How to Be a Great Collector

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I moderated a talk recently in which I asked the panelists, “What does it mean to be a true collector?” The answer, it turns out, is a little more complicated than you might think.

Anyone with the means (money and time, and access to eBay) can gather things. Gather enough of them, and it starts to look like a collection. But there’s an element of knowledge — of intent — that makes someone an actual collector. A true collector is someone with a real passion for the things they collect, and that means they will have researched, traveled, and studied their objects of desire.

I have a friend (and she’s asked to stay nameless) who has the most amazing collection of French objects and paintings I have ever seen. It’s a collection built on authenticity and quality, not just gathering enough of one object to fill a curio cabinet. She can guide you through her house naming items and their provenances, but if you stop to ask her a deeper question about any given object she’ll have ten minutes of encyclopedic knowledge to drop on you.

Here’s a quick tour of her lovely collection, which she integrates perfectly into her home décor.

A hand-carved French armoire and bronze dore ornamentation from the collection.
A hand-carved French armoire and bronze dore ornamentation from the collection.

Throughout the house there’s a theme of bronze doré ornamentation on objects and furniture pieces. Also known as giltbronze or gilded metal, it’s a method of using either a copper-zinc alloy or a gold-mercury amalgam to apply a golden finish to cast brass or bronze.

This armoire (French of course) is beautifully hand-carved, and has what some call “chicken wire” in the doors. This wire mesh was hand-created for display furnishings because it could protect the objects inside while showing them off beautifully, since the technology for completely clear glass hadn’t yet been developed.

A marble-top Louis XVI giltwood console table and a shot of the stunning hand-painted wallpaper on the staircase.
A marble-top Louis XVI giltwood console table and a shot of the stunning hand-painted wallpaper on the staircase.

The leftmost photo here shows a marble-top Louis XVI giltwood console table which I found for her on 1stdibs. (Note how it fits perfectly beneath her chair rail.) The look is exceptional with a pair of bronze doré urns with marble bases.

This view from the upstairs landing shows off the most beautiful wallpaper, which was an inspiration for a previous post.

On the right is a stunning French tapestry mounted on the wall behind the sofa.
On the right is a stunning French tapestry mounted on the wall behind the sofa.

This beautiful French tapestry is mounted to stand behind a silk damask Louis XVI sofa.

Seen here are beatiful lamps with custom made shades and details from a marqueterie inlaid chest.
Seen here are beatiful lamps with custom made shades and details from a marqueterie inlaid chest.

The middle shot is a detail of a marqueterie inlaid chest with a marble top, and it’s flanked by lamps with the most beautiful custom shades.

The center photo shows the beautifully decorated guest bedroom.
The center photo shows the beautifully decorated guest bedroom.

My friend’s collection happens to be very formal and very fine, but that’s certainly not the only way to collect. But I will argue that the only way to collect is the way she does — passionately. That makes her the very definition of a true collector.

What are you passionate about? And are you living inside your collection?


Mary Spalding is a Nashville based interior designer with over 30 years of experience. She has overseen countless home revitalizations, renovations, and restorations. She can be reached with your projects and ideas at mary@spaldingway.com.

To shop Mary's collection, click here. To read more posts, click hereFor anything else, leave a note in the comment section.  

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