sneak peek: best of collections

(A big welcome to our fantastic summer intern, Max Tielman! We’ve had so much fun working with Max for the past few weeks and are thrilled to have his voice on the site. — Grace]

When my boyfriend and I moved in together a little over a year ago, one of the first topics of dispute was what to do with my ever-growing collection of vintage soda bottles. While we often saw eye to eye on many design-related issues, this bottle collection — a mishmash of specimens saved from places like my grandfather’s home, pseudo-archeological digs and hipster Brooklyn flea markets — was all too eclectic for my boyfriend’s modernist leanings. The bottles, which I had lovingly arranged on a shelf in my previous apartment, represented to him little more than glorified dust collectors. As the bottle collection continued to grow, so did his concern for my mental well-being. To me, the bottles seemed relatively harmless, like jolly little capsules of nostalgia. For my boyfriend, they were dangerous — things that, allowed to go unchecked, could explode into hoarder-status levels of clutter.

Indeed, with television shows like Hoarders gaining national attention, hoarding has become an all-out phenomenon, adopted into our daily lexicon with alarming rapidity. Collecting, which until recently seemed rather innocuous, has now been pushed into the realm of mental pathology. Collectors previously thought at worst to be eccentric now appear to many as clinically deranged. This needs to stop! I, for one, would like to defend these collectors.

As I combed through the Design*Sponge archives recently, I learned that collections are much more than the results of unbalanced brain chemistry and unhinged neural pathways. They are, like all things we surround ourselves with, communicative — and oftentimes beautiful. Collecting, I believe, stems from a very basic human desire to remember and to project. The things in our collections remind us of past or even imagined experiences. They are outward expressions of our selves, physical mile markers that remind us and the people around us who we are and where we have been. To some, a collection might be a way to remember a loved one. For others, it might simply be a way to brighten up one’s home. Sometimes, collection building becomes an art in itself. The following images are all collections culled from the Design*Sponge archives. While formed for different reasons, these collections are wonderful examples of how fantastic — and totally not insane — collecting can be. — Max

Read the full post after the jump . . .

Image above: Photographer Jo Metson Scott’s collection of globes and photographs.

Image above: An assortment of color-coded travel and flea market finds from the studio of graphic designer Louise Fili.

Image above: Graphic designer Liz Cook’s display of vintage photography ephemera and Chicago World’s Fair memorabilia. “The projector I inherited from my grandma is still in tip-top shape,” she adds.

Image above: Blogger Hilda Grahnat’s apartment is home to a collection of vintage clocks inherited from her grandfather.

Image above: Artist Ryan Humphrey’s collection of vintage ’80s skateboards.

Image above: An assortment of matchboxes and matchbooks collected by Greenwich Letterpress’s Amy Salvini-Swanson.

Image above: Collections of vintage glassware, books and packaging ephemera line the built-in shelves in Jordan Provost and Jason Wong’s Crown Heights home.

Image above: A collection of tin toys that once belonged to designer Emma Jeffs’ late mother. “They are very precious to me,” she says. “The tin cable car (on the top) was one she bought for me when we lived in San Francisco.”

Image above: Paul Donald’s refrigerator pulls double duty as an ever-changing gallery for his growing collection of ephemera.

Image above: A small assortment of vintage tins gathered for a photo shoot became a passion in itself for photographer Corbin Lee Gurkin. Now she has amassed quite the treasure trove, gathered from travels in Europe and Maine. “I try to find a tin from each new place I visit,” she says, “but the best ones have come from Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill.”

Image above: A herd of wild deer figurines lines the headboard of Shauna Alterio and Stephen Loidolt’s bed.

Images above: Artist Lisa Congdon, who pretty much wrote the book on collecting, has turned her kitchen into a gallery for beautiful midcentury kitchenware, including a number of stunning Cathrineholm pieces.

Collectors unite!

  1. *Love* the vintage tin and Catherineholm collections. It’s true, collections can be such a great way to remember your travels. Just might borrow the tin idea the next time I’m on the road!

  2. Teresa says:

    And here I thought I was the only one who collected tins. ;-) Great to see that there are others as obsessed as I am. It is also good to have friends from other countries who know about ones crazed obsessions. I have gotten some great one-of-a-kind items that way. Will definitely check out Portabello Road when next in London.

