Group small items to create a unified design

January 24, 2009|By ROSE BENNETT GILBERT / Creators Syndicate

Q: My husband has a great collection of political campaign buttons; they go back to the l9th century. When he was showing off his new "Obama" button the other night, I realized it's a shame he keeps the collection shut away in plastic boxes. What's a good way to display 300-plus small items such as buttons?

A: Remember this equation: "The sum is greater than its parts." Key to displaying any collection is to keep it together, not letting pieces wander all over a room like so much clutter.

One time-honored solution is a vitrine, what the Victorians called "what-nots" - aka display or curio cabinet - with glass sides and built-in lighting. Click on two top furniture manufacturers' Web sites to learn more: and

There's another nice way to show off small objects like campaign buttons: on the wall as little works of art. This photo features a collection of wax seals and elegant mini-carvings that would be lost one by one. Arranged together, they make a terrific wall grouping that has all the impact of a large painting.


Moreover, a personal passion lends interest and character to any room. Here, it's a man's private space in a Parisian home, brought to you by author/designer Penny Drue Baird's new book, "Bringing Paris Home" (The Monacelli Press). The author lives in Paris herself and leads readers on a 200-plus page tour of Parisian apartments and homes that makes the French - for want of the right English expression - so tres chic.

Q: In our funny, old l920s Dutch colonial-style house, there are two square columns at the bottom of the stairs, which leave a small opening looking into the living room on one side and the dining room on the other. The Realtor said this was typical of houses built in that time in this area, but we have pretty contemporary tastes and the spaces bother us. Any suggestions?

A: Fill 'em up. Any fairly handy person could insert a piece of plywood, cut to fit snugly in the spaces. Use narrow mouldings to make it look built-in.

You could paint or paper the stair side to match the hall wall, but mirror the sides that face into the living and dining rooms. If you add glass shelves, too, you'll have a new place to show off your crystal and other collectibles.

Q: So what's the insider information on how the Obama family will redecorate the White House?

A: The design industry's rife with predictions, but isn't it ever when a new first family moves into the world's most famous residence? OK, there's Buckingham Palace, but the queen doesn't change every four to eight years.

First ladies since Mary Todd Lincoln have tried to superimpose a new personality on the White House, often with unequal results. Mrs. Lincoln infuriated everyone, including her hubby, by overspending on the now famous "Lincoln bed." Later, critics called Jackie Kennedy's taste "too French," the Carters' too boring and Nancy Reagan's too red and too expensive.

Truth to tell, the first family can't touch the first, public floor of the White House. The Committee for the Preservation of the White House is in charge downstairs. Upstairs, in the private living quarters, it's a different story, however, and so far no one knows - or is telling - what Michelle Obama has in mind for her family nest.

To brush up while we await the news, check out "The President's House" by William Seale (published by the White House Historical Association).

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas.

Copyright 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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