How to Start a Collection
Collections can span anything from a casual ensemble of similar items or a finely-tuned approach for specific, authentic objects. No matter your approach, learn how to start a collection with these tips for identifying your passions, hunting down finds, and putting your treasures on display.
Collecting is easy, of course. With an abundance of flea markets, antique stores, and estate sales around, picking up treasures here and there is a breeze. But creating a collection—a curated ensemble of thoughtfully selected items—takes a bit more strategy. Things people collect vary widely—from fine art paintings to county fair buttons. If you are passionate about one thing—say, wooden tramp art boxes or wind-up tin collectible toys from the 1950s—hunting down and displaying your treasures is a relatively straightforward endeavor. You know what you’re seeking and honing in on items as you visit flea markets or searching the right keywords on an online auction site become second nature.
But creating a collection can go beyond just gathering a number of like objects. If a figurine display of 200 statues isn’t your thing, consider a more eclectic approach to collection ideas. It requires some thought and a few parameters, but once you have your framework in mind, you’ll be on your way to knowing how to start a collection.
Develop Your Collection Mission
Here are some broad parameters for organizing and creating collections that don't rely on sheer numbers alone.
Collect By Style
Strive to define your style in words. Is it farmhouse, romantic, contemporary, vintage, rustic, or midcentury modern? Maybe it's even country French, European, or Tuscan. By consciously determining your style mission statement, you can refer back to it whenever you make a buying decision. And you may find that your style preference doesn’t fit a prescribed look, but is rather a distinct combination. If your goal is to express a romantic vintage look using white or an industrial rustic style with clean lines then you'll immediately know that buying a colorful contemporary abstract painting won't contribute to your goal.
Collect By Color
Even disparate items look more cohesive when they adhere to a consistent color scheme. If you love the lines of a piece but the color's all wrong, consider painting or covering it, providing the piece isn't too fine. A black metal sconce with the right shape can easily fit into your white aesthetic with a few coats of white paint. Or a clean white reupholstery job will help that carved dining chair fit right into your bright cottage design.
Collect By Theme
Group items by similar subject matter to give them greater importance. If you like amateur artwork, for instance, focus on collecting landscape paintings or black-and-white portraits as your specialty. Think beyond like items, too. If you love botanical prints, collect an assortment and add in a few similar items, but in a different form, such as a botanical print tray.
What to Collect
Now that you have an idea of what colors and styles you are seeking, it’s time to start collecting. So what are you looking for? Try these tips for beginning a collection.
1. Start local and browse nearby antique stores and flea markets. Begin with one or two pieces that are affordable and let them linger in your home for awhile. If you fall in love every time you look at the items, you’ve found your collection match and have scouted out the best places to go hunting for your next piece.
2. Do your research to find out what your desired collectible tends to fetch, so you’ll know what is overpriced and what is a bargain you won’t want to miss out on. Research can also help you know how to identify an authentic piece and what might be an imitation.
3. Look for vintage pieces that remind you of something or someone special. For example, you might search for some floral teacups that look like ones your grandmother used to have.
4. Ask relatives if they have any family heirlooms they are willing to give you. Often these personal items will give you an idea of collections to start. From one family heirloom, you can start to build an entire collection.
5. Consider your hobbies and interests. Collections of old postcards, golf memorabilia, wooden toys, 1930s kitchen utensils, or leather-bound books should reflect your personality.
6. When you’re traveling, make it a point to stop at an antique shop or two. Regions and cities often have a distinct vibe to their antique scene and you might find something unexpected. It’s also fun to respond to your friends’ inquiries with “Oh that? I picked it up when I was in Nashville last spring.”
7. Still not sure how to start a collection? Spend some time leisurely browsing a flea market or antique store. Pay attention to what catches your eye. It may be the geometric patterns on midcentury barware or the industrial appeal of pulleys.
8. Connect with shop owners and vendors. By forming a relationship, they’ll know what you’re looking for and may be more willing to buy your desired collectibles as they are bringing in inventory since they know they’ll have a likely buyer in you, a faithful customer.
Collectible Display Ideas
Show off your finds proudly and creatively with unique collectible display ideas that highlight the beauty of your treasures.
Beyond Basic Shelves
While most display ideas involve shelves of some kind, that doesn’t mean your shelves have to be ordinary. Get creative with your shelving to really showcase a collection. Here, old metal drawers mounted in a symmetric grouping house a library of antique books.
Mix and Match
Rather than lining up collectibles in a formal curio, mix them in with another grouping. Stack colorfully bound books along a shelf, placing some vertical and others horizontal, then fill in with your collection. Consider starting a collection of ancillary items too. Mix rolls of vintage film with old cameras, or complement retro Pyrex with similar throwback utensils.
Frame the Unexpected
Put vintage textiles on display inside shadow boxes. Select garments that fit a theme (such as a vintage bathing suit for an oceanside space), complement a color scheme, or are just an interesting design.
Let the shapes of your collected pieces dictate their wall arrangement. Don’t try to fit everything into a perfect grid. Instead, play around with a core arrangement with pieces you currently own, then rearrange or add on to the arrangement as you collect more pieces.