Big Shelf Little Shelf: Or What You Can Learn From a Muppet About Displaying Collections

Think back… Back... No, no, FURTHER back...

Okay, there-- stop there! (Screech!)

Where are we, you ask? The address is 123 Sesame Street. And Ernie is debating putting Bert’s favorite vase on the Big Shelf, or the Little Shelf...

Inside Ernie’s imaginative, Velcro-covered noggin, he pictures the outcome of his decorating choices...

First, the vase is placed on the too-tiny shelf. And, unfortunately, it goes from tasteful home accessory to potential mosaicing project in about three seconds.

Ernie is evicted for his carelessness, presumably gets no portion of his rent deposit back, and likely is taken to small claims court for vase restitution.

But in the second scenario, Ernie chooses to display the vase on the Big Shelf, the shelf of safety and visual balance. Instantly he gains the sort of over-exuberant fanfare seen today only in episodes of “Extreme Home Makeover Edition.”

Of course, in real life, no one expects parties and fawning over smart home decorating. (Well, not anyone without a merchandise line, anyway.) But, hey, our orange Muppet pal has a point-- displaying collections in a coherent way does have its rewards. It’s nice to be surrounded by the things you love. And it’s visually soothing to see the right combination of objects in the right sizes displayed together on something that really fits. Guess that’s just the way the ol’ Velcro-covered noggin processes the world around us...

And why it’s so important to find the proper Big or Little Shelf to showcase our collections.

The Ernie skit came back to me because, well, for one thing it’s been rattling around in my brain for decades-- no doubt pushing out information I could use for, say, my job...

Or tax time.

But also, I’ve been a bit shelf-centered lately. You know how some people collect cats? Me, I hoard Victoriana. And it’s a constant struggle between the desire to collect, versus my desire to not be struck from above by too many objects popping off my walls.

So while the Victorians had no problem with layers of items in their vignettes, my goal has really been to create a SENSE of that-- without actually wading knee-deep in tchotchkes. Shelves have proven to be a great way to create some structure and order, and still savor, well, stuff.

By way of example, here’s the photo I posted in January. This was my one kitchen wall.

The wall had started out okay with a few of my Victorian plates on it, but after a while, as I found some marvelous little treasures, it grew organically until there was entirely too much clutter and too many little shelves—even for a gal who’s pro-stuff.

There was just way too many things going on here. It was agitating.

So I took two of these plain pine shelves from Michael’s, dressed them up with a bit of William Morris-like trim and—you can see the “After” below.

Because of patterns on the kitchen walls and the whiteware plates themselves, I’ve tried to balance it all out with some smooth, creamy (patternless) jadite. Now I have room to display more plates at a time-- and still, I think it works a lot better than before. Today I have similar shelf projects going on in my living room and in the entryway.

(And, no, I don’t know why the pics look so bendy-- must just be the effect of the camera angle, because the shelves actually are straight. :) )

In my Collecting section of the site I’ve shown you some of my bisque pieces. So I wanted to show you now where they live.

This is really the extent of them-- with the exception of the three on my dining room mantle, which we’ll go see in a moment. I purposefully chose ones I really liked, in colors that went with the pinks, turquoises and ambers of the entry way. You’ll notice, I could probably squeeze one or two more in there, but if it did, it would look entirely too overcrowded. So to keep the visual balance, I don’t plan to acquire any more, unless I come across something truly amazing-- in which case I’ll either trade one on this shelf for that one, or find a new home for it entirely. The great thing about this shelf, is it fits perfectly in the unused corner, and helps create some space. So let’s hear it for corner shelves! They’re not particularly easy to find, but they’re definitely worth the trouble.

Now when it comes to a kind of shelf many people have, already built-in-- this is the diningroom mantle currently.

What I like about this is, not only am I able to display three of my favorite bisque pieces, but I have a safe spot for the luster shoe a thoughtful friend gave me, and a teacup that reminded me of my Great-Aunt Bess. I purposefully tried to balance different shaped pink and green luster items on either side of the mantle, to carry on the interest, while still feeling cohesive.

Okay, so what’s the point of all this, you ask? Simply to say that no matter what you collect-- whether it’s schmaltzy Victorian porcelain, streamlined deco, or even early 70s rubber duckies-- take heart, there’s always a way to make your collection feel at home in YOUR home. It’s all about trial and error, thinking it through, giving each item the space it deserves and, most of all, knowing when to say when.

This week’s blog was sponsored by the letter J and the number 6.