Serving up advice on displaying decorative plates

Design Line

June 01, 2008|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Tribune Media Services

I have inherited a collection of decorative plates and serving pieces that were displayed in a large breakfront in my childhood home. I don't have a similarly large cabinet for housing the collection now, so can you give me some suggestions for how to show off at least a few of my favorite pieces?

You don't need cabinetry to display this kind of collection.

I'm always perusing new books that can help my readers better see some of the many possibilities for designing a personal interior.

Bunny Williams' Point of View, written by one of America's finest interior designers, provides many learning opportunities. As Williams herself notes, "you learn from people with great taste." Her book suggests ways of adapting fundamental principles of design to fit specific circumstances as well as financial limits.

In her book, she shows plates arranged on a wall. But as I read the text alongside the image, I came to realize that these aren't actual plates but rather a set of designs on paper for faience plates. They were pasted up like wallpaper, with a trompe l'oeil artist painting shadow lines around the plates and a bracket on the wall to create an illusion of depth. The moldings and paneling in the rest of the room were also painted in this three-dimensional, trick-the-eye style.

Since this isn't a real collection of plates, this photo doesn't really respond to your question. Still, a few relevant suggestions can be made on the basis of what you see here. My main recommendation is that your collection should be displayed on a wall.

The faux collection has been arranged by the color, size and shape of the various pieces. Such symmetry in placement is essential in displaying a collection of the sort you've inherited. In general, the largest and/or most colorful items should go on top, with a balance being maintained as you work your way down to the smaller and less intricately patterned pieces.

Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with interior design questions can e-mail her at

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