The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blend the global & local in one collection

A collection can consist of anything, from a plethora of brassware treasures to a display of well-loved photographs or even CDs. A decorative collection will contribute greatly to any interior scheme by providing a point of decorative reference that draws the eye as you enter a room.

Primary tips

The most effective display will have a cohesive thread holding it together, without being entirely uniform. Examples are a collection of beadwork bags drawn from several periods or a tableau of silver frames, boxes, and different objects placed together.

The background is important as a foil for the collection, even if it has to be manipulated with the addition of a contrasting cloth or painted panel. Good lighting will enhance any arrangement and should be directed and controlled. Colour and texture play a part, too, and need to be experimented with to maximise their potential.

Traditional items

Whether you prefer porcelain or commemorative mugs, traditional collections should complement, rather than dominate, the room’s decorative scheme. Coloured and engraved glass looks spectacular placed against natural light, while delicate antique glass benefits from association with highly polished wood or silver against a plain, dark backdrop.

Place small items, like silver trinkets or enamelled boxes, at a level where their detail can be admired from above.

You can create a neat and balanced presentation of, say, 18th and 19th century silver objects on a period side table, and place it near a tall lamp/vase to add vertical emphasis.

Basket wisdom

Make your country collections artless and rustic, highly crafted and delicate or simply relate them to the everyday items used in the rural environment that have been given a more decorative interpretation.

There are the obvious choices, such as floral china and rustic wooden bowls. But now there is so much more to creating a homely, artistic aura that practically anything can be adopted and arranged in a “collectable” manner.

Whatever the collection, position it within a relative context to the overall decorative scheme. For example, if you are displaying some old baskets, give them content, rather than hanging them up on a pole where they are out of place and not used. Fill them with linen tea towels or gingham napkins or dried pinecones. Paint a wall in an antique finish as a backdrop for old china or pewter ware. Rustic items are normally hard-wearing and should provide practical as well as decorative uses.

A common thread should hold the display together
Background and lighting are important aspects
Traditional items should complement the decorative scheme
Rustic items should be both practical and aesthetic
Mix ‘n’ match souvenirs from abroad are a good idea
Choose innovative storage methods for a decorative statement

Patience pays

It is tempting to collect glorious items from around the world, especially if they evoke memories of a treasured holiday. Amassing collectable global objects can present a logistical problem, if you fall for a particular style of basketware from Bali, or soapstone statuary from the heart of Africa, given the distances and expense that obtaining more from the source will involve.

More important, while holidaying it is too easy to be seduced into buying a tourist trophy that looks wonderful when infused by the magic and romance of its original situation, but when brought home, looks sadly lost.

Therefore, global collections need to be brought together and placed with a discerning eye. Somehow, ethnic items collected with patience over a period make a much more significant contribution than an instant bulk-buy.

Mixing similar materials together often works well, even if they are not from the same country, as they will visually strengthen each other’s craftsmanship.

Pottery, china or porcelain from different countries can be arranged in textural and colour associations in the dining room. Japanese and Chinese artefacts can be placed on a fine lacquered desk with an ornamental bamboo scroll background.

Storage secret

Modern collections can be rustled up from unlikely objects that might be as whimsical, narrative and surprising as you like. You can even make an attractive decorative statement using everyday items in your room, such as books and magazines or CDs.

Within the uncluttered scheme, no matter what shape it takes, storage itself can become part of the collective display. Choose an innovative storage method, such as a basket made of industrial metal sheeting or bookends of moulded coloured Perspex (a lightweight, tough plastic), for example.

Ordinary items will be transformed into a collection when presented in an artistic manner, like postcards displayed on a sleek notice board, pieces of driftwood mounted on unglazed frames and seashells or sculpted heads in glass vases.

The author is a senior faculty member at J.D. Birla Institute (Calcutta), where she has been delivering lectures, guiding research and conducting projects in housing and interior design for over 20 years. An interior design consultant, she specialises in ergonomics at home and work. She can be contacted at

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