Photostylist Andy Newcom made his collection of English ironstone pitchers and blue-milk glass serving pieces the focal point of his redesigned kitchen.
Photostylist Andy Newcom made his collection of English ironstone pitchers and blue-milk glass serving pieces the focal point of his redesigned kitchen.
Collections are a blessing. Photographs, books, hula-girl figurines: They speak to our memories and passions like nothing else in the home. They make us different and special. But collections also can be a curse. Once friends and family figure out what you like, watch out. In no time at all, you could find yourself wrestling with a menagerie of monkey statues or a jumble of wind-up alarm clocks. "People accumulate without really knowing what they're going to do with it or where to put it," says Kevin Sharkey, executive editorial director of decorating for Martha Stewart Living.

Because we don't know what to do with our collections, many of them get packed away in cardboard boxes. Unfortunately, the personality of our home vanishes along with the clutter. However, with a lot of self-editing and discipline, there is a way to create a meaningful display that expresses who you are. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Sell or donate collections and pieces of a collection you don't like. Hallmark photostylist Andy Newcom weeded out his collections of businessmen's portraits and blue-milk glass before moving into a smaller home in Fairway, Kan. Those that remain have taken on a starring role in his new surroundings. English ironstone pitchers and serving pieces are the focal point in the kitchen, while his collection of clear glass bottles and containers adorn the living-room mantle. "I have a passion for both new and old things," Newcom says. "Mixing them creates an interesting look.


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Color can be key. Make black-and-white pictures "pop" by mounting them on a gallery wall painted a vivid color. Many designers adopt the Roy G. Biv method of displaying books, using the colors in the rainbow as a template: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.

Shelves matter. Create a more stylish and functional bookcases by cutting down wall units to desk height and fitting them into available spaces in the library or home office.

Vacation memories are never far away with souvenirs displayed in a shadowbox table.
Vacation memories are never far away with souvenirs displayed in a shadowbox table.
Many modern-day collectors like to display items on open shelves rather than behind glass-front china cabinets. Newcom, for instance, displays his English ironstone on open shelves of his white kitchen. The monochromatic look is calming, and the pieces are easily accessible. A different approach is to use a modular display gallery to unite disparate collections of one person or stylishly merge the collections of two. How? Each box acts as its own unit.

Shadow boxing shines a light on objects. It's easy to create a dramatically backlit display with groupings of framed shadow boxes. Hung horizontally or vertically, use them to display art glass in the living or dining rooms; perfume bottles in a powder room, beaded jewelry in the bedroom or dressing room or photographs in the family room. Out of wall space? Transform a garden urn into a shadowbox table by having a pane of glass cut to fit the top. Glass display accents are great for holding vacation mementos, such as seashells, matchbooks or postcards.

Cluster items on a tray. When you have items of varying shapes and sizes, a tray helps organize them into a unified statement. A corralled collection creates a clean look and packs in more visual impact than individual pieces "marched" along a a mantel or shelf.