Last updated: August 24. 2013 8:57PM - 41 Views

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By Stacy Downs

McClatchy Newspapers


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Collections are a blessing.

Photographs, books, hula girl figurines: They speak to our memories and passions like nothing else in the home. They make us different and special.

But collections also can be a curse. Once friends and family figure out what you like, watch out. You could have a menagerie of monkey statues to wrangle.

“People accumulate without really knowing what they’re going to do with it or where to put it,” says Kevin Sharkey, executive editorial director of decorating for Martha Stewart Living.

So, unfortunately, because we don’t know what to do with our collections, they end up packed away in cardboard boxes. Sure, the clutter of a haphazardly displayed collection is gone. But then the personalities in our homes vanish.

This year, I’m corralling my collections. Displaying collections might seem like an easy DIY project, but it’s hard because it involves lots of self-editing and discipline. The result is a meaningful display that expresses who you are. And that’s infinitely satisfying.


Books look good with other books. Photographs go best with other photographs. That sounds easy, but we tend to scatter things willy-nilly throughout the home.


Sell or donate collections and pieces of a collection you don’t like. Hallmark photostylist Andy Newcom, who has collected portraits of businessmen, blue milk glass and beyond (and we’re just on the B’s), sold his collections before moving into a smaller home in Fairway, Kan. Those that remain have taken on a starring role in his home.

“I have a passion for both new and old things,” Newcom says. “Mixing them creates an interesting look.”

English ironstone pitchers and serving pieces are the focal point in the kitchen. His collection of clear glass bottles and containers decorates the mantel in the living room.


The two most popular collections are personal photographs and books. For black-and-white pictures, Sharkey suggests creating a gallery wall, painting it a vivid color so the photos really pop.

Sharkey also groups his books by color. Many designers adopt the Roy G. Biv method of displaying books by the colors in the rainbow.

I collect books, but I categorize them by subject matter in alphabetical order. With my brother’s help, I’m corralling that collection into a more stylish and functional display. He has cut down existing bookshelves to desk height, and we’re rebuilding them to fit every angle in the library/home office. The result will be less wall clutter and the illusion of more space.


Many modern-day collectors like to display items on open shelves rather than behind glass-front china cabinets. The look is less dish museum, more interactive.

“It shows that anything you have can be touched by anybody,” says Tim Butt, interior designer and owner of Black Bamboo, a home furnishings store in the Crossroads Arts District. “And it’s easier to change items out for a fresher look.”



The kitchen of Andy Newcom’s Fairway home is white, and so is his collection of English ironstone, creating a calming but striking monochromatic look. The open shelving makes it easy to use the pieces.


It’s easy to create your own dramatic backlit display with these framed illuminated shadowboxes that hang horizontally or vertically. Several of the boxes can be grouped together. Some ideas for different areas of the house:

• Art glass in the living room or dining room.

• Perfume bottles in a powder room.

• Chunky beaded jewelry in the bedroom or dressing room.

• Drinking glasses in the kitchen.

• Transparent photography in the family room.

Illuminated shadowboxes are made of translucent acrylic and ebony-stained wood lit with a small fluorescent bulb. Cords can be hidden. Dimensions as shown are 30 inches long, 12 inches deep, 11 inches high, $225 each, Black Bamboo



Martha Stewart Living spotlights a collectible each month and shows ways to display it, www.marthastewart.com

Pottery Barn sells shadowbox trays and glass lamps that can be filled with collections, catalog and online only, 888-779-5176, www.potterybarn.com

West Elm sells picture ledges and block shelves for streamlined displays, 913-696-1690, www.westelm.com

Make a shadow box from an existing picture frame. Step-by-step instructions and photos are from Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts (Potter Craft, $35)



This modular display gallery can unite the disparate collections of one person or stylishly merge the collections of two. How? Each box acts as its own unit. Similar modular units can easily be built from scratch.


When you have different shapes and sizes of an item, a tray acts as a container to organize the pieces into one statement. These ceramics made in Kansas City and elsewhere share a similar color palette. The corralled collection creates a clean look and packs in more visual impact than if the individual pieces were “marched” down a mantel or shelf.


You can make a shadowbox table by finding a garden urn you like and having a piece of glass cut to go on top of it. Glass display accents are great for holding vacation mementos (such as seashells, matchbooks or vintage postcards), toys and found objects from the backyard.

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