Curating vs. Clutter

From Laura Ashley blog interview with Geraldine James, Author of “Creative Walls”

I recently attended a seminar by Professional Organizer Robynne Pendaries, on decluttering and better organising your space – a hot topic for many people as we move into spring. She touched on many fascinating topics (including trying to live with hoarder partners), but one that really grabbed my attention was Visual Clutter.  In this context, she was talking about the overwhelming effect of too many conflicting colours, patterns, textures, to the point that you can no longer concentrate on a task or activity.

This got me thinking about interior design, and one of the current trends for ‘curating’.  The magazines are full of gorgeous glass cloches or cabinets with carefully put-together collections of shells, bones, little objects. And of course visits to the homes of collectors with presentations of all sorts of collections – trophy heads on every wall, tribal masks, butterfly and insect collections, piles of books everywhere…But its a tricky look to pull off.


To me, a lack of focus combined with a lack of places to rest the eye, represent  examples of Visual Clutter. Some people can live quite happily with a space packed full of crazy colours, shapes, materials, textures, not a clear surface in sight. But for many people, this is just clutter, and clutter can have a detrimental effect in a number of ways – losing things, feeling disorganized, causing or exacerbating relationship problems…

So how to pull off the ‘serious collector’ look without coming across as an eccentric aunty or uncle and creating a dust-laden den of visual fatigue? Corral and edit those objects! Restrict the space you dedicate to collections – just a corner of the room, or just around a single piece of furniture. Glass cloches are great for helping a collection look purposeful, dust free, and limits how much can be