Tips & Insights

24 Master Merchandising Tips

High Point showrooms reveal secrets of designing great displays

By Maria Killam

Like thousands of home fashion professionals, I go to High Point Market every spring and fall to source furniture and artwork for my clients, get educated, and (of course) get inspired! Touring through one stunning showroom after another, you’re sure to find unique ways to incorporate color trends into your store, create gorgeous vignettes, and design a space that your customers and clients want to spend time – and money – in. On my last trip, I uncovered 24 great techniques for setting up showrooms that sell.

1. Display your white or painted cabinets

So many people are looking to incorporate "fresh" into their decorating, and white, cream or colorfully painted cabinets are just the way to do it. Make sure you display them attractively to make it easy for your customers to visualize how they will work in their home.

2. Add layers

Thomas O'Brien is a master of vignettes, and I took tips two and three from his work for Century. Mirrors over fireplaces add sparkle and reflect light. Plus, they're great for layering artwork. It's so much easier to switch things up without adding extra holes in the wall for rotating vignettes.

3. Sneak in some unexpected baskets

It’s a simple touch that can add both color and texture.

4. Use the Triangle Principle

Recently, one of my True color Experts™ who specializes in retail design wrote a guest post on using the triangle principle when creating vignettes. It’s a simple but powerful idea, in which the three points of a triangle frame the elements of your composition. Expert use of this technique is why this bookshelf looks so attractively styled.

5. Use the styling tools of the trade

  • Books, laying horizontally and vertically
  • A mixture of different sizes of vessels and vases
  • Seashells (here, there are small ones in glass jars, too!)
  • Textured frames

The gang's all here! And look how good it looks all pulled together.

6. Add lots of cream or white when your room is dominantly neutral

7. Divide a large room with drapes to define two spaces and create a cozy feeling, as Mary McDonald did in this design for Chaddock Home

8. Bring in some orange

Libby Langdon declared orange to be an accent color that her clients are embracing. Use three gradations – a small touch, a mid-sized splash, and a large sweep – to create the correct balance in your vignettes.

9. Fake a window with drapery

One thing that makes High Point showrooms so pretty is the abundance of drapery panels everywhere. Sometimes they were simply hung up with tacks, but hey, whatever it takes! Faux drapery panels are better than no fabric on the walls at all, and they instantly give you the feeling of a window.

10. Add an animal print

Ever notice animal prints are like jeans? They go with everything. If all else fails, add a cowhide or zebra print to bring in a little extra interest and texture.

11. Celebrate curves

I've never been a big fan of plain sticks in a vase, but if you get the curly willows and mix them with dried boxwood? Gorgeous!

12. Raid the junk drawers

You might have something stuffed away somewhere that you could display along with shells and stones.

13. Try this affordable drapery hack

For an instant transformation, keep your panels neutral, but introduce contrast banding to pick up the accent color.

14. Did I mention shells?

All you need are some coffee table books, baskets, and seashells to create interesting and artful vignettes.

15. Try deep turquoise and navy

Tobi Fairley showed off three great techniques in just one display for her new line from CR Laine. First, she caught my attention right away with a color combo that feels so fresh and new.

16. Spray paint your books

Second, I was impressed to see that each book in a heavily styled bookcase had been individually wrapped in turquoise paper... until I walked right up to it and realized they were spray painted! You can catch a glimpse in the mirror.

So smart! And way faster!

17. Consider small print fabric instead of a plain solid

And finally, Tobi’s use of a small print fabric added a definite designerly touch.

18. Make paint-by-number vignettes

Vignettes are not easy to create for many, but once you understand them, you win. They instantly create a wonderful look and feel. If you're not sure where to start, let this smart setup from Chaddock Home show you how it’s done.

19. Hide an old floor with a neutral rug

What if you have Travertine or dark, busy tile in your showroom, but you want to show a trendy, white, and colorful geometric area rug? Layer it on top of a much larger, natural fiber rug. It will look a lot better and sell better, too.

20. Sell your chairs with flowers

This artful display at Arteriors pulled me right across the room. You could incorporate this look into your showroom with faux flowers or real greens (some can last up to a month in a vase).

21. Go for the gold

Gold has been on the fringes as a trend for two or three years now. It's finally hit the mainstream, and it's here to stay, so don't be afraid to introduce it in your decorating.

22. Is your art too big? That's perfect.

Two more techniques from the geniuses at Bernhardt. First, I was recently in a client's home where the art we wanted to hang in the dining room was large. Inspired by this vignette, I made it work … even though it hung three inches below the sideboard.

23. Repeat your accent color more than twice

Notice how the accent color is found in the ottomans (in front of the mirrored coffee table), the throw pillows, and the vases on the table.

24. Add drama with dark walls

A lot of people said dramatic walls were trendy because we noticed them at High Point, but I believe they are actually required in showrooms that lack natural light. As Donald Kaufman notes in one of my favorite quotes, "A light color will never come to life in a dark room, but a rich, deep color can make a dim, somber space feel warm and luminous – even though it receives no natural light."

There you have it – 24 pro tips I picked up at High Point Market, and with more than 2,000 showrooms to explore, you’re sure to find even more on your next trip to fashion week for home furnishings. Mark your calendars now for October 17-22, 2015, and get ready for six full days of inspiration.

See you in High Point!
Maria Killam

Maria is the author of White is Complicated - A Decorator’s Guide to Choosing the Right White. An experienced decorator and stylist, she is also an internationally sought-after color expert who offers advice on how to get color to do what you want at