Oh, the sideboard. A must-have in any good dining room, but often neglected when it comes to dressing a space. Learning how to decorate a sideboard will take this item to stylish new heights.
The role of a sideboard has changed over recent decades, especially as most households no longer keep a ‘best’ set of tableware and cutlery, traditionally stored in one. Today, they stash our boards games and cookbooks, act as mini bar areas and serve as storage for our day-to-day dining room essentials. Yet your sideboard decor ideas can say as much about you and your home’s look as the style of the sideboard itself.
‘We’re seeing a move away from traditional dressers and sideboards that would have displayed your finest china to more functional pieces,’ says Emma-Louise Marston, Store Leader, Neptune. ‘Dressers with open shelves above and closed storage below are brilliant as you can hide the things you don’t want on show yet display some of your more personal pieces on the top part.’
‘I always think if something is important to you, then put it on display,’ says designer and TV personality Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely if all the tableware you were storing was on display? Why not have an open or glass-fronted cabinet in which you can see it?’
View being able to decorate a sideboard as a great styling opportunity, a chance to portray you. That could be through a love of colour, texture, art… or even organisation, with everyday tableware piled up ready to use.
How to decorate a sideboard
A sideboard is a big piece of furniture in a dining room and needs a big idea. It’s a great place to try something new, decorating your sideboard in a way that will impress guests (and they never need know what’s stored behind its closed doors)
1. Match your tableware
If you’re short of table room when entertaining, then style up your sideboard as a mini bar, with a tray of drinks ready for your guests – it’s a great small dining room idea. You can still have space to be creative with your styling – choose a grouping of three vases or bowls that can be positioned to one side, popping some flowers in one.
Prop up a tray – it will look decorative until needed and give a lovely shape to your sideboard. Choose a finish that echoes something else in the room – here the hammered metal silver pendant is picked up with the large round tray.
2. Go large with a lamp
Make a statement with an oversized lamp to decorate a sideboard. To pull this off, the lamp needs to be taller than the height of the sideboard; it’s about creating wow, and anything shorter won’t have the same effect. Either opt for a shapely style or have a patterned shade - both will be overwhelming. We love the large Montreal, £55, Dunelm. Keep other dining room lighting ideas simple to avoid competing with your lamp.
Even when going large, you can still follow that stylists’ rule of arranging in threes. Try a vase half the height of your lamp with a low bowl or plate.
3. Create a botanical moment
Sideboards are great spaces to house a plant collection – whether on top of your sideboard, on the floor surrounding it, or even with framed botanical illustrations hung on the wall above (a great dining room wall décor idea). Start to decorate a sideboard with two large plants placed at either end of your sideboard, then arrange smaller pieces working down in scale to form a visual ‘V’ at its centre.
Ferns, monstera leaves and palms provide a lush green hit when placed against a dark grey dining room. If you aren’t green-fingered, then try succulents that can survive with less watering, or plant up a terrarium. Add a few metallic touches to your sideboard to help bounce the light around – gold-effect vases, bowls or votives are ideal.
4. Create a colourful vignette
Use the top of a tall sideboard to style a colour pop moment. Start with a piece of wall art that has your accent colours in – like this brick red and ochre yellow, then team with a vase slightly shorter than the height of the frame and a planter, both in yellow-gold colours. Finally add in something natural, like a plant.
Make sure there are pops of these colours used around your dining room. The red of the print appears in the mix of chairs, while the yellow of the vase is evident in the tones of the wood used for furniture.
5. Style the wall above
Streamline your sideboard of frames and art and use the wall above your dining room sideboard to create a picture gallery for an easy dining room wall décor idea. Try building a shape, like a right-angle triangle, including a vase on your sideboard as part of the visual effect. Pick out the finish of your sideboard decor ideas by your choice of frame – here white mounts and backgrounds to the prints mirror the white sideboard.
Try a wall-hung sideboard to enhance the wall display – this will help make your arrangement feel one unit.
6. Play with pattern
Arrange tableware, serveware and glassware behind a glazed section of your sideboard, with the clutter hidden in the closed storage beneath. When styling shelves, try and repeat colour, pattern and texture from shelf to shelf, leading the eye: look at how the same plates are used in the second and top shelves, stood up to allow the pattern to be seen.
