright color and an injection of fun. Plus, they are fool-proof to use. Just toss a jumble into a cachepot and stick it on a table for a quick display. Or replicate the look above, crowning a cluster of little urns with an assortment of moss balls. Group them together on a tray, and you’ve got a killer display in minutes.


2. Add layers for visual interest.

Another bedrock of the Nell Hill’s look is filling your décor with lush layers. Simply put, that’s coupling several decorative elements together to create one harmonious, intricate scene. The number of layers you employ is up to your personal preference. One place to bring in beautiful layers is on your sofa. Toss a summer quilt over the back or arm for added texture and pattern. Then, accessorize the sofa with an intriguing mix of pillows.

The most striking bedding ensembles are those that are rich with layers. Fresh white sheets covered with a duvet, capped by a contrasting quilt folded at the bottom is the foundation. The finish is an eye-catching assortment of pillows starting with a line of Euro shams at the back, fronted by standard pillows, then a sprinkling of special shapes, like neck rolls and lumbar pillows and squares. Each layer of bedding allows you another opportunity to give your bedroom a distinct look that reflects your unique personality.

Another spot I like to layer up is my dining table. At Nell Hill’s, individual place settings go way beyond a stack of dishes. We like to make each one a work of art by incorporating a blend of unique, and often unexpected, objects. Check out the place setting in the photo above, taken at Nell Hill’s Briarcliff. We start with a wicker tray, one of our favorite “place mats” Layer two pulls in a very unusual tray – looks like something you’d find at a flea market – that corrals the dishes on top. Next we inserted a cheese board for a surprise. We also like to use cheese boards as chargers. Next comes a transferware plate, an unexpected touch of elegance paired with our more rustic accents. Everything is topped by a weathered urn, which could hold a napkin, fresh flowers or a little bird’s nest.


3. Work in whimsy.

Sometimes, we just take ourselves a little too seriously, don’t we? One way to lighten our mood, and the look of our home décor, is to tuck in whimsical objects that make us smile. This photo, from my book Feather Your Nest, shows a good friend of mine’s wry sense of humor. The bar in her formal living room is very elegant, until you look a bit closer. The feet of the fancy silver tray holding the bar service are just that – feet! They look like little human digits, holding the tray aloft. What a hoot! I also get a kick out of the planter of the garden goddess, with plants growing out of her head, making one crazy hair-do. Some mornings, I swear my hair looks the same!

I really like to decorate with figurines, like this cute little dog statue. Depending upon their size, you can weave them into grand or petite displays, using them as the focal point or as a little surprise to reward the careful viewer. We added some mirth to this dining table display with this Boston terrier under glass.  Putting fanciful items under a cloche increases their star power. If you’re not one for figurines, you could opt for a little potted succulent or a funny snapshot of a loved one in a little frame.


4. Find creative uses for decorative elements.

Another hallmark of the Nell Hill’s look is to find new uses for everyday decorative items. One favorite plan of attack is to use your accents in unusual ways to solve daily decorating dilemmas, like how to keep your books from falling over in your bookcases. Since my home is filled to the brim with Dan’s stacks and stacks of books, I’ve had plenty of practice finding items to use as interesting bookends, turning what could be an eyesore into a fetching display. In the photo above, we used a lamp and an architectural element to sandwich a stack of books. We clustered a few little cuties in the foreground, and presto, we have a layered display.

This bedside book stack has become a work of art, thanks to some out-of-the-box thinking on the part of the Nell Hill’s visual design team. They ingeniously used a lovely wood box as both a bookend and a riser. On the left of the display, they turned some books on their side and into a riser for a topiary. The edgy white vase on the right not only hems in the books, it balances the white lamp on the table to create a visual frame to the entire masterpiece. Genius!

How about this fun approach for incorporating a stack of books into a display? We used a playful tray as a base of this coffee table decoration. Instead of featuring the books as a focal point, they simply provided structure and texture for the stars of the show, these delightful vases holding tulips from the garden.


Next Week … As soon as the weather gets above freezing, I’m ready to reclaim by screened porch, one of my favorite rooms in my home. I’ll have tips for making your outdoor rooms beautiful additions to your home.


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19 Responses to “Nell Hill’s Decorating Tricks: 4 Little Touches that go a Long Way”

  1. Lisa Fernandez Says:

    Mary Carol these are such wonderful tips. And how much do I love the moss balls in those wonderful white little urns. I take all to these tips so seriously and truly walk around my house as if with a clip board checking off all your tips just to make sure I follow each and every one to a tee. So love them. Thanks so much.

