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How to make the most of displays and collections

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HANDOUT - THE WASHINGTON POST

Mary Randolph Carter, author of “Never Stop to Think ... Do I Have a Place for This?,” recently answered questions about the art of displays and blending collections into your home decor. Her advice might be useful as you add finishing touches to the room in your home.

Q. Now that I am finally through the winter doldrums, I am going to attack the beautiful sunroom in my new house. I have collected a decent amount of Mexican art (statues, paintings, vases) and need some ideas on how to best display them. I also will use decorative ceramic pots for the plants. I would appreciate any display tips and paint color suggestions.

A. Collecting is always associated with memory, and you have some great ones. With a sunroom you start with the most valuable asset of all, beautiful light. The ceramic pots sound so exotic for your plants. For those Mexican art treasures, perhaps find a wonderful hanging wooden shelf in a great color to display them. I’m not sure how many walls you have in the sunroom, but I love pedestals for showing off a special statue or clustering them all together on a little table, an altar to your love of these things. For texture, you could find a great old raffia rug or several. I would keep the background colors simple so your plants and collections stand out. Every wall in my house is white but covered with paintings and photos and maps and prints – all the things that I love.

Q. What constitutes a collection?

A. There are probably as many answers to this question as there are collectors, but I’ll take a stab and say: once you’ve got three of anything you’re on your way.

Q. When is money a roadblock to owning something that you think you can’t live without?

A. Oh that wretched subject – money. Thank goodness there’s so much great stuff out there that if you fall in love with something you can’t (or shouldn’t) afford, just wait a while and you’ll find something just as good that fits your pocketbook. There was once an amazing serape that I fell for at the Washington Flea years back. I left it behind and went on my way, and sure enough, there on another dealer’s table just minutes away was another for $15 that was even more extraordinary. So love what you love, but don’t be too impulsive. On the other hand, sometimes if it’s worth it to you, save up or have a tag sale and go for it.

Q. How have the Internet and eBay changed collecting?

A. The Internet has changed the world at large, and in particular, junking and hunting for the things we love. My friend and fellow collector Tom Judd (featured in my new book) swears by the online hunt. He has had great luck finding handwritten recipes, diner menus, old botanical prints and fragments of vintage wallpaper. He layers them into his beautiful collages and never looks back. Have fun, Tom, but I'll have more fun mucking around in the mud and rain at a good old-fashioned outdoor flea market.

Q: Other than in a cupboard with glass doors, what is the best way to store jadeite ware?

A. Jadeite ware, which is incredibly beautiful, is not exactly in my collector’s bag, but I can imagine it on a simple long shelf one right after the other. My mother had a collection of beautiful American glazed pots and displayed them on a long narrow shelf near the ceiling of her kitchen. Sometimes we want to protect our collections, but they can get lost behind glass.

Q. I am interested in adding brass to our decor as accent pieces. What are the best options for incorporating this? Does it matter that we do not currently have anything that is brass?

A. You’re so lucky if you’re starting on a new journey of collecting brass. I once collected all these old brass trays. I think I shared them in my first “American Junk” book. I just looked them up; they were hammered brass wall plaques depicting scenes of skaters waltzing, ships at sea, fruits and flowers, Dutch children skating. I lined them all up on a wall in my rustic barn and loved the contrast. I paid no more than a few bucks for each. You are probably thinking of more serious brass, but keep in mind, there are no rules when it comes to the kind of collecting I love. And, no, it doesn’t matter that there’s no brass in your home. Just start finding a place for it, as I know you will.

Q. Can you recommend a wall color that would complement cream-colored cabinets?

A. Are we in the kitchen? I’m guessing we are. If you have subtle-colored cream cabinets, I think I would go for white walls or find some kind of interesting wallpaper that picks up on the cream. You don’t want to overpower them.

Q. I dislike cut flowers, and have green plants in my house. Most of the rooms do not have enough light for greenery, so I would like to add artificial flowers to the decor. What is your opinion of artificial flowers? I have seen some expensive ones that look real.

A. There are some truly remarkable fakes out there; just use them sparingly and place them in a unique container. I have some great red poppies I bought for a table in our living room in New York. I plunked them into a yellow pottery pitcher, a gift from a friend in Spain. They are surrounded by piles of my favorite books and still are blooming after 10 years, at least. I also have a little pot of fake green herbs that sits in the center of our little wooden table in our cozy kitchen. Go for your own personal garden.

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