The Power of Suggestion: How to Use Silhouettes In Your Home

Silhouettes In Home Decor

Sometimes it’s best to leave a little to the imagination. Silhouettes are a wonderful way to create an image using forms without any shading or details. It is the designer’s version of using a gesture to communicate. It’s fascinating the simplest shapes can relay so much information. Our eye-to-brain communication will quickly fill in the details for us based solely on the shape we see.


Silhouettes are an old fashioned form of portraiture that was popular from around 1790 until 1840 when cameras were invented. They are named after Etienne de Silhouette, the French Finance Minister, because he was fond of making these images himself. The style, however, dates much further back and seems to have been popular during the period between the 7th to 5th centuries BC according to decorative arts found from this period. Silhouette portraits have had resurgences of popularity many times over the past 200 years, but currently it seems the style is enjoying a comeback in many more forms than before.


Taking a large share in the modern design world, this style can be found on all sorts of furnishings and in all mediums. From fabrics, to furniture, to phone covers and in materials such as wood, silk, and metal, there are no constraints on this art form. Originating as a more old fashioned style it is interesting to see it now used in more modern designs. Even traditional shapes like a cuckoo clock or an antique English bookcase take on a modern feel when designed in silhouette form.

Laser cutters appear to have been created for this genre. With its clean lines and ability to be used on such a wide variety of materials, these machines are allowing the silhouette to spread across all industries and styles.

Originally silhouettes were created by cutting a dark medium and placing it on a white space to create an image, or by drawing an outline and then filling it in. Now it is also popular to use the white space for the shape juxtaposed on a colored background. In the design fabric industry, for example, this allows the creator to offer many different colors in the background with white always being used for the shape of the portrayed object.


Maple’s Ornate Cathedral Silhouette Metal Table Clock, $35.99

ArtoriDesign Metal Floating Book Shelf, Superhero Silhouette, $26.50

LamourD Damask Gatefold Laser Cut piece only Invite by Paper Orchid, Invitation, Program or Menu, pack of 25, $50.95

Crow Natural Linen Tablecloth – 66″ X 144”, $290

Design Milk Munkii Vintage Bookshelf

A Traditional Silhouette Portrait of the Late 18th Century

Madeleine Donovan room design using Schumacher Shantung Siloutte Print Fabric in Mineral

Let the power of suggestion inspire you.

XO, Madeline

Madeleine is an Interior Designer and founder of Madeleine Donovan Interiors. Visit and on Facebook @mdichicago.

You may also like more of Madeleine’s home design ideas including All Things Shiny & Bright: Glorious Gilded Accents For Your Home and How To Brighten Up Your Home For Spring In A Snap!

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