How to Display Collections


What’s the difference between a bunch of stuff and a beautiful collection? It’s all in the presentation. How to display small items in a home is a big problem for a lot of collectors. Last week we wrote about Los Angeles interior designer Mary McDonald and the introduction of her new line of lamps at Gump’s. I caught up with her at that event and the conversation turned to collections and how to use them in interior design.

One of her best solutions involves grouping small items on the wall. Take a look at how a humble collection of teak fish plates become a dramatic display (left):

McDonald’s clients had several fish-shaped platters stashed away in their cabinets. She decided to suppliment the small collection with eBay finds (teak plates were all the rage in the 1960s and can be purchased for a few dollars) and hang them above the banquette. She admits that one plate is actually a pineapple (far left), but when turned on its side who can tell?

Another clever solution is to give a neutral-colored collection a colorful backdrop. On their own the white vessels pictured on the right might induce a yawn. But group them together against green-painted shelves and their forms pop and become interesting.

If you look at much of McDonald’s work (she’s published widely and recently released a book), you’ll see a lot of shells. Of course, shells are beautiful and look particularly at home in California interiors. The problem is they can have a “been there, done that” look if they are simply lined up on a shelf or (worse) stacked in a bowl. In this living space McDonald uses small display stands to turn shells (and other natural wonders) on end and elevate them. They go from dust collectors to sculpture in one easy move.

An old decorating rule goes that odd numbered groupings look better than single objects. Generally, that’s true, although one dramatic item can anchor a room. In this media room, McDonald shows how grouping like with like in sets of three make a statement. The Chinese statues and horns are displayed in threes on the coffee table. A single one of either would look sparse, two or four would look matchy. Three is just right.


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