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Style School

How To Style A Credenza


I’ve styled MANY a credenza in my lifetime. Credenzas, like shelves and mantels, can be styled and re-styled every few months (or days…or hours) to reflect the season, match the new vintage painting you scored at the flea market, or just because you want to shake things up. But that big open space can be daunting, too. You have all the right pieces, but how to arrange them so they don’t look too crowded, or too sparse? How do you keep it pretty, but functional? How do you keep it from looking like a weird dresser sitting in your living room?

You probably didn’t even know there were so many things you could even worry about, and now your starting to hyperventilate, thinking about your credenza sitting just one room over from you, and wondering if it DOES look like a weird dresser. First, take a deep breath because I’m here to help (also it probably doesn’t). Then follow my 5 steps to styling your credenza:

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Step 1: Start with functionality. A lamp will add both height and light to your credenza. Since this isn’t a reading lamp or desk light, go for something with a fabric shade for even and softly distributed light, rather than a directional task lamp.

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2. Stack up those extra coffee table books you’ve always wanted to display. This helps create levels on the surface of the credenza (so everything isn’t sitting directly on the credenza top), can serve as a little pedestal for an accessory, and brings in some personality, depending on what books you choose.

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3. Mix in your accessories: candles, vases, artwork, trays, etc. Vary the size, shapes, textures, and colors while keeping a consistent color palette throughout. The color palette I used for this credenza, and the living room in general, was blues, whites, warm woods and leathers, and small hits of green, gold, and floral pinks. Keeping a consistent color palette will help everything feel pulled together, even if your assortment of items is a little all over the place. Arrange the items in a mountainscape shape – up and down slowly without extreme verticals all of a sudden running into flat horizontals.

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4. Add something personal, like a framed photo. This will help your credenza feel like it belongs in your home, and not a showroom. Besides, I bet your family is adorable, so how could you not display that for the whole world to see??

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5. Top it off with the EHD teams favorite finishing touch – A plant or flower (also known as the most affordable sculpture around, unless you absolutely need to have peonies out of season, in which case, an actual piece of art might be cheaper). This also balances out the lamp.

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Voila! Your perfectly styled credenza is now a excellent representation of both your impeccable taste and refined, yet eclectic and cultured, personality/life. Looking back at a few of the credenzas I’ve styled, they each have their own personalities and differ in their arrangements, but the basics are all there. Remember this set up from “1 Credenza, 4 Ways“?

Credenza_4-Ways_Photography_Pottery_Mid-Century-Modern-Casual 0ae402b3da3d5fc1f6792cad54f26060 GH-Emily-Dresser

Just for fun, we put together a little video to help you visualize the intricate credenza styling process:

So, what do you guys need help styling next? Let me know in the comments. We are obsessed with making these little videos so we are happily taking requests … xx

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  1. I would love a post on how to style a big leather sectional. What sizes/shapes of pillows should I use? Where should I put a throw blanket? I feel like I can never get this quite right.

    1. I second this! Our sectional isn’t leather but I do struggle with how to arrange pillows and a throw. For instance, I’d love to do 2 long bolster style pillows but I’m not sure it looks all that great on a sectional with a chaise. Anyway, sectional styling would be a great topic!

      1. Yes on styling leather (sectional or non). Leather presents special challenges (for me) with pillows because they. do. not. stay. put. Any texture of pillow just slides right down and then it looks almost worse than it would totally bare. I’ve practically given up with our ivory tufted leather sofa (which is heavily utilized) and now just have a single large lumbar pillow in the middle, but it ain’t pretty.

        1. Yes, leather sectional.
          I also especially love when the post is linked to things o ca buy based in your instruction

    2. I agree- our sectional isn’t leather but it’s huge and gray and needs some life.

    3. Sectional styling please!

  2. I’d like to see your tips on how to style 1) space above kitchen cabinets 2) entryway (for example 1 entryway 4 ways, like were your credenza styling posts). Thank you in advance!

    1. Yes! Similar to that ‘space above kitchen cabinets’, I’m always wondering if I should style my high ‘plant shelves’ in my rooms with vaulted ceilings. I usually leave them bare because I usually hate the dusty clutter assortment you tend to see up there (or did in the 80s/90s when houses were being built with these high shelves).

      1. YES! I’ve been trying to come up with a creative solution to my plant shelves. They are so LONG and I really don’t want to just stuff a bunch of randomness up there. Pinterest was no help!

