I turned out to be a collector. I didn’t plan on it, but the proof is everywhere. Candlesticks, books, painted plates, glass plates, mirrors, silver butter dishes, fanciful pickle forks and an oddity resembling a long handled fork crossed with a spoon with a hole where the bowl should be, surround me. Glass paperweights mingle with candlesticks, and dangly crystal bits hang in the windows turning shards of light into dancing rainbows. Like magpies and courting crows, I am delighted by bright shiny objects. Some were intentional, like the many books I have read and loved. Many were accidents. I am a victim of beauty that followed me home.
Garage sales have always been a source of exciting finds. My first candlesticks appeared at one. They are an elegant, art deco design in fine, clear glass, and remain a favorite to this day. I now have mercury glass candlesticks, tall iron candelabras, slender silver candlesticks and small sparkly tea light holders. There are rusty, mixed metal and glass mash-ups, and dozens of beautiful glass candleholders in many colors. I love them all.
I also seem to have a certain passion for urns. Looking at my accumulated treasure, I find shapely urns of all sizes and materials. There are glass urns and metal urns, wire and ceramic ones. I did not intend to amass a collection. I was simply drawn to the shape again and again until there they all were, jostling for shelf space. Some of those urns have collections of feathers inside or long wiggly branches, dried hydrangeas, jeweled fruit, or simply sparkling glass “stones” designed for flower arranging. One collection is nested inside another. I am not a minimalist.
It is unlikely I will divest myself of my collections any time soon. In fact, a plate followed me home just the other day. And while I have become more selective, I have not lost pleasure in these material treasures. What has changed is my determination to display all these things, and to do it beautifully, rather than squirreling things away. Many pieces have been waiting patiently on shelves in my basement, a place my friend and neighbor dubbed “the glittering cave of wonders”. Needless to say I have enjoyed digging through storage spaces rediscovering forgotten treasure all over again. The question remains: how do I meet my goal of beautifully displaying and enjoying my collections?
Grouping: I have found that grouping my items gives them greater presence. This kind of grouping does not feel as cluttered as a scattering throughout the room.
Grouping allows you to create relationships between different sizes and shapes. Suddenly the collection becomes a single bold statement greater than the sum of its parts.
Consistency: The rule of consistency is a natural for collections. Choose pieces for grouping based on a common feature to create coherence. This commonality can be color, shape, style, texture or even common purpose of the objects. I have a small collection of funky pitchers and vases from the twenties and thirties. Grouped on the mantelpiece the various shapes, sizes and colors are brought together both by the recognizable design style of their era and their common purpose as containers. They make a cheerful and light-hearted tableau. Likewise, grouping items of a single color creates impact and calls attention to objects that might not be noticed without a supporting cast. Consistency reinforces the grouping as a whole and allows it to be seen.
Contrast: Flip consistency on its ear. Juxtapose objects that are opposites in shape, color or texture - smooth with rough, light with dark, organic with inorganic, large with small. For example: point up the textural, organic quality of antlers by arranging them with smooth shiny objects such as glass paperweights and a silver bowl. Point out the beautiful color and shape of a yellow vase by filling it with blue flowers. Contrast showcases the unique quality of objects by emphasizing their differences. Try displaying items in surprising ways and configurations. Bring shells up by displaying them in a tall glass cylinder vase. Mount typewriters on the wall and globes on the ceiling!
Framing: Hang or lean an empty frame or a framed mirror behind your collection. This strategy literally demands attention by “framing” the collection creating drama and depth. In my dining room, silver and glass candlesticks unified by white candles mass together in front of a silver framed mirror. The sparkle of candlesticks with the flickering warmth of candlelight multiplied in the mirror is magical. Less literal frames can work too. A mantle, entry table, box, shelf or window can bring focus to your collection.Years ago glass shelving fitted into window frames brought light through my aunt’s collection of colored glass “knick-knacks”…still a charming idea. Or, think about setting the stage for your special collection on a strikingly painted accent wall.
Hanging: Consider having special collections professionally framed or mounted for hanging. I have seen this done beautifully with items as diverse as christening gowns, silver spoons, fishing flies and antique Chinese screen panels. This approach allows you to enjoy the artifact or collection more fully, and professional framing/mounting protects and preserves your collectables.
Standing Alone: Some objects are too large, too important or too unusual for grouping. These beauties should be given space to shine. Consider placing such objects on lifts or pedestals to emphasize their singularity.
If you don’t want your home frozen in time, change collections and arrangements occasionally. I like to change table-scapes and mantle displays using colors and textures that echo the season. Shells, feathers and brightly colored flower vases come out in summer. Pinecones, russet candles and amber glass paperweights greet the fall. Put a few things in storage, and bring other things out to enjoy in new, surprising combinations. You might also really enjoy shopping in your own storage cupboard. It can feel as satisfying as scoring a new find at a garage or estate sale!