Displaying Your Collections- Part 1

July 07, 2019

I’ve had numerous collections over the years: Barbie dolls when I was young; 

shells, Depression glassware and oak antique furniture as I matured; crystal and sets of dishes later in my life.  My husband has his collections as well: Seattle Mariner and Washington Husky memorabilia were displayed in his "man cave."  Then there’s the inevitable story of how Mom threw out his baseball card collection years ago.

So, do you need/want/long to display all of yours today? Probably not, unless it's a collection that you've had for a long time and still enjoy.

                                  Photo credit: Traditional Home Magazine

We often have so many collections that we don’t have room to display everything so that their magic is as apparent to others as it is to us.  After all, when properly displayed they can start meaningful conversations about who we really are, often recalling warm memories. They represent what makes us unique, and often help to offer glimpses of past generations and family history.  Sometimes they take over the house, though, and then we tend to ignore the clutter, or pack them all away labeling them (in our minds) as useless clutter or trinkets.  

You Likely Will Need to Purge

If you haven’t gone through your collections for a long time, or ever, it’s normal to have it feel overwhelming to start, so begin slowly and small: one box or 1 shelf.  Keep what’s truly special, and only what’s honestly exceptional to you.  Suggestion: Pay attention to the feeling you get when you look at a picture of someone you really love- it might be a spouse or partner, but it also might be your parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild or even your favorite pet at an early age.  Now, when you go through the box of artifacts you saved, see what brings up those same feelings.  Keep what really touches your heart, and dispose of the rest.  Marie Kondo (who you either love or hate) calls it “sparking joy” in her book, Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  The affect of a carefully maintained smaller collection can be much greater than a huge collection in a disorganized box of stuff or a packed display case.  If you simply can’t bear to give it to charity, gift it to another person, or throw anything out, then consider putting out collections on a rotating basis- perhaps make a change every season. If you like the result of your first staging, be sure to take pictures before you pack it up for the next rotation, so you can recreate it in a year.

Crowding makes this display less appealing.


This Waterford crystal display affords plenty of light & space.

Wall Mounted Collections

  • Framed old family legal documents, often times yellowed with age can make a wonderful montage on a wall.  You’ll want to make color copies of them if they’re something you need/want to pass down to younger family members.
    Credit: Pottery Barn
  • Do you have a meaningful handwritten note from your parent, aunt, or grandparent?  Consider framing it and putting it where you can appreciate it every day.
  • Black and white photos can be stunning, even in a more contemporary setting when framed identically in a plain frame with white matting.  These are particularly nice when placed on a dark wall.  Frames are available at craft stores, Target, and Ikea if you can't afford to have them professionally framed.
  • Photo credit: Staged4More features framed old maps!
    Credit: Pottery Barn
  • If your items are 3 dimensional but still fairly flat, then consider shadow boxes, which are available at craft stores.  Remember too, that DIYers find spray paint their friend when they love it, but doesn’t come in the right color.

  • Consider mounting collectibles directly to your wall- they make a statement in and of themselves.
Camping gear makes some hearts sing!


Scissors of all size & shape: barber or seamstress collection?


Melamine, bakelite, plastic items from the '40s & '50s

Collections on a Shelf

  • Floating shelves, available at Target, Ikea and higher-end stores is a great way to display your collection of 3 dimensional treasures.
  • Finding old wooden or metal boxes to mount to a wall is another option.  Find these at public salvage stores, antique stores, or salvage stores such as Second Use or Earthwise (in Seattle.)
  • This collection of Majolica is nicely balanced.
  • Jewelry is featured in this collection, and could make accessing jewelry easier.


  • Try grouping these by color if you have many varieties.  Shape is another option to consider.
Credit: Buzzfeed.com


Pitchers, bottles & teapots are combined with books.
  • If your collection is of very small things, such as thimbles, bottle caps, or even match books, then consider placing them all together, on a grid.  Having a few of them on many shelves can look like clutter and they can get lost from view.
  • Consider using contrast (another color from your decor or pattern versus solid) on the shelf or its back for a more dramatic effect if your collection is all the same hue.  Paint, shelf paper, or wall paper  all make awesome backdrops for collections such as crystal or white dishes.
  • Combining two collections can sometimes be a very effective way of displaying treasures.  Setting shells next to and on top of a collection of books can work beautifully, for instance. The photo above features that idea.
  • Display in odd numbers: 3, 5 or 7 of something is more visually appealing than even numbers.

Collections in Containers

  • Vases, decorative bowls, glass cloches, stemmed cake plates, and water goblets are all objects for consideration when displaying collections.  Placing your collectibles in these can elevate their importance.  
  • Setting items on a shelf, coffee table, window sill, or side table all can work beautifully.  Sometimes the old wooden horse you got from Aunt Hannah can look sad on its own, but placed with two other items that share its hue or age can make it an interesting artifact.

In Conclusion

Check out stores to see how they display collections in their windows- they have experts who design them, and often we can glean an idea of how we might display something from them.  Also check out hotels’ public spaces like lobbies, bars, etc.  Again, they can inspire you to think outside the box.  


Sewing Machines in commercial window Credit: AllSaints.com

What do you collect, and how do you display it?  If you need help, contact us on this website, and we’ll set up an appointment to help you best display your treasures.


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