    2. I agree! I too would like to see the space above kitchen cabinets (always looks like a dust collector to me) and an entryway. And similar to the credenza, how about a bedroom dresser (are the rules exactly the same)??

      1. May I add that Emily feature some ideas or styling that can be done to the awkward small space next to the refrigerator without the typical narrow pantry thingy?? Are there any other ideas? 🙂 Thanks in advance.

  3. Well, this is funny. I didn’t even realize I have a credenza until this post, because, as it figures, I actually do have a weird dresser just hanging out in my living room… perhaps that situation should be addressed.

  4. Love this post as I have been having this exact dilemma! My problem is that we have a TV on both the credenza in our living room and in our bedroom. (I hate TVs in the bedroom but my husband insists.) Any tips for styling around the TVs?

    1. I second this! How to style around a TV on a beautiful credenza or media unit?

      1. My comment went weird (I don’t even own a credenza ?!) – I second the bedroom chest of drawers. Thanks Emily!

    2. wow it is written very good

  5. I would love to know your thoughts on styling the top of a piano, or whether you even should. I don’t play, but my partner does, every day, so it’s very much a functional piano, not just for show. At the moment, there’s some piano books and sheet music and the top of a blanket (with the rest draping behind for sound-proofing purposes) so….it’s an area that needs some attention!! Thoughts??

    1. yes yes yes; I hardly ever see pianos in inspiration images and kind of treat my console piano like a mantel, but I’d like to see some actual pianos styled!

  6. How to style a desk? We have two (going to have three soon) and they never look cute.

  7. I’d LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. to see a credenza/media counsel round up! I’ve been racking my brain as to what to put in my 1920’s tudor! Everything seems to be either very mid-century, or fakey expresso wood!

  8. A more important question for me, is how do you clean it (with so much stuff on it). Dusting seems like a lot of work.

    1. swiffer dusters are perfect for credenzas and bookcases with lots of items on them!

    2. I’ve recently bought these fluffy dusting gloves that you put on. Dusting is so fast with those. I also use a long feather duster thing.

      1. Yes, you use a duster thingy on them, Dont use cloth to wipe it will take too long, a daily dusting on those shelves does wonders than wiping them one by one once a week. 😉

  9. I’d like some tips on styling my chests of drawers in the bedroom. At the moment they look so plain but I do need some flat space for setting down make-up, hair dryer, etc when I am using them.

    1. Put flat things on a tray, or little basket for hair dryer, instantly looks better. Old metal trays come up really well with a coat of gloss paint.

      1. Speaking of such, can I request how to style bathroom countertop? What if I have bottles and mug and toothbrush, how can I make them pretty sitting on top of my bathroom countertop?? 🙂

  10. this is great, emily! thanks! now please add some vintage accessories to the flea so i can fill my credenza!

  11. Fireplace mantel!

  12. YESSSSS!!! GREAT post. So easy. But… so hard for me. haha

  13. Just a note on format – thank you for not including a gif. I love the blog but dislike the gifs. Plain photos and videos much more welcome from this reader!

  14. Really useful tips! In my case, I have a 40 inches tv on top of the credenza (I’ll eventually mount it on the wall… maybe), and it’s hard for me to balance that HUGE BLACK THING with anything else I place in there. I feel that a big lamp would be too much, maybe the plant trick will do. For now, I have only some coffee table books horizontally, and a small succulent plant. Any other suggestions?

  15. A coffee table or desk styling video would be awesome! I know in my home these are both places I’m having trouble with because they need to be functional but I’d like for them to be beautiful as well

  16. So glad you covered credenza’s I have a credenza question-

    I inherited a credenza from the 50’s which I coveted for years. By the time it made is way to me it is a little worse for wear.

    It is an oriental design, with awesome brass handles, I have actually styled it similar to your suggestions, with a large Buddha on one end, stacked books, lamp etc… It is that awesome orangey red color, with gold painted asian accents on the door edges. The paint is a little chippy on the side, a few scratches on top, and the paint looks a little think and oxidized. I am toying with the idea of color matching and repainting it??, but I am not sure I want to lose the authentic vibe to the worn paint- and if I do paint it, what about those gold details?? Not sure if you or anyone else has an opinion on this, but I am all ears.


    1. It sounds gorgeous! Hard to say without seeing it but maybe consider waxing your credenza…. Check out Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (and Wax ) for lots of examples and inspiration and instructions on how to do it.

  17. Wow! I need a credenza!

  18. Love these suggestions! HOWEVER, I have found it particularly difficult to style my credenza that has a TV mounted above it! 🙁 it’s done well, and tidy… But the lamp idea always looks awkward, and I can’t figure out the height element to replace it. Any tips for styling with a TV?

