Showing off that charming collection


December 13, 1992|By Rita St. Clair

Collecting doesn't seem to be a hobby confined either to the young or the old. My granddaughter started collecting stones at age 5. My mother started collecting clocks when she was 65. Both of them did it out of curiosity and love for the objects -- not because collecting was the chic thing to do or because they needed to fill in a missing piece in a decorating scheme.

It's true that collections do add a personal touch to a room. But no matter how charming or valuable a collection may be, it will have genuine meaning only if it is amassed for personal satisfaction.

As a designer, my main concern is not to advise people on what to collect but to help them display it properly. If the items are small -- such as toy soldiers, seashells or boxes -- it's best to protect them from an indelicate hand. Collector tables, which have a shelf under a see-through glass surface, will make small objects look important while keeping them safe. Only pieces intended to be seen from above should be displayed in this manner, however. Toy soldiers, for example, which should be viewed at eye level, are better placed inside a glass-front cabinet, either free-standing or wall-hung.

Large items, like baskets and ceramic pots, ought to be arranged in a way that honors their beauty as individual objects as well as parts of a collection. I often see two or three lovely baskets or pots scattered around a room, usually containing plants. They would look better, in most cases, if grouped together as a collection rather than left isolated as utilitarian objects.

Proper lighting is an essential component of any collection. It may even be the most important element, since lighting determines whether a collection will enhance a room's design or fade forlornly into the background. Objects hung on a wall or placed on pedestals need to be illuminated by track lighting with combinations of fixtures that throw both wide and narrow beams. This will allow the novice to experiment with various possibilities, while providing flexibility as the collection grows and changes.

For items on shelves, the best viewing comes with low-voltage strip lighting placed on the shelves above the objects. Please note, however, that glass shelving cannot be lit in this way. In those instances, light should be cast down directly on the pieces from above the case. But remember, too, that only smaller objects should be displayed on the top glass shelf, or else the items underneath will be shrouded in shadows.

The photo shows a simple collection that is appropriately displayed in a straightforward way. Lyn Peterson of Motif Designs lined up her birdhouses on a deep shelf under a series of windows that creates an outdoor setting. The light streaming in from behind the birdhouses silhouettes their shapes, thus enhancing their sculptural quality. What's more, the appearance the objects changes as the day progresses.

This collection, Ms. Peterson explains, symbolically expresses her attachment to the concept of home, while also enabling her to indulge in architectural fantasies.

My basic advice for anyone thinking of starting a collection is to concentrate on pieces that are personally meaningful, affordable and able to be properly displayed in the home. These guidelines don't apply, of course, to the secret collector who likes to squirrel away goodies. But that's another story.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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