How to Store and Organize All of Your Prized Collections
There's perhaps no more astute collector than Martha herself. "When I finally got a house, I started to look at objects as things to gather," she remarked in the August 2012 issue of Living. "I'm still not a serious collector; I am more of an accumulator of things. And some of those things, such as brass, turn into collections. Who knew I would have enough someday to take a picture with?''
Those brass objects—including large trays, vases, lamps, and sconces—would be curated from her travels around the world. "I started collecting brass—I call it poor man's gold—when I bought Skylands, my house in Maine, 14 years ago," she said at the time. "There were some brass pieces in the house when I bought it, and they looked great in the light. So I continued the tradition of using brass there.''
Martha takes pride in her possessions and lets them shine on display: "I don't keep any of the brass pieces in storage. I use everything," she says. "The large trays are tables, and the smaller pieces are used as decoration or as flower containers." And this philosophy of living with collections applies to her numerous lifelong valuables—from 40 Christmas trees to Easter decorations, copper cookware, and jadeite dishware—by honoring their heirloom status. Similarly, collectors across the country have taken to her example by sharing their objets d'art—from quirky nostalgic toys to vintage clothing, colorful kitchenware, and framed prints.
Read ahead to learn how they unearth such treasures, and their genius ideas for living with them on walls, shelves, tabletop surfaces, and even as wearable heirlooms.
The first thing you notice when walking into Jeffrey Moss's Chicago loft is the wall covered with old black-and-white portraits of farmers, bankers, cowboys, kids on ponies, aristocrats, sailors, and more. As a filmmaker and prop stylist for clients such as Pottery Barn and Target, Moss has unearthed these photographs at antiques stores across the country. Call it a habit—or a hazard of the job—one that developed into a serious passion. "I have thousands of pictures," he says. "Every antiques store has a box of pictures of who-knows-whose family members." Instead of letting vintage architectural models languish out of view on a shelf, he places them throughout his workroom, paying attention to how their shapes work with the furniture. "I have this way of composing that's based on geometry," he says.
After finishing her millinery course at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York City, Leigh Magar returned to her home state of South Carolina and opened a millinery shop, Magar Hatworks. A few years later, she received a gift of antique wooden hat forms from a passionate collector, and her own collection began. Magar displays her nearly 400 wooden forms on shelves in her showroom and in her studio, both of which are located in an 1825 house in a residential neighborhood of Charleston. Her favorite pieces include a rare matador's mold, shapes to make berets, and those for chic women's cocktail hats. "I just found a classic 1920s top-hat form," she says. "I am looking forward to trying it out for the fall collection for women—think Marlene Dietrich."
Illustrator Lisa Congdon started the Collection a Day blog, in which she photographed her collections—vintage ephemera, school supplies, thread—every day for a year. But it's kitchenware that has an extra-special place in her home. "About 12 years ago, I found an orange plate," she recalls. "That was the gateway drug both to enamelware and plate collecting for me." The pieces are displayed on shelves in her kitchen, and even inspired a redesign: "The room was orange, but the colors on the enamelware weren't popping, so I painted it white," she explains. "I kind of ended up decorating my kitchen around my collection."
Keni Valenti, a vintage clothing dealer who works between Miami and New York City always has room in his personal closet for one categorical item: men's Lilly Pulitzer clothing. "The first Lilly that I found was in a thrift shop in the '70s," he remembers. "But I mixed it with glam-rock clothes. I think it was a shirt with monkeys on it, and I wore it with red patent-leather pants." His philosophy? Wear what you love: "I think when you collect something, you should use it, so I wear it all. It's so mood lifting to see in my closet. These clothes make me laugh. They make me happy."
Toys and Dollhouses
Good things often come in pairs: That's proved true for Shauna Alterio and Stephen Loidolt, the creative minds behind Something's Hiding Here, based in Philadelphia—and the tin dollhouses they collect. "I found one at a flea market and brought it home. A few weeks later, we saw another and grabbed it,'' Alterio says. ''If I see two things that are alike, I want to bring them together.'' Their favorite finds date from the 1940s to the '60s and have that lived-in look: "We love a little wear and tear. Houses that feel too perfect don't have the same charm,'' Alterio says. At home, these child playthings are arranged in a small suburban neighborhoods of their own making: "We keep the houses lined up in a row on top of giant bookshelves and keep lights inside them so that at night it looks like a neighborhood," Alterio says.
Joan Pope, a product consultant at Fixed Point in New York City, fancies herself something of an armchair traveler: "The books reflect a wonderment about the world. But with their script, their colors, and their weathered look, I love them as much as objects as for reading." She collects travel books, many dating to the 19th century. "In the 1980s, I purchased a London A to Z, with all those detailed maps indexing each tiny street. I was hooked and started buying older books—some from 100 years before my feet took to the streets!" She keeps them in a healthy rotation of display on bookshelves and desktop surfaces. "I'll scan images from them to refer to in my work—I have several binders full. At my desk, I'll rotate the books so what I see is always changing."
As a fashion designer at Harvey Faircloth, New York City, Katie Hatch covets a miscellany of fashion-forward articles: penny jewelry, watches with colorful faces, and patent-leather shoes in rainbow colors. One of her favorites? Vintage clothing patterns. "I started thinking of myself as a collector of patterns in college, but I really had been collecting them since I started sewing clothes, around eighth grade.'' Certain brand names catch her eye, but the innovative design is always top of mind: "I like designer patterns from the 1950s and '60s—Balmain, Dior, Nina Ricci, Yves Saint Laurent—but I'm often just as happy to find a '70s Halloween costume pattern if it has an interesting cut." She keeps them handy for inspiring her own design work: "They get stored under my bed in wooden boxes. I use a lot of the patterns as jumping-off points for my designs.''