Written by Candace Pollock Moore
September 16, 2019
Decorating trends come and go with the wind. And yet, what goes around, always seems to come around again. Lately, I see styles in magazines that my parents had in our home in the 1960s. Gone are the big comfy couches—and in are the sleek, trim lines of Scandinavia.
No matter what your style, one decorating method includes showcasing your collections. Whether you prefer delicate china teacups and porcelain figurines or burlap and farming implements, cleverly displaying vintage or antique collectibles bring personality to your home. The key is presenting your treasures in a way that accents without overpowering.
“The clutter factor is real when you like collecting,” says Jamie Oliver, a Virginia homesteader and blogger at The Lowe Farm. For that purpose, aficionados of decorating with collectibles recommend putting the items to use as containers and organizers or upcycling them into other things.
Kathleen Sheetz, another Virginia homesteader, uses vintage crocks throughout her home. Several 10-gallon ones sit next to her back door.
“In the summertime, I fill them with beach towels and pool supplies. In the winter, hats, gloves, and scarves,” she says. She also uses a one-gallon crock on the bathroom sink for toothpaste, toothbrush, shaving cream and razor.
Other containers that both Oliver and Sheetz use include enamelware pans, old drawers, flower pots, wooden boxes, and tins or cans. They hold things like shoes by the door, remote controls, kitchen utensils, and fruit.
Oliver and her husband found several old, large lard cans with the lids. “I loved the vibrant colors and the tall, round shape,” she says. Because they are clean and sturdy and have no sharp edges, they make perfect laundry hampers in her kids’ bedrooms.
Oliver also uses wooden crates on her wall in lieu of bookshelves. Because they have sides, using the boxes eliminates the need for bookends. They are also deeper than most shelving so you can use them for oversized books or larger items.
Old doorknobs make great towel holders in the bathroom or coat racks for the mudroom. Attach ceramic knobs to a piece of old barn wood for a rustic effect. Or crystal knobs to a piece of architectural molding for a more refined look. Have you collected outdoor spigot knobs of various shapes and sizes? Consider painting them in different colors and use like the doorknobs to create a hat rack.
You may want to turn your collectible items into something else. Oliver has a lamp she made from a canning jar. Other ideas include using old windows as picture frames. Or, as Sheetz did, fill the panes with mirrors. Use an old iron sewing machine cabinet base as the base for a table or bathroom vanity. Make candles from teacups and drawer pulls from old railroad spikes.
Bobbie Wilinski, owner of Bobbie’s Barn in Broadway, Virginia, makes a living turning vintage items into creative lighting pieces. Her creations include everything from fishing bait buckets and old TV rabbit ear antennae to bike sprockets and books.
“I turn a lot of teapots and percolators into nightlights for the kitchen. Those are popular,” she says. “As are the book lamps.”
Sometimes folks see her creations and say, “I have one of those but my kids don’t want it.” So, Wilinski suggests they turn it into something functional—a lamp. That suggestion leads to quite a few custom orders.
Sometimes you just want to show off your special things as a collection. Consider using box frames for things like skeleton keys or old baby clothes. Or a glass-top coffee table for old toys. Oliver framed a vintage calendar from the feed store for wall art.
“It has beautiful full-color illustrations…plus the local business name and old phone number. It’s fun when visitors come into the living room and remember the store and tell us stories about our town from years ago,” she says.
Your decorating personality doesn’t need to stop at the back door. Put some of your treasures to use in the yard or patio, too. Old porch pillars make great posts for birdhouses or hanging plants.
Some folks glue teacup to saucer to post and fill the cup with birdseed for a whimsical bird feeder. And I’m sure we’ve all seen old iron bed headboards used as trellises in the garden.
When using vintage items for everyday use, you want to make sure that they’re up to the task. Oliver looks over her items thoroughly before buying them. If those lard cans had rust inside or sharp edges, she couldn’t use them for laundry. Old apple crates or boxes need secure joints to hold the weight of books. Also, check for exposed nails that will snag your books or your fingers.
If you have a family or a lot of traffic in your home, understand your precious things could get broken. You never know when kids’ roughhousing will knock something over, or a that ball will go flying and hit an item you thought was safe on a top shelf.
Tip: If you’re not willing to hold your precious things with an open palm, putting them on display may not a style you want to pursue.
As Oliver says about collecting vintage farm finds, “We love history, but I also joke how sturdy rustic pieces are more forgiving for young families. No worries about scratches or dents on the furniture from the kiddos—they blend into the regular scuffs...like they belong there.”