For the Collector, Tips on Putting Together Elegant Displays

What you hang and display speaks volumes about you—your interests, taste, and priorities. According to brain research cited by Tal D. Ben-Shahar, who teaches at Harvard, surrounding yourself with pleasurable objects actually makes you happier.

So don’t be a passive accumulator, be passionate about your possessions.

When people pass through the laundry/mudroom of my house, they are always astonished by the display of dozens of antique wooden and wire hangers, which are striking in their sculptural simplicity.

I’m drawn to early American pieces and work by “outsiders”—old painted gameboards, metal trade signs, fabric pincushion balls, tramp art boxes. Individually, these items don’t draw much attention. Taken together, however, they pack a powerful punch.

When you’ve got something to showcase, act like a curator. Take what you know and view your objects from two perspectives:

  • Your knowledge: consider history, geography, production methods
  • Your eyes: consider shape, texture, pattern, color, material

Is a timeline better than putting all reds together? What do you want to highlight —the objects from Greece, whatever’s most recent, hardest to obtain? Next consider the display environment, and work with the space.

Your eye will notice the molding from the window next to where you hang the picture. Should they line up? Be creative.

There’s no “right way to display,” but there are some general rules of thumb:

  • Use bases or stands for small items
  • Put smaller objects at eye level
  • Let each piece have some breathing space, even in a grouping
  • Don’t distract the eye with unnecessary chaos—keep a theme running throughout a display (i.e., vary size or shape, but keep height constant)

Dann Witczak, partner in The Art of Installation likes to create a dialogue between pieces. Take notice of which way an object tilts and maybe point them all the same way. When you add a new piece, or begin to ignore what you’ve got, rearrange your objects. Change things up every now and then, and fall in love all over again.

Loree Sandler is chair of the Glencoe Housewalk, which will take place on May 19. This Housewalk blog features the women of Glencoe sharing ideas and glimpses inside their homes.

Want to read more? Try this article, on “The Art of Being Artful.