  3. As a vintage dealer, I of course wholeheartedly encourage collecting. :) And I’m certainly not innocent of the habit! This amazing gallery is encouraging me to capture my constantly rotating collections in their current states.

    And Lisa Congdon’s Cathrineholm collection is a dream to someone like me! You can tell she’s put a lot of effort and love into curating it.

  4. Emily Black says:

    The tins are my favourite! Perfectly vintage. I am now wondering about how I can start my very own collection…

  5. Claire Livia says:

    I am such a collector, it’s lovely to see other people who do it with such style! And I loved the little write up- I totally hide new-to-me vintage tins from my boyfriend!

  6. al says:

    so…what did you and your sweetheart decide, regarding your collection?
    my child was obsessed with this book when he was wee:

  7. Plein Jane says:

    This will sound unbelievably nerdy of me but, Max, thank you for being the master of the parenthetical phrase. (What can I say? Proper punctuation gives me goosebumps.) Beautiful writing, as well…

  8. David says:

    Thank you for this article! I have been a junk dealer since the age of thirteen when I set up a booth at the local flea market. It eventually helped to pay for my college education. I still collect and sometimes sell items; luckily I have an enormous attic for storage. Lately I too have been labeled a hoarder and I simply smile and agree while secretly counting the profit when I decide to cash in. It’s better than investing in the stock market.

  9. Maria says:

    This is such a great article! I love every single collection you show here. For me, the most interesting thing is searching and researching an item :)

  10. Bree says:

    Welcome, Max! I appreciated your voice as well and will look forward to reading more. I’m always interested to read others’ thoughts on the fine line between pathology and artistic vision. To me, a less clinical line in the sand is that collecting is healthy as long as it doesn’t negatively impact the collector’s life (literally and figuratively).

    Clutter that stresses you out or prevents you from having folks over is different than the same amount of stuff lovingly cared for and arranged to be appreciated and valued. Love reading about the kooky things that people hold dear.

  11. Elise says:

    I’m a (beginning) glass collector myself! I really liked this post! Currently we live in a pretty small apartment with no shelves so my small collection isn’t out on display… But now that might change! I love Jordan and Jason’s display!

  12. I like this round–up…but I would have to see something with collections of yarn or fabric. I know these aren’t collectible antiques (although some peeps might keep them long enough to earn that honor) but I need storage ideas that are cute, clever and doable.

  13. Colleen says:

    Cocktail shakers, figural decanters, cast iron bottle openers, globes, mermaids, hands, Eiffel towers, Japanese bird figurines, brown transfer ware, typewriters, view masters, tin toy refrigerators, thermoses, picnic baskets, tins, fondue pots, aqua Pyrex, hazel atlas children’s mugs, fire king mugs, children’s Japanese tea sets, mushroom canisters, vintage linens of all kinds, blue Ball jars, sewing boxes… Are you sure I don’t have issues? Oh well, I love the thrill of the hint AND my dust collectors. Thank you for the article.

  14. “Collecting, which until recently seemed rather innocuous, has now been pushed into the realm of mental pathology.”
    Ha. Max, you are both funny and astute! Lovely writing.

    I think that *what* is collected might reflect on one’s mental state or make up. I collected pencils as a child. Pencils. Huh.

  15. Love the vintage kitchenware collections…totally on board with that style statement!

  16. Isabelle says:

    As an avid collector, I love seeing how others deal with their passions.

  17. Claire says:

    What a beautiful story! I think it proves that a special collection deserves a great display solution, love the little shadow boxes and the recessed shelf above the bed. Will have to come up with a better way to show off my letterpress collection!

  18. Arielle Leipham says:

    Max–I found myself reading at great speed because I was so interested in what you were saying. What a unique voice you have that shines through in your writing.

    Max & D*S: a match made in design heaven if I do say so myself.

  19. francsac says:

    Loved the tins and Lisa Congdon’s scandinavian-ish colored collection! Portabello Marcket sounds so tempting…! Thanks for the post :)

  20. Rose says:

    I have always been someone who does collections – I love them and just looking at the images of all the different collections was exhilarating for me. Boy am I glad that vintage collectibles have made their way back to acceptability. I used to collect teapots, and teacups, saucers and anything that has pretty floral vintage pattern on.

  21. patrice says:

    I love someone taking a clear eyed look at the latest pathology – and may I second a goose bump reaction to correct punctuation and beautiful writing.

