Butler County Times Gazette
by Jan Colvin
Collections offer clues to who we are
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About this blog
By Jan Colvin

I have been a professional interior designer for over 25 years (Allied ASID). I credit my mother Pat Robinson and Lucille Chase for my intense interest and love for design.
I've taught interior design at the college level and operated a ...

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Through the Front Door

I have been a professional interior designer for over 25 years (Allied ASID). I credit my mother Pat Robinson and Lucille Chase for my intense interest and love for design.
I've taught interior design at the college level and operated a private design business since 2001. Today I spend a majority of my time completing a new book which will be available in the first quarter of 2013.   

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Collection displays can make a powerful statement, such as the wonderful collection of top hats shown displayed on the wall above.
Photo courtesy Anthony Baratta
Collection displays can make a powerful statement, such as the wonderful collection of top hats shown displayed on the wall above.
By Jan Colvin
April 22, 2013 3:24 p.m.



The treasures we collect offer insight into the journey of our lives. A good share of us start collecting something along the way in our lives. To illustrate this, let me start this piece with a funny story from back when I started in the design business.

I received a call from a lady who had visited one of my model homes and liked what she saw. I was thrilled as I could be that she wanted to meet me. I asked the owner of the firm I was with if she might accompany me on my appointment—because the prospective client had a collection of pigs she need some guidance with. The home happened to be out in the country, off a gravel road and a long winding gravel drive. At about the midway point of the drive, the pigs started to appear: dancing concrete pigs, pigs laying down, mother-and-baby pigs in a row, pigs sitting, pigs, pigs, pigs! The closer to the house we got, the denser the swine got. At this point, we could hardly speak from laughing so hard. I admit, that was not nice and I do apologize—but it was tough to control the giggles! We got out of the car in a cloud of dust and joined a herd of concrete pigs surrounding the porch. A lovely lady, and hopefully a prospective client, greeted us. She explained that her husband wanted nothing to do with design services, so we had exactly 43 minutes to talk and then clear out before he arrived home for lunch. Stealth design! I had not learned about this in school, but my colleague and I nodded OK and the interview began. The shelves, the coffee table, the peer cabinets, the elevated plant shelves, everywhere you glanced had pigs.

“How would you display these in a better way,” she asked. “I’ve got so many I feel almost buried!” This was one of the few times in my life I was speechless! I asked if she was willing to edit some of them out of the room, NO! Was she willing to sort by color, size or pig activity? NO! I felt as if a case of swine flu was coming on and I had no more suggestions to offer. So I turned to my employer and said, “Barbara, maybe you have suggestions?” She looked like a deer in the headlights. I glanced at my watch—we were about 12 minutes into our allotted 43 minutes. Panic started to set in! Pigs, pigs, sooooooooo many pigs! As we watched our prospective client’s face go from inquisitive to sheer terror, I wondered, “Now what?” She jumped up and went to the window and we followed. There it was: A car in a cloud of dust coming up the drive. She turned and said, “That’s my husband, and he will be furious if he knows I have asked you here, so don’t say anything!” Because this was just an interview, a camera, tape measure and notebook were all we had with us; we quickly picked up our business cards and waited for him to enter. “What’s going on?” he asked immediately.

Mr. Pig quickly led our Mrs. Pig to the kitchen and started whispering—not secret-telling whispering but angry, loud whispering. Barbara and I looked and each other and whispered, “Should we just leave?!” As we were deciding whether to bolt Swine Ville, Mrs. Pig came into the living room and said in the most cheerful voice, “We are very happy with our present church home, but thank you ladies for stopping by today!” You could have pushed the two of us over with a feather! This is one of the oddest things ever to happen to me in my design career, but it remains one of my favorite stories.

There is a reason for sharing this story with you—really, gorgeous, there is! It shows how an innocent admiration for something becomes an obsession. You acquire so much of something still under the veil of a collection that it becomes a burden rather than a joy. Collections tell others a little bit about you—the operative word being little. Unfortunately, my first impression of Mrs. Pig was sad. She seemed silly and, if I might say, a bit wacky. My advice is to keep your collection under control.

Display Strategies

First, it’s important to know that collections invoke comments and can be bona fide conversation igniters. So, place them in public areas of your home where those conversations may take place. Public areas include the entryway, living room, family room, dining room and anywhere you feel comfortable allowing people to view how you live.

Collections certainly can and do make powerful statements when displayed as one unit rather than spread throughout a room. Perhaps you have a collection of teacups and saucers initiated by your adored Grandmother. Place them all together in a lit peer cabinet or invest in shelving above your breakfast table to display them in place of a piece of art. Or, consider placing each cup and saucer on a corbel shelf around a piece of art. Incorporate the collector’s items into a classic art display allows them to truly become part of the room’s design. The art and the cups and saucers work together as one stunning composition.

Maybe you have a fondness for the clean uncluttered look of solid ceramic or glass pieces, such as McCoy pottery, or even the luster of white milk glass. Display them at their finest in a bookcase or cabinet painted to make them stand out like museum pieces. I recently saw a collection of milk glass in a magazine showcased in an apple green painted bookcase—amazing. Clean, fresh and very modern, it brought brilliance to the eclectic kitchen!

Maybe you are drawn to kaleidoscopes or antique pipes. Consider placing your collection on a tray on the coffee table or on a sideboard so you can pick them up and enjoy them on occasion. Unless a collection is priceless, visitors should be able to touch the items. The collection should inspire questions and give you an opportunity to share, especially with children, the history and significance of what you collect. Your stories may even awaken a collecting passion in others. I personally have spent considerable time listening to a collector explain his or her fondness for something and walked away armed with interesting facts and new knowledge. Sharing your passions is a wonderful gift from you to another person, so share your information.

Pass It On

As we grow and age, the desire to own certain things changes. A collection you found thrilling in your 20s may not offer the same enjoyment now that you’re in your 60s. But don’t just cast aside your collection—find a new owner for it. Sell it through Craig’s List, eBay or a newspaper ad, or even gift it to an admirer. The time, attention and love you once showed to these possessions will fascinate a new collector and live on in the hands of a new owner.

I think collections are some of life’s important treasures! Collecting always gives you something to search for, whether on a trip, perusing a garage sale or estate sale, or assisting a loved one with downsizing. If you’re not yet a collector, find something you enjoy looking at. If you collect items that are usable, then that’s twice the treat. I collect English Toby Jugs and Staffordshire dogs, which I use as vases and as interesting items on a candlelit dinner table. They always serve as great conversation starters for a lovely, leisurely dinner. I encourage you discover something you find fascinating and purchase one or two and see how it feels.   

Wise words from Dorothy Draper:  If you are a collector, let other people share your pride and joy.  Don't sprinkle your collection out of sight in a meaningless jumble.  Notice how groups of small objects, when they are well arranged, become important and effective.  Remember that repetition is a form of emphasis.  Collect what you will, but see to it that you arrange your hobby to its best advantage!

Have a wonderful week and maybe we will bump into each other at a flea market this week. Happy treasure hunting!     

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