The use of collections as a means of personalizing an interior is now so commonplace that it's almost become a design cliche.
In many cases, however, collections that serve primarily as a decorating effect will have been purchased from someone who actually amassed all the individual objects. And that's not at all the same thing as gradually, maybe even unconsciously, acquiring lovable items until, one day, they comprise a "collection." In fact, there's a big difference between these two approaches -- and it shows.
A truly personal collection may not be as perfect in quality or as great in value as the prefab variety. But, like one's kids, these idiosyncratic assemblages are very much one's own.
Interior designer Lyn Peterson believes that if you really want to get to know someone, take a look at what they collect. Ms. Peterson herself tries to fulfill her architectural fantasies by collecting birdhouses that look like the kinds of buildings she loves but will never own -- lighthouses, log cabins and schoolhouses, for example.
Collecting can be a serious passion, but it need not become an obsession, especially if the objective is to have fun and to add a bit of individual flavor to an interior. It's not hard to start. Just consider the sort of prized but affordable objects you may already have acquired -- masks? architectural prints? ceramics? inkwells? -- and make an effort to look for more of them.
While you're at it, give some thought to how such a collection might be displayed. Collections don't have to be presented as though they were in a museum. Remember, these are not rare or enormously expensive artworks we're talking about, so it isn't necessary to confine them to a special cabinet or to out-of-reach shelving. A collection's components also need not be grouped together in a single part of a room or even in one section of the house.
Ms. Peterson's collection of birdhouses, for example, is scattered throughout her living room, as the photo shows. These curios do add a personal touch to the setting, with its rag rug pillow and big, printed 1930s-style floral fabric from Motif Designs' Vintage Rosie line. The juxtaposition of country and 1930s styling adds an unexpected twist.
The display of a collection should be appropriate for its overall size, for the amount of space occupied by individual pieces, and for the style of the objects. These humble birdhouses fit comfortably on tables. That placement also makes them easily accessible to friends and guests who may want to touch them.
My basic advice, then, to anyone about to start a collection is to think of your interests, think of placement, and also think of your pocketbook.