    1. Maybe have something on the other end as tall as the lamp to balance it? So a lamp on either end or a tall jar on one end and a lamp on the other. I’m no designer but I see this all the time.

    2. Hey Emily, We had a similar problem at a past project where we needed a TV above the console area. Take a look at this post and see if there is anything that might help you out. https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/blog/weekend-makeover-nicolette-masons-new-home

      1. Also, there was a tv in the cup of jo make over

  19. I love this! Looks really great, and so much more simple to do than I thought.

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  20. Great post! I will be adding a lamp I have been hoarding for a long time yay!!!

  21. Great ideas. Thanks
    I would love to see a post on how to style upper kitchen cabinets. You know the kind that have glass doors. I am lost as to what to do. Do I match everything across cabinets? Or Mix and match items? Plates? Bowls? Pictures? AHHHH!!
    My style is a bit more traditional than yours but I know “how to style” something is the same across design styles. Thanks

  22. Love your work. It seems that you lean toward asemmetrical design. How do you feel about a symetrical approach, such as using two lamps on either end of the credenza?

    1. Symmetrical feels more formal and traditional. Emily’s approach is more Eclectic which allows you to display different style of items without any of them looking weird or out of place. If you decided to do symmetrical lamps, you need to curate what items you want to display so that it goes with the style of your lamp and your credenza as well as the style of your home. 🙂 Hope it helps.

  23. Love Charlie’s adorable photo bomb 🙂 Yay me! I have all of these elements incorporated onto my credenza/dresser tops! Years of reading your blog have done me right.

  24. Love that photo of the little blond cherub looking through the railing….

  25. You make everything seem so simple… I have a tall open shelving unit free-standing in my entryway, used as a room divider to separate the entrance from the living room. It seems more tricky to style since the shelves are open on both sides. I’d love to know how you would encounter this task.

  26. What a beautiful space you’ve created! I definitely would love to refer to this when I buy a nice dresser! xx

  27. As a single guy in my early 30s this blog has been invaluable in building out a decorating persona. Thank you x1000.

    One area I’m struggling with is the foyer/entrance room for my condo. I have a family TV stand, basket underneath & mirror leaning on the stand. Need help with rug, accessories and setting the mood/feel.


  28. My challenge is styling a credenza underneath a window. It’s the best spot for the credenza, but I don’t have the option for any artwork to layer. Any particular suggestions for that?

  29. Hi Emily! I just love this. I’ve spent the last few weeks devouring your website on styling tips. I’ve just bought a house(fingers and toes crossed) and am clueless how to furnish/style it. I just love your aesthetic and I’m convinced you’re my spirit stylist! I know you’ve done something similar before but I would love to see how you approach a room. Any room. How do you furnish it, style it, finish it? I’m asking the million dollar question here but I would love to see a post on how to approach a room from scratch. Am I being really cheeky? Xx

  30. First of all, Emily, your work is beyond. I’m always SO inspired when I read your posts. I’m also a stylist (no where near you but one can dream) so I soak up every bit of advice that you give. It’s always so spot-on.
    Okay, love fest over, my request is this– how do you treat a living room credenza differently from a dining room buffet? I live in a split (ugh but whatever) and you can see the living room credenza and the dining room buffet (no hutch) from the front door. I have a tiered plate stand on the buffet along with a tall vase with greenery, a cloche with our wedding cake topper displayed and two decorative finial type items. I have a big mirror over to anchor, but no matter what I do this area never feels right to me. The credenza looks great but this buffet is killing me. It’s extra tricky bc in the living room I also have built in bookshelves that are fully styled out with all the usual suspects (photos, stacks of books, boxes, etc) so it all feels redundant to use the same things again. Any advice??

  31. Hi Emily, you talk all the time about consistent color palettes, I’d love to see some examples based around different furniture colors. Like if your couch is brown use this and this. Or if it’s gray try these 3 colors. Thank you

  32. Your cutest styling tip is the beautiful child to the left of the credenza!!!

  33. I have 2 identical servers in my dining room with a window in the middle and they have nothing on them or above them yet! I know it’s a horror…I was thinking of hanging a mirror above one and a painting above the other but my husband thinks I have to do the same thing on the wall above each. Also what do I put in them when I’m not using them for food??

