ABOVE: American Arts & Crafts-period pieces are displayed on an English faux-bamboo desk of the 1880s.All photos by Keith Scott Morton
Even without a decorator, you can define your style and personalize your home using collections. Here are some ideas for displaying them in context.
You should run more stories about collecting, say some friendly critics of Arts & Crafts Homes magazine; but the editor (that’s me) tends to shy away from the suggestion. The period-inspired interior is a big idea, at its best bold and comfortable. But collections are fussy and small—aren’t they? A schism divides the collector from the decorator. Collecting is about objects, about elevating the specific. Interior design is, instead, about context.
“Decorators tend to see objects in the context of a room, while the eyes of a collector always fall on a single object,” wrote Thatcher Freund in an essay that appeared in the May 2000 issue of Old-House Interiors, our sister publication. “Encountering a tasteless room full of beautiful objects—no less than encountering the tasteful room full of ordinary things—helps one appreciate people who care about both,” suggests Freund.
It is possible to care about both; people who do make up the majority of our readers. A collection can define a style even as it surrounds you with the object or material you most enjoy. Collections can be organized in quite different ways for maximum impact—even bold impact.
If collecting antiques can lead to museumlike rooms, collecting so-called vintage wares is liberating. Plainer, more utilitarian, or more recent collections are less expensive and seem to encourage personal style. It’s easier to mix and match, or juxtapose apparently diverse elements, when you’re dealing with less precious collections. You even may use the objects, rather than simply displaying them.
Decorating with collections does not have to be all of a piece. It can be a “collection” by virtue of color, texture, material, size, or provenance. Then again, a collection becomes not just more substantial but also meaningful by context. A group of vases is beautiful. But, arranged on a desk of similar age near curtains of the same period, the vases become something greater than objects—a contextual approach especially appreciated by those of us with period houses.
Collections (whether overflowing in numbers, or just three of something; priceless, cheap, or mixed) will personalize your home. Collections must be organized, albeit in varied ways, for maximum impact. And you can define an interior style with the objects you enjoy.
Some hints in this post come from the book The Collector’s Eye by Christine Churchill, a stylist, and her photographer husband, Keith Scott Morton. Neither curatorial nor overly artsy, it’s a pretty book about a way of seeing rooms. Interiors shown tend to fall into these broad categories: updated country, Arts & Crafts, and Mid-century Modern. The fun of the book is in the photos, which show unique ways of displaying objects. Kooky but cool ideas abound. Published by Norton in 2002, it’s out of print but affordable and easy to find through amazon.com.