  2. Bobbie Pullen Says:

    Thank you for the clever and helpful tips. I particularly like the rustic display.
    Please tell me about the large brown transferware ontainer. Is it available in your stores? Size and cost?

  3. Ruxana Says:

    Fabulous post, as always! Thanks, Mary Carol.

  4. Franki Says:

    *yikes* – I think we may be “soul sisters!” I use 99.9% of ALL the tips you just mentioned (not the flowers growing out of the head…but EVERYTHING else!) franki

  5. Denise Says:

    Thanks once again for some wonderful ideas that make me think. I too would like any information you could give me on the large brown transfer ware container. It is beautiful.

  6. Shelly Says:

    Since I have a darling Boston Terrier, I must have the little Boston Terrier figurine! Is it available at the Briarcliff store? Thanks Mary Carol and keep the fantastic ideas coming!

  7. Barbara Says:

    Thanks for the latest ideas, all sound good to me. I just wonder how many birds nest are too many? Can a good thing be over done? Is their a rule when applying little touches like a birds nest or candles or other decorating touches? Please clarify? And thanks for the wonderful decorating guidelines you share with us. Looking forward for many more.

  8. Ana Maria Says:

    Love it all! You validate my style … Have all your books, love your blog and I’m so sorry you don’t have your online shop any more; I bought several items from you.

    For years many family and friends have visited my home and been surprised at my style (layering, miximg modern and antiques – more Charles Faudree than Rooms to Go). Now, several friends have said, “It’s Nell Hill style!”. One friend is convinced you and I are twins who were separated at birth! I just wish you would sell online again since I’m Miami, FL.

    Hugs from Miami!

  9. Nancy Dunfee Says:

    Love these updates. You are my favorite site for decorating ideas.

  10. Cyndi Fields Says:

    Thank you so much for the wonderfully inspiring email! I have three of your books and they’ve been creative eye candy, time and time again.

    I have eight indoor cats, two couches broken by my huge oversized sons, and a lovable husband with no interest in decor. He did indulge me this past Christmas in lots of fantastic candles and holders I handpicked for myself. I loved everything under the tree. I wish I could always choose my own presents! Anyway, my point is that as a decorator, I’m challenged. You help me overcome some of my complacency boulders by offering so many ideas for little bitty changes that can tweak my home out of the boring utilitarian look that results from three males-against-one lady with a serious frivolous bent. You’ve really shown me how to have fun in unexpected ways.

    Thank you for emailing with fresh ideas to play with!


  11. Karen Barker Says:

    Beautiful ideas…looking forward to your speaking engagement at the Lied in Lincoln, NE…

  12. Mildred Hoppe Says:

    How much are the white urns and moss balls?

  13. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Lisa,
    You are so sweet and a wonderful decorator. You are loaded with talent, girl!

  14. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Barbara, yes to your question, “Can a good thing be overdone?” While everyone’s “enough” point is different, as some of us like more layers than others do, my advice is to never have so many of one thing that the items call attention to themselves. For instance, you don’t want someone to walk into your home and say, “I see you collect birds’ nests!” Instead, use just a few,nests in your decorating and subtly weave them into your display, so they support the overall look of your room. Does this make sense?

  15. Mary Carol Says:

    Franki and Ana Maria, there were many times growing up when my big sister Judy would have been happy to have given me up! So fun to have so many new “sisters” who don’t have any (or at least as many) embarrassing stories to tell about you!

  16. Mary Carol Says:

    Cyndi, hang in there, girl! When Dan and Kelly entered my life, so did dogs and cats and anything else that followed Kelly home from school. I had to loosen up and lower my expectations.(And invest in a good vacuum!) I’ve lost more than a few lovely things when curious kitties have gone exploring and knocked things to the ground, and my sofas and rugs are well broken in, thanks to Lyric, our newest golden, who sheds like nobody’s business. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

  17. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Bobbie and Denise, the brown and white transferware container in the photo is an English footbath replica, and I just love to use them in my decorating. They are wonderful holding everything from moss balls to potted ferns. We are out of the brown ones but have a few blue and white ones in our Atchison store. Give us a call toll free at 877-746-4320 for the full scoop.

  18. Mary Carol Says:

    Shelly, we only have a few of the dog figurines left, and they are only at our Briarcliff store. You could either come on up and hunt for your favorite breed or give us a call to see if we have one left in stock.

  19. Mary Carol Says:

    Mildred, the urns are $11 for the small size and $15.75 for the large, and the moss balls are $6.75 for the small size and $10.75 for the large.

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