Grouping and Displaying Collections- Part I

We are soothed by similarity because visually we prefer similarities to opposites. This can be called the law of grouping. Simplicity has power. Compositionally, it is more interesting and dramatic to achieve a balance of elements asymmetrically. In the law of grouping, objects either harmonize or fight for attention in their visual relationships.

When grouping objects, keep in mind the companion law of simplicity.  Some parts belong together in close proximity while others do not.  Look at each object, each form, for an echo of the shape of another. Cobalt blue poison bottles on the window ledge are all rectilinear in shape: fluted blue bottles with wide, slightly rounded shoulders and a small opening. Because they are old, each one is slightly different in design as well as size. But they are all poison bottles, all the same cobalt blue, all of similar design and proportions.  Grouped together in size sequence, they are attractive.  However, if they were randomly placed throughout the room on different tabletops and window ledges, they would confuse the eye, and we would miss the charm of their similarities and the details of their differences.

Slightly cluttered groups of objects can be overwhelming, but they can also be beautiful if they’re contained in a smaller space.

Objects placed together as a collection should have at least one thing in common

For example, they could all be the same color or they could all have handles and spouts—teapots, coffeepots, and pitchers.  They could also be the same shape but in different colors and patterns.  Visualize all your objects with at least one thing in common. Look around.  Can you spot some that have two or three or more? Photographs in frames, botanical watercolors, still life paintings, paperweights, crystal decanters, inkwells, carriage clocks, and fruit in a bowl all have a common theme because they are the same kinds of objects.

A collection of many objects of the same color and a similar design when grouped together do not look busy. To create a rich display, don’t forget to place some in front of others rather than lining them up.

Tip of the Day

When grouping objects in a cupboard, begin by putting the plates, platters, and dishes right up against the back of the shelf.  Next, place different-shaped pieces of the same family.  As long as the color scheme is the same and the patterns are compatible, the shape variations will look harmonious, adding interest to the composition. The back area should be higher and larger in scale than the items you place up front.  What you place in the front should never upstage the back or it will appear heavy and hodgepodge.

Change heights from tall to short and sizes from large to small to create interest and balance in groupings.

Look for objects that are reciprocal, that complement each other.

Think of all the different ways you can group parts together to create a cohesive whole.  You can place similar shapes together, as in the example of the poison bottles.  You can display objects together that are made of the same material—all brass, all glass, all jade, all silver, etc.

Think of all the different ways you can group parts together to create a cohesive whole.

When you have several variations of a certain type of object—for example, paperweights—they will be extremely harmonious when placed together in the same composition.  Small oval and round enamel pillboxes have repetition of shape, as well as a close range of scale and similar colors, and look better when grouped together than when scattered randomly among objects of a larger scale with less intricate detail.

Fancifully decorated vintage tea canisters are hung on a wall to play up their graphic quality. {photo: Anna Williams, Town & Country}