GLBT AMERICA Home Decor Designer shares tips on displaying collections  

Designer shares tips on displaying collections  

“Everyone should collect something,” says Dallas interior designer John Phifer Marrs.

A collector himself, Marrs has mastered the art of displaying treasures. Now, his new coffee table book, “Interiors for Collectors” (Gibbs Smith, $50), showcases beautiful ways to feature collections in 240 richly photographed pages. It’s a double dose of decadence: jaw-dropping houses plus gorgeous collections.

John Marrs’s new book, “Interiors for Collectors” showcases beautiful ways to display the collections you love. (Courtesy Michael Hunter) 

Though the images will certainly inspire closet collectors to get their treasures out of the cupboard and straight into the museum-quality light, reader beware: Ogling these pages could also make you want to run out and buy a bigger house to fill with exquisite pieces.

“I wanted to share what I’ve learned,” Marrs told me over the phone recently. “While collecting what you love brings joy, how you display it can greatly add to that joy.”

Marrs doesn’t care so much what people collect (with one exception we will get to), but he does care how their collections get displayed. “Many collectors have fabulous things, but they are so poorly displayed or badly lit that I don’t know how their owners can appreciate them.”

His book offers ways to elevate both the ordinary (your Hot Wheels collection) and the extraordinary (your Picassos and Warhols).

Now I know, I am always preaching to you about paring down, and even Marrs will say, editing is a huge part of collecting. But if you wax more than wane, at least do so beautifully. Marrs is here to help.

Q. What do you collect?

A. I collect Chinese mudmen (figures that date back to the 1880s, which Chinese farmers made out of local clay), parian ware (a biscuit porcelain known as poor man’s marble), framed silhouettes, ceramic glove molds because they make me laugh, and my favorite, 19th century transferware in a pattern called Etruscan Vases.

Q. What do you see that most of your clients miss?

A. That they have a collection at all. I will walk in and see they have two pieces of Chinese porcelain in one room and three in another, and I’ll say, “I didn’t know you collected Chinese porcelain.” They didn’t know either. Then I’ll suggest gathering the pieces in one cabinet and lighting them, and they become an impactful focal point. Collections always look better corralled and thoughtfully arranged, rather than spread around a house.

Q. Your book features collections displayed against a range of backgrounds. How do you choose?

A. I’m always looking to create contrasts in color or texture. Anyone can paint the back of a bookcase a different color, and that makes a huge impact. One client collected vintage Waterford crystal. He had the pieces sitting on wood shelves against a white wall. I painted the wall a deep rich red, which made the crystal pop, and added glass shelves and a light. Now they are far lovelier to look at. For a rock collector, I mounted rocks on a linen fabric background to contrast hard against soft.

Q. What do you wish more people knew?

A. That anything on a stand or pedestal looks more important, and that proper lighting makes everything look more dramatic. Both together can make your kid’s paper maché cat look museum worthy. Also simply replacing wood shelves with glass ones improves lighting. Choose half-inch glass shelves. Have them professionally cut to fit, and pay a bit more for crystal glass, which does not have that green tint.

Q. Can you have too much of a good thing?

A. Yes. Learning to edit is an important part of collecting. It can be brutally hard, but it makes for a finer collection. Sometimes a fresh eye helps. I might show a client that if we took away five and left four and lit them, the display would look better. They can always rotate, but should resist putting all out at once.

Q. Your book has examples of clients who needed more than a few display cases.

A. Indeed, for some we added entire wings to display their collections. Some collectors have even built homes using their collections as the driving influence.

At Home: Designer shares art of displaying collections  

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