Pull your collections out of the attic. Here are 5 pro tips to use them in decorating your home.

Custom stainless steel, floating shelves provide the perfect hangout for vintage American pottery.
Custom stainless steel, floating shelves provide the perfect hangout for vintage American pottery.

We all have collections, but how do we make them look cohesive or intentional, rather than a jumble of mismatched bric-a-brac?

When consulting with our clients, we often provide redesign services where we use existing décor and restyle their home with a fresh set of eyes.

carole marcotte
Carole Marcotte of Form and Function in Raleigh. Carole Marcotte

Collections, in particular, compiled in one area of the home have more of an impact, and the clients are often stunned to see the results of this new assemblage. One client owned a monkey collection (no live ones, thankfully!) scattered around her house in various rooms. We grouped them together on a half wall that separated the foyer from the living room, and the monkeys became a collection that provided an instant conversation starter for arriving guests.

After years of working with clients who have sentimental family treasures, fine art collections and interesting artifacts that we have successfully elevated to newfound appreciation, here is my list of tips for displaying all types of collections.

Tip1 Art Collection Symmetry Gallery Wall Foyer
An art collection on either side of a mirror illustrates a different kind of symmetry. Catherine Nguyen

1 Think outside the “symmetry” box for unexpected art display.

People love pairs, but sometimes you inherit art or photos, for example, that aren’t an exact match. Another client had an interesting collection of etchings and family silhouettes of various sizes. We grouped the smaller antique pieces to provide equal weight to the larger piece on the left side of the mirror, and the furniture we placed below perfectly echoed the era and feel of the artwork. Instant collection and high impact for the foyer of this beautiful home.

2 Consider floating shelves.

In a modern kitchen, there was a collection of Royal Haeger, USA pottery and some modern pieces that we assembled on custom stainless steel, floating shelves that we had fabricated (about $1,000 for the labor and materials). The beautiful and functional pottery was clustered by color and provided not only visual interest but was within arm’s reach for everyday use.

If custom shelves aren’t an option, there are several ready-made floating shelf options that are available. I love the Holman Shelf from Pottery Barn as it has a lip in the front to prevent items from falling. It also comes in a variety of colors and ranges in length from 2 to 5 feet ($79-$199).

3 Think restyling your built-ins.

Tip3a NC Pottery Collection Built-Ins
North Carolina pottery is nestled high above the books in these custom built-ins. Monica Franco

Sometimes clients already have built-in shelves or cabinetry, making our job relatively easy. We were particularly excited to work in a home where there was a significant collection of North Carolina pottery. We brought it together on the higher shelves of the beautiful built-ins, giving it a place of honor and providing a safe haven from potential breakage.

If you don’t have existing built-ins, there are several free-standing options available for instant gratification. One of my favorites, the Acrylic Leaning Bookshelf from Wisteria ($1,399), is a classic and is at home in both a modern or traditional setting. The clear acrylic is elegant and allows the collection to be the star. We used it to house a trove of modern architecture and design books, mixed in with small art pieces, to stunning effect.

4 Collecting begins early.

Tip4 Globe Collection Built-in Desk Craft Area
A collection of global proportions on a desk area. Catherine Nguyen

Kids often begin their acquisition phase young, amassing a rock collection in their preschool years or collecting souvenirs from travels, for example. My young son had a globe collection from years of tagging along to estate sales, and he also needed a study and craft area.

We built him an inexpensive desktop using a door and constructed shelves from plywood. The shelves house the necessary pencils, paints and paper interspersed with the vintage globe collection, which spawned a theme for the whole room with maps and other global art in the mix.

Tip5a Redware plate Collection BuiltIn Window Seat

5 Place plate collections in unusual locations.

Back in the day, I was all about hanging plates anywhere in a dining room – around a mirror, up and down a wall on either side of a door and leaning on plate racks on the sideboard. It was all very predictable. I still like to use a client’s plate collection for decorating, as it is often a family memento (grandma’s china) or from travel or signifies a time in their life.

One client had some red ware plates that were made for her daughters but were tucked away in a cupboard. We dug them out and gave them a place of prominence above a window seat in an upstairs landing that the homeowner passes daily. The plates are now sentimental reminders of the three young women who call her mom.

Another client had a vintage plate collection that came to life when placed above the large picture window in his breakfast nook. They, too, had been hidden away in obscurity. When placed in an often-used area, the plates can be enjoyed on a daily basis.

And isn’t that the point of collections? They’re beautifully displayed memories in our homes that can be seen and appreciated every day.

The designers who participate in the N&O’s Meet The Designer series are members of the Alliance of Interior Designers,


Carole Marcotte owns Form & Function at 1700 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh. Reach her at 919-831-2838 or