When I was in my early 20s I set off with my husband on our big OE. We were given important, essential advice, including "do not ever leave your bags unattended", and "never ever carry other people's luggage on their behalf". My favourite older cousin, who was very widely travelled, gave me further counsel I wanted to follow, but couldn't. She said: "Buy one big memento, not lots of little things."

My quandary was how did I fit one big lacquered bowl in my backpack, when three little ones would? The answer was to buy three little ones, and worry about the dilemma of what to do with them when I returned home.

People are passionate collectors. It may be memories of overseas experiences, precious photos, or quirky, treasured, valuable objects. Unfortunately, collections often are put in drawers, stored in boxes, or placed haphazardly in a room. What should give you pleasure is hidden away or lost in a room. Sadly, what visitors see is clutter and disorganisation. To enjoy your collections, they have to be well displayed. There are some rules, but not many.

Collections can be displayed on walls, table-tops, shelves, mantelpieces and cabinets. The rule that applies to any collection on any surface is: it must tell a visual story.


A large object requires its own space. Let it breathe. On the other hand, smaller objects require company - such as other objects. Grouped, they become highly visible.

In all displays, there should be a focal point, a theme, a hint of connection. What is the highest, biggest, most valuable or fascinating is clearly the principal piece and goes in the centre. Look for a variety of texture, silhouette, height and depth in the supporting pieces.

Examples of themes include collections based on a single material, such as mother-of-pearl, pewter, silver, or transparent glass; or a single colour; or a common shape; or objects made by the same company or artist, etc. Look for a common thread if the items in a display are all different - colour, shape or texture. Find the hint of connection.

Cabinets are perfect to display collections you want to look at, but don't want to endanger.

A blank wall is a welcoming canvas and almost anything can be arranged on it. The choice is whether to display one huge thing - for instance, a painting - or many small things such as photographs. Whatever you choose, go for drama and simplicity. To catch the eye, it is the simplest, least fussy display that will have impact. Regard your display as a visual exclamation mark.

When displaying your collections on a wall, arrange them in a grid pattern. For a large collection, floor-to-ceiling shelving will bring order. If you do not have an extensive collection, display it in an orderly grid. Four small paintings by the same artist spread around many walls will look lost. However, if they are framed identically, and placed in a grid on one wall, they will become a focal point. Also, identically framed collections have a visual unity wherever you hang them.

On the other hand, you may have a collection of framed pieces bought at different times, in a variety of frames. Display them on one wall, hung in an orderly way.

Consider displaying paintings, photos or posters in vertical rows from floor to ceiling. The eye rests on the larger middle area of any grouping. So, put the most important pieces in the middle - the rarest art, the biggest poster or the brightest photo. Place less significant pieces at the top or at the bottom.

On a table-top place the most important object near the centre, or at the top of the table. Then arrange the remainder of the display in order of diminishing importance. On a round table arrange smaller objects around the large ones.

Place small trinkets on a tray. Your attention will immediately focus on the mass collection. Single small ornaments displayed on various table-tops around a room effectively are lost in space.

When there is a single object that is not large enough to take up a wall, but is important enough to have attention lavished upon it, put it on a pedestal or an easel.

I often wish I had bought one big feature piece as a memory of my backpacking days, but I didn't. Instead, I have three little lacquer boxes, which I display in a group. When I look at them they remind me of my wonderful OE, and that is what it's all about.