4 Tips for Creating Artful Displays with Collections

I didn’t start out as a collector. It just sort of took me over, that irrepressible desire to add to the little treasures that capture my heart and lend personality to my home decor. It starts innocently enough. You see something that catches your eye, like an antique wooden box or a piece of silver. You love it so much in your home, that before you know it, you’re scouting for another. Pretty soon your friends and family feed the fire by giving you additional pieces for your collection, making them all the more precious because they are gifts of love. A collection is born.

Decorating with your collections is a wonderful way to weave your personality into your décor and make your home a truly unique expression of your life and interests. The secret to doing it well is to use the pieces of your collection in artful displays. Here are four tips I follow:  

Tip 1: There Is Strength in Numbers

One of my favorite ways to display collections is in, well, collections! It’s intriguing to study the individual pieces of a grouping, whether it’s small flower vases or antique egg cups, seeing how they are different and how they are similar. It’s a great way to show the breadth of your collections. Try these tricks to turn a large group of items into attractive displays:

  • Set a Stage

A common mistake I see people make when they decorate with collections of small items is to line up all the little guys on a shelf, where they get lost. Or, assemble them all on a table, creating a monotonous mass that just looks cluttered. A super easy way to create a powerful display of small collectibles is to place them together on a tray in an intriguing way.

I just helped a friend decorate her home, and she wanted to display her collection of 50 or so small Buddhas. Instead of scattering them about her living room, we arranged most of them on a silver tray where they worked together to create a strong, eye-catching presentation. We echoed this look with the remaining figurines, making two smaller groupings on trays is adjoining rooms.

  •  Mass Appeal

If your collection consists of larger items, like the silver serving pieces in the photo above, pull them all together for a huge showy display that takes over a bookcase or hutch. Group together pieces that offer a variety of sizes and shapes so the scene is visually intriguing, especially if the grouping is monochromatic.

When you’re pulling together the items for your big-statement display, how much is too much and how much is not enough? Depends entirely on your taste. I like my displays richly layered so they have lots of depth. Others like them cleaner, more spare, so each piece gets more individual attention. There is no one right answer, except the one that makes you happy.

Still unsure? Here’s a rule of thumb we follow at Nell Hill’s. Pick three pieces that are different sizes or shapes, one smaller, one medium and one larger. Then nestle them together in a cluster, the smallest in the center front, with the medium and large tucked in tightly on either side, creating a triangle of sorts.


Tip 2: Take it to the Next Level

  • Rise to the Challenge

If your collection consists of small things or items that are about the same size, boost some of them up on risers. I have a collection of tiny enameled boxes that would get lost in a display. And if I massed them together, they would be boring because they are all the same size. So, I arrange them on a dessert server, like in the photo above. You could also use cake plates, plant stands, compotes and books as risers.

  •  Get Arty

Your collections are pieces of art. So, if you can, use items from your collection as artwork. I am crazy about dishes, so I often prop them in easels and insert them into displays on tables, mantels or bookcases. They make ideal backdrops for the smaller items you place in front of them.

I also really like to hang plates, platters and trays from my collections on my walls. The photo above shows the creative way a friend of mine mixed pieces from her collections into the montage of artwork in her stairwell. Another friend of mine collects old soup tureen lids. She puts plate grippers on them and hangs them on her kitchen wall. Talk about a heart-thumping display!


Tip 3: Find a Niche

  • Fill a Hole

Do you have little nooks and crannies in your home that are just begging to hold something, but you’re not sure what? Perhaps you have niches built into your walls, corbels hung in artwork displays or a secretary with little cubby holes, like I have. Accessorize them with a few collectibles. Each cubby in my secretary is like a little showcase. A friend of mine has hung a display cabinet on her living room wall and filled the shelves with pieces of her collection. I’m always stuck to it like glue, studying the individual items.

  •  Tuck them in

Create one more layer in your existing displays by adding in a piece or two from your collection. Do you love dog figurines? Put one on top of a stack of books on a side table, in a bookcase or on your mantel.


Tip 4: Put Them to Work

An optimal way to use pieces of your collections in your everyday décor is to put them to work. I am over the moon about lovely dishes, so you’ll find mix and match pieces throughout my home working for their keep. The photo above was taken in the little office off my bedroom, a private space I can decorate just for me. This precious china server is an ideal jewelry box, holding rings and things so I can grab them in a rush. In your home, use pretty cups as pencil holders, plates as soap dishes, platters to collect the day’s mail.

It’s kind of hard to see in this photo, but this is a clear glass memory box that we just got in at Nell Hill’s. I love its dual function. It adds a wonderful decorative element to your interior and an addition to a collection of boxes.  It can also be used to display family photos, books, whatever.

Next Week … I’m a fan of versatile furnishings, and upholstered ottomans and benches definitely fit that bill. I’ll show you lots of ways you can use ottomans and benches in your home.