  22. Erin C says:

    MAX!! So happy to see you doing more awesome things! Loved the insight :)
    <3 Erin C

    PS your website is fantastic haha!

  23. Yolanda says:

    What a great piece both in the writing and visually with the collections. You have a gorgeous writing style Max. More please! Beautiful images with beautiful writing lifts both and helps lend them a better context.

  24. Ryan Humphrey says:

    Thank you Max! Someday I will get the 50+ 80’s bmx bikes photographed.

  25. linda blackmore says:

    I think those of us who are very visual are very likely to collect–we like things where we can see them, and when something visual attracts us, we want to possess the look.

  26. hillary says:

    Love the post and still want to see the bottle collection!

  27. What a great post, Max. I look forward to more of your thoughts and photos. I agree with what you say and with what our fellow posters, above, say, as well. I think a key difference in hoarding and collecting, is, collections can be beautiful, or interesting, or surprising, whether they are massive or small. The hoards featured on the shows are usually hazardous, aggressively dangerous (toxic food hoards, floorboards that collapse from the weight of 10,000 old newspapers, decomposing animals) and often insulate the hoarder from human contact. A collection is fascinating, and often serves as a lovely way to invite human interaction, as we observe and remark on the collection and the ways in which it reflects the life and interests of the collector.

  28. Bonnie says:

    I so enjoy this post on a rainy (rain!) sleep in morning in July. Some of us hopelessly romantic, nostalgic, dreamy souls cannot help but put together a group of objects that feed some notion we have now or maybe forever, who knows. I am a seller, but I still collect because its part of my nature. I love so many different things. No mater who you live with, your collection will provoke some hostility sometimes from your partner because you know, that guy didn’t pick it. I think this article is a great beginning of a defense of the instinct to collect. I think there is a book possibility here, or a blog project.

  29. Gladys says:

    Collecting and hoarding are different. Only folks who have not had proper information about hoarding, except from what they’ve seen on television, would think that. Thank you Francis Liscio for the good information in your post.
    Yay!!! for collections and for the collectors who show us their lovely catalog of items. We are all enriched for it. Thank you Max for the article. Please do another one for us on more collections display that cross your path. A collection displayed creatively is inspiring to see.

  30. dana says:

    I love seeing people’s collections! But where are Max’s bottles? Should have tossed a pic of those in there as well!

  31. Tricia says:

    I am so glad to see this post! I have lately started feeling like a hoarder…there is a lot of peer pressure out there.But I love my collections, of which I have many, and now I’m inspired to display more!

  32. Yes!! If you have a collection display it all together for the most impact! Loved this post and enjoyed seeing all the different display ideas. I have a asoft spot for vignettes,I loved the globe arrangement! I will of course be pinning!

  33. Maribeth W says:

    I love this post! I collect an assortment of different things and love seeing other people’s collections as well! I too get told that I’m a borderline hoarder, but in my eyes collecting and hoarding are just different enough.

  34. Teri says:

    I love what I have, many small collections which show my varied interests, but when I start stumbling over them I know I either need to organize or get rid of. These photos were great inspiration, mini-libraries, if you will, and I saw some new things I will look for in the future (oh, the hunt!).

  35. Eileen says:

    Max, Nice job. Thank you for making me feel better about my collections. They do bring us back to certain memory, place or loved one. I feel inspired to rearrange now!

  36. renee says:

    Inspired to pin. I can now explain to my son just how i will use his old toys! Thanks so much!

  37. misa says:

    what a great article, max! clearly, you and daniel are a writing and design force to be reckoned with!

  38. Nancy Dewar says:

    I love Lisa Congdon’s kitchen! The bright ceramics displayed on glass shelves are great. Also love the clean, simple lines.

  39. Frances says:

    Hi Max. I love the post. But I am as entertained by the comments. But you will find that D*S commenters are the most interesting;). (Sorry, I have a winking problem). Anyway, great job and I look forward to more posts and goosebumps;).

  40. Linda Witten says:

    Loved your article!!! And I am so glad to have seemingly found a group of like minded people— I no longer feel like a nut case. My son’s grade school friends used to ask why his mother had a bunch of little naked men (Budda collections) on our tables. Normal people have one couch, one chair, with one pillow on each one—I have failed big time!!!


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