Living With Collections

Creative Ways for Displaying Cherished Items With Style

We are, by nature, collectors; it’s something that dates back to our earliest existence as hunters and gatherers. We’ve always delighted in discovery, in finding something new and wonderful, and the hunt can take us to wonderful places—antique shows, county fairs, even far-away spots around the world.

Collections are such wonderful reflections of who we are and what is important to us that they absolutely deserve to be a part of where we live. They should be shown off, not stuffed away in boxes or stowed in closets.

Including a collection in home décor can sometimes be a little tricky, which I think is why some collectors choose not to do it. There can be good reasons to keep things under wraps if items are very rare, very old, or very fragile. I once visited a private home in which a room that contained a collection of very rare antiques—furniture, art, books, and so on—was roped off so people could only see, not touch. And this was not during a house tour or a show home fundraiser; it was how this individual lived! At the time it seemed pretty extreme but, in hindsight, the owner was clearly proud of what he had and wanted to share it in some way with others. If you were really lucky and got to know him well, he’d drop the rope and allow you to enter, but only if he escorted you. This man was cautious!

Fortunately, most of us don’t collect at this level. Even if we do have some valuable things, the challenge is typically more about figuring how best to display what we cherish. Whether it’s a couple of pieces or many, collections can be, as said, challenging to work with. If you just have a few pieces, or lots of tiny ones, it can be hard to direct the attention they deserve to them. If you have many pieces, and especially larger ones, they can be overwhelming.

Rolling-Pin-Collection-by-SizeThe good news is that the options for displaying collections are vast. Grouping items in cabinets designed for this purpose is an approach that many collectors take, and it’s one that can work very well in almost any home. Display cabinets often come equipped with glass shelves and lights, but you can turn almost any cabinet into a display piece by replacing wood shelves with glass and wiring in some inexpensive low-voltage lights. Display cases also don’t have to be tall. I recently saw a beautiful collection of antique serving platters in a display case built into the wainscoting surrounding a dining room. It was a perfect example of how a collection can be well displayed and also become an integral part of a room’s décor.

A fun strategy for displaying collections is to turn them into wall art. This can be as simple as mounting them directly on the wall, which is a great approach if you have many items of a similar size and shape, maybe dishes or mirrors. Smaller items, and items of dissimilar shapes and sizes, can look great grouped on floating shelves or in shadow boxes. I’ve even seen wine crates used for this purpose.

collection of blue glass bottles
The key to making this approach work—and really when it comes to displaying collections in general—is careful curation. Elements such as color, shape, and size are what will bring your display together, and
they’re what you’ll want to consider as you determine both your overall display approach as well as how you actually group your items. It might take a little time to get things right—trial and error is definitely a part of the process!—but when you do you’ll have a fantastic piece of art that also shows off your prized pieces.
If you have a collection (or collections) tucked away somewhere, bring it out! Why deny yourself—and others—the pleasure of seeing the things you’ve cared enough to acquire? If you’re stuck on how to display your collection, contact me. I guarantee you that together we can come up with a great approach that will put your cherished pieces in their best light.