  34. I would love to see how to style a toddler-proof coffee table, I’ve been having trouble finding objects that survive my 1 year old son playing around

  35. How about a sofa back table? They are skinny and long and i don’t want to put anything tall on it (like a lamp) because I feel like people are going to knock it over!

  36. Would love to get some suggestions on styling a sofa table that’s in the middle of the room with items that look good from all sides!

  37. Yes to all of this! Leather sectional, space over the kitchen cabinets, a tv console, and a toddler-proof coffee table… I would welcome your expertise on all of these things! 🙂

  38. How about a dining table in a dining room? We rarely eat in our formal dining room area, but we have an open floor plan so the table is visible and accessible to the rest of the house. Tables that are “set” with plates and silverware always look a little too staged for my taste. On the other hand, if the table is too empty it ends up becoming a dumping ground for mail and anything else that doesn’t have an immediate destination. I can handle holiday decor for the table, it’s the in between neutral times of year if have difficulty with. Plus it has to look good from all directions. Help would be appreciated!

  39. I second the requests for:
    Kitchen cabinet above space
    Those long flat plant shelves
    Casual table top
    Sofa table in middle of room

    All in an open concept area

  40. Nice design. Thanks for sharing with us. I like your all Interior designs.

  41. Thank you so much for sharing this! The breakdown makes so much sense and I actually feel like I can do it on my own now! yay! I’d love to know any tips on choosing and displaying wall art (I always feel like I’m doing something wrong).

  42. Thank you. This post has given me permission to buy another cool lamp.

  43. I noticed you just added one lamp and not two. I am about to start from scratch styling my console and planned on two lamps. Should I bag that idea? Is that very 1990s and I am unaware? Just wondering your take on the two lamp thing…

  44. how about how to style that desk that lives in the living/family room!? It’s essential and yet…how do we make this stylish too?

  45. The best tutorial ever! The best way to learn about decorating and styling. Thank you!

  46. Good post. It is really help to us. Its give us lots of interest and pleasure.
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  47. What about a corner table in between two couches making a big “L?” We have a lamp and legos. I would love for it to be pretty!

  48. I love those little videos! They are supercute, concise and helpful.
    My fave video of all time is your pillow styling video. I’ve literally dazzled people with my pillow styling skills.
    In this particular credenza video I enjoy how the wallhanging is not only beautiful, but so handy for the words. 😀

  49. I love this post. You dissect and solve a dilemma for many people dealing with a large sofa. The credenza is the perfect partner. The video was fun.

  50. I’d love to see a guide to styling a gigantic coffee table. I just re-styled the one in my parents’ house but I’d love to see some other ideas. It’s one of those really, really huge square ones…I find it much harder to style than a typical rectangular coffee table!

  51. LOVE your blog and use it all the time for design tips and tricks! I have a questions I would LOVE for you to help me with! I’m trying to style a gallery wall of our wedding photos over the credenza in our master bedroom. We have a lamp sitting on a stack of books that we want to keep. Do I style/hang the gallery frame collection around the lamp or do I move the lamp/books, style the collection of frames according to the wall, and then put the lamp back (even tho it would be in front of a frame)? I’m stumped!

  52. Please……….!! Help styling entertainment units next ??

  53. This post is probably where I got the most useful information for my research. Thanks for share ..

  54. This is appreciable and wonderful post that you have provided for us.Great site and a great topic as well i really get amazed to read this.

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  57. I would love to see how to style bathroom shelves. I have a set of floating shelves in the bathroom but I can’t quite figure out what to put on there without seeming/feeling unnecessary.


  59. I would love a post about how to style your dresser using things you (sometimes) have to keep on your dresser….like jewelry, etc. without it looking too cluttered.

  60. always loved your style and fashion love you very much

  61. christmas wishes thanks for sharing.

  62. Emily,
    This is awesome and I’m in love with that sexy white lamp! Where can I find it?

  63. Please, please, please source the lamp. I’m in love! Thanks!

  64. I agree- our sectional isn’t leather but it’s huge and gray and needs some quotes life.

  65. I agree- our sectional isn’t leather but it’s huge and gray memes and needs some life.

  66. Hey there! I have a tv above my credenza, so height isn’t really an option, suggestions?

  67. always loved your style and fashion love
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  68. always loved your style and fashion love you very much

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  69. I second this! Our sectional isn’t leather but I do struggle with how to arrange pillows and a throw. For instance, I’d love to do 2 long bolster style pillows but I’m not sure it looks all that great on a sectional with a chaise. Anyway, sectional styling would be a great topic!

  70. Ur articles are amazing and thank you that u r posting such a useful articles

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