Beginner's guide to collecting - a masterclass on how to display your collectables

04 September 2009
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Give some thought to how your collections are displayed within the home for the greatest impact. ...
Beginner's guide to collecting - a masterclass on how to display your collectables Images

Whenever anyone begins to collect something, I doubt they envision the impact it will have on their lives and their space. Sometimes, when I look at all I have amassed I wish I had collected thimbles!

The more things we acquire, the less we seem to consider how they will look when grouped, yet careful and imaginative display can take even the most mundane items to another level.

Antique furniture for antique items

In some cases the items we collect have a distinct historical style and this is where suitable period display furniture is a wise buy.

If there is the space for a separate cabinet, it will put all your items into context, provides an appropriate backdrop and acts as a way of containing your collection. For example, a 1930s display cabinet is the perfect way to house pieces from that period and harmonise your collection.

It is important to consider display in your collecting budget. While it is tempting to avoid buying a cabinet in favour of acquiring just one more piece, the impact it will have on your collection should not be underestimated.

These cabinets are collectable in their own right but if you have neither the funds nor space to house one, don’t be put off. There is no reason why your collectables should be restricted to a cabinet or any period display. In fact, there are numerous ways to get your pieces to look their best and most interesting – and it need not cost a fortune.

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Display ideas for a contemporary home

how to display your collectablesOur high streets may have lost a number of large names over the last year, but many independent retailers are fighting back by stocking niche, interesting articles that are often overlooked by bigger stores.

These retailers are then choosing effective and unique ways to display their goods in order to set them apart from the corporate displays of larger chain stores. In many cases these shops are a goldmine of visual information that we can interpret within our own homes.

Think about it: retailers spend ages experimenting with ways to display unusual items in order to entice us shoppers. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to take your inspiration from their clever ideas.

Lulu Allman is one such example of an independent retailer who is using her shop as a big interior design playroom in which she consciously avoids many traditional display rules. For instance, in her shop reproduction dial telephones sit in front of old kitchen weighing scales and enamel pots, the overall display cohesive because of shared colours or finishes.

Her methods of display include halogen-lit glass cabinets, expensive shelving, minimal display and so on.

“It’s surprising how many customers try some of my display ideas in their own home,” admits Lulu. Lulu, formerly a florist, developed her eclectic taste over time as she began to use old chintz jugs and quirky pots for her floral displays.

This experimentation evolved into a new shop that combines her love of familiar objects and quirky display. Items are balanced and arranged in such a way that her shop is more like a home.

Despite the eclectic, cluttered look, everything is displayed with considerable thought.

She explains: “I love to rummage and I love antique shops. I believe that things need to be seen, and in a funny way sometimes grouping lots of the same items together creates more impact than if they were displayed in isolation.”

Get colour co-ordinated

The colour wheel is an essential tool in every interior designer’s kit. It is key to creating balance and harmony and in revealing the colours that clash. The wheel is a bit like a cake with each slice coloured differently to represent the colours of the rainbow.

Each slice has an opposite on the wheel and these are known as complementary colours, whereas neighbouring slices of colour do not harmonise. It is a very simplified guide to the use of colour but can help when arranging items – particularly those that are bold and bright. 

Clever ideas for framing collectables

Picture framing is another way to bring hard-to-display items to life. A piece of artwork related to your curios will add cohesion to the collection and give scope to expand it on to wall space.

Exhibition posters, movie posters and old advertisements can set off a collection of much smaller items.

If there is no printed matter suitable to frame, what about framing a prized item instead? Box frames are not nearly as expensive as they once were and sometimes kits or part made frames are available to buy.

Wall plates, which have fallen out of fashion, face masks or rare textiles are all suited to this type of box framing.

This method offers additional security for your item, as well as making wall mounting much easier. Clever mounts and the huge choice of picture frames available allow pieces to reflect your interior colour scheme and style, as well as focusing attention on to the object in the frame.

period cabinet for your collecvtablesTop Display Tips

  • Peg racks are an easy and affordable way to showcase your difficult-to-display items such as hats, bags and other clothing which might normally be relegated to a wardrobe.
  • Think impact: don’t be afraid to group lots of the same items for a bold effect.
  • Consider taking your collectables out of cupboards and display cabinets and look at other surfaces that will make them look less like a museum exhibit.
  • Look out for old leather cases, boxes and tins to store small items of jewellery. These can be bought cheaply and make for an imaginative mini display.
  • Bring unfashionable items such as tiered cake stands to life with artificial cup cakes or bon-bon – they can be bought as decorative candles and look great lit or unlit.
  • Group items that share similar colours and themes.
  • Brighten up period display cabinets with clever lighting. Lighting technology has now enabled sympathetic lighting that won’t damage your cabinet. Battery operated LED lights are incredibly effective.
  • If you want to display one prized piece for impact, look for a plinth, column or stand to give the item a sense of grandeur.
  • Many vases, jugs and other domestic wares were intended to hold flowers, although collectors may not want the risk of water damage. Instead breathe life into old pots with dried or synthetic blooms. Avoid the dust gathering type of the mid-1980s, and choose instead sophisticated, sculptural, oversized flower heads and leaves.
  • Use chairs. An old chair is the perfect backdrop for dolls, bags, bears and old textiles. 
  • Rotate your collection. If your collection has outgrown your space, think about boxing part of it and displaying it in sections throughout the year.