Ah, the tablescape. There's a fine line between a perfect, David Hicks composition and a pile of junky clutter. If you've never been much of an arranger/merchandiser, here is where to start.
Take a good look at your clean surface and give it a good dusting.
Think about scale and height and what you use the table for. Will you need room for a drink? Will it require a coaster? Do you need the light from a table lamp
What do you tend to do in this space? Do you need some of it to remain clear for different activities? What will you need to store there/What needs to be close at hand? Is there a blank and boring wall behind it, or something that could use some height?
A lot of tablescape arrangement is simple trial and error. Your eye will know when you don't like the composition of your items. Keep moving stuff around.
Consider fresh flowers. Choose a vase
that suits your flowers and your space. I find that limiting the arrangement to just one species of flowers or branches is more versatile than a fancy arrangement (those are best as centerpieces).
Here's a quick cheat sheet for items that look great on different surfaces.
Mantles: Vase collections, candlesticks, perhaps a bust or sculptures. This is also a great place to prop pictures in different arrangements.
Beside Table: Start with a reading lamp. A smile pile of books you like that are also pretty with a small tray on top for jewelry or glasses that you tend to take off bed after you're already tucked in. A cute little clock (I like the kate spade enamel small clocks
and the L.L. Bean Big Ben travel clock, to name a few cuties). Yup, you're done - it was that easy. The icing on the cake is a sweet blossom in a small vase.
: Obviously, you don't want to block your view of your guests or your television. A few coffee table books is always nice, and I like to keep a funky box or oversized retro ashtray to hold all of the pesky remotes.
Console Table: Again, candles are great on these, as well as busts, coral, plants, lamps, perhaps a tea service
. Because these tend to be longer, some semblance of symmetry is great on a long console.
: Personally, I like to keep my desk as clear as possible, so I tend to let my little tablescapes work in one little area. Right now it's simply a ceramic lamp, a fun John Derian paperweight, a small Snow and Graham standing calender, and a small handprinted paper journal from Venice. It's all about the objects you'll enjoy seeing when you pull up to your desk - it might be a matchbox car or a picture of your dog.
The more you experiment, the better you'll get at making these little arrangements. Here's how some people are doing it well.