The rule for displaying any collection is cluster. This means putting all your eggs – or cups and saucers, bronze miniatures, keys or whatever you may fancy – into one “basket.”
Displaying a collection in an organized space helps to show it off to its best advantage. The collection mass lends luster and presence to the smaller objects that would not have had the same impact on their own. A clustered collection can make a focal point from those individual pieces far too tiny to stand alone.
A good illustration is a friend of mine who owned a collection of beautiful pre-Columbian pottery. They had pieces on tabletops, on the piano, even on top of the refrigerator. There was no way in which their collective splendor could be appreciated.
In the new dining room, there was single, unbroken wall, a perfect place for display. We designed shelves of clear Plexiglas. The L-shaped piece of Plexiglas was wide enough to support the largest urn. Hung upside-down, the Plexiglas forms a perfect shell – unobstructed, strong and elegant. The arrangement of the shelves was designed to use the entire wall. It hung over a serving shelf that stretched wall-to-wall. This was a natural wood just about the same color as the terracotta of the urns.
Another friend of mine was faced with a diverse collection of small and different things. Some were silhouettes a couple were wonderfully framed old mirrors, two or three were good black-and-white drawings. All of these were in old frames of no particular value.
To add to the difficulties, the dining room where we wanted to display the objects had no real collection wall, but was in desperate need of a storage system. To serve both needs, I built a set of shallow shelves to hold glasses and dishes. Over these, I designed hinged doors in two pairs with wide, shallow frames on all sides of the doors. The horizontal frames acts as a chair rail that carries around the other three walls of the room, while the lowest horizontal frame lines up with the baseboard.
I painted the doors gray and the frames off-white, matching the off-white of the antique marble-topped French cafe table and the frames of the cane reproduction chairs. Wall-washers illuminate the two large panels that are formed by the new doors covering the shelving.
I then planned all the frames of the collection in the same off-white color as the new trim color and hung them all within the framed panels of the doors. Suddenly, this group of random and unrelated objects became a real collection, working together with the colors and space defined for them to become the focal point of this modest dining room.