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Clutter-free collections

Display your treasures the right way to highlight any space

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Whether it’s a coin collection passed down from a grandparent, a complete run of Silver Age Spider-Man comics, or touristy shot glasses accumulated over 20 years of vacations, most of us have a collection. The trick is displaying it so it looks like a group of treasured objects and not clutter.

Interior designer Lyn Van Tassel of LVT Design and gallery manager Elizabeth Cook of Handworks Gallery in Saint John, N.B. have advice that can help.

Close quarters

“A lot of times what I see as successful is something that’s contained, not a piece here and there,” she says. “They’re all in one spot and they almost look like a work of art.”

And it’s easy to put together a grouping; you just need some structure to pull it together. Cook has a few different ideas on how to make this work.

If you have empty wall space to fill, floating shelves are great for showing off pottery, vases or single pieces. She adds, “Don’t do this if you have cats.”

Curio cabinets, small, shallow cabinets featuring a lot of small compartments, offer another way to bring together small pieces.

“[A curio cabinet is] almost like an apothecary’s chest, but for displaying knick knacks, little curiosities that people have collected,” says Cook. “That shell from that beach where you went on your honeymoon, or a tiny little salt shaker, or a Red Rose Tea figurine.”

Coffee tables and end tables are common display areas, but they’re also clutter magnets. If you go this route, keep them clear of paperwork, loose change, and other random items. Then, give your groupings definition by placing them on a simple serving tray or in a shallow, handcrafted bowl.

“A mirrored metal tray can add a little bit of color, and can actually make the area seem a little bit larger,” says Cook. “It will also help play the colors against each other.”

Odds and ends

When it comes to choosing how many objects to display in a grouping, Cook suggests starting with a minimum of three.

“Everything is better in odd numbers,” she says. “It’s just human nature. Even though we want symmetry, we also need an asymmetrical balance, usually in threes or fives.”

When grouping more than five pieces together, vary sizes. Van Tassel says that figuring out how various heights should be arranged is fairly intuitive, as long as there’s a good balance of positive and negative space.

“The whole key is to not crowd them and not have them look like clutter,” says Van Tassel. “It’s like a painting, you have to have your focal spot.”

Colour theory

Prefer to spread your collections around the room? Cook says it can be done, as long as the colours tie everything together.

“I’ve done a lot of art installations in a lot of different homes and there’s something to be said about working with a home that’s extremely eclectic, where they’re world travellers and everything is relevant,” says Cook. “When you have that many colours everything goes.”

For a more minimalistic, streamlined approach, limit your display to three or four colours. “Usually it’s one focused colour, an accent colour, a neutral, and either a metal or a wood, whatever your hardware is,” says Cook. “Always stick with that rule.”

For the more daring collectors among us: “I like the idea of picking a theme and mixing a couple of collections,” she says. “Not being so rigid with what you’re putting up. Maybe you have a similar colour theme but you mix your paintings with your pottery.”

Make it yours

If you’re going to display a collection in your home, make sure it means something to you. Here are Cook and Van Tassel’s tips on curating a meaningful collection.

  • Accept that tastes change. If you fall out of love with a collection or an object, pass it on to a friend or family member who will really love it.
  • If your collection outgrows the room, but you can’t cut back, group parts of the collection in other rooms. Find a different theme for each grouping to add variety.
  • Refine your collection by trading items with your friends. This works particularly well for people who have joined monthly art or collectible subscription programs.
  • Your entire collection doesn’t have to be out all the time. Rotating items in and out of storage reduces clutter, and gives you a chance to savour the items on display.
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