When using a large piece of furniture – like a glazed dresser – think about what’s on the neighbouring walls. Here decorative baskets have been used to soften the dresser’s hard edges, playing with shape.
7. Keep it country with plates
A vintage-style painted sideboard or dresser looks pretty with plates on display – often there’s a narrow ledge with grooves in to allow you to stand them up securely. To decorate a sideboard like this use a mix of pattern scale, teaming ditsy prints with more blowsy designed plates. Add in a few glass pieces where the plates overlap, making your display layered.
Look out for small details to finish off your dining room sideboard display. A floral postcard, a posy of wildflowers or even old photographs can be propped up in front of crockery, adding a touch of ‘you’.
8. Go for a stylish line up
Take inspiration from a chic hotel or designer showhome and line up pieces on a contemporary sideboard for a smart dining room décor idea, reflecting the clean lines of the furniture and architecture. Start with a pair of objects similar in height – like a vase of flowers and a table lamp (you could go for a matching pair if you liked). Then add a pile of books with a decorative bowl on top (the books provide height) and a pile of tableware.
When hanging pictures above a sideboard, try and create a visual layer by allowing the vase or table lamp below to overlap the frames, making a much more interesting display.
9. Put tableware on show
A cubed sideboard makes a great display, especially when filled with simple tableware, creating a rustic dining room idea. Pile up plates, stack bowls and use baskets and crates to keep smaller essentials in order. Choose to decorate a sideboard that’s slightly higher than your dining table, allowing pieces to be seen and appreciated. Don’t forget the top – use to cluster different shapes, like a vase, bowl and cakestand.
Continue the simple look with a trio of framed landscape prints hung above, creating a greater sense of height to the sideboard.
10. Use a console for serving
A small sideboard can double as a serving table as a small dining room idea. Protect the surface with a linen runner, then pile up essentials for breakfast or dinner, such as a stack of glasses, clean plates and napkins. Add a decorative piece for height, like a lantern or vase of flowers.
Paint a wooden console a dark grey for a rustic dining room idea, using the same shade on your dining chairs.
What can I put on top of my sideboard?
Sideboards traditionally displayed family photographs and a bowl of fruit, and while we might have swapped standing photo frames for gallery walls, the idea of something personal is still inspirational. To decorate a sideboard, find a hero bowl that you love, a vase that you’ll fill with seasonal flowers once a week, or a collection of vintage finds that you enjoy searching charity and antique shops for.
Try bringing in different textures, with smooth glazed ceramics with wicker or rattan, glass lamp bases with linen shades, or a highlight of a metallic tray or vase. Follow that stylist’s rule of arranging in odd numbers – it’s much more visually pleasing. And don’t forget something fresh, like flowers, fruit or a plant, for an easy way to boost an accent colour.
‘I love a houseplant,’ says Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, ‘and there’s been a huge explosion recently. They look amazing with a light behind them, casting wonderful shadows on the wall and up the ceiling.’
What do I put on the wall above my sideboard?
Don’t forget to decorate a sideboard but also the wall above your sideboard; you can use it to add more shape to your sideboard display. Hang a set of prints, try a family gallery of favourite photographs, go large with a mural or go for a mirror to reflect light and space. Just as decorating the wall behind your sofa or decorating above the bed can really finish a room, don’t think that once you’ve styled your sideboard, your job is done. Paying attention to the wall above will really make your sideboard the star of your dining room décor.
Even if you opt for a dresser, you can still add texture and soften its lines by adding baskets or large pieces of tableware above.
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Jennifer Morgan is an award-winning editor, writer and stylist, with over 25 years’ experience writing, styling and editing home interest magazines. Jennifer was the deputy editor of Ideal Home from 2008-2010, before launching Ideal Home’s sister title, Style at Home in 2010. Jennifer went on to launch several craft magazines and websites, before going freelance in 2016, with a client list that includes John Lewis, Dunlem and Nordic House. Today, she writes for Ideal Home, Real Homes, Waitrose, Woman & Home, Sainsbury’s Magazine and Homes & Gardens. But it was during lockdown that Jennifer realised her dream of publishing her own magazine – Simply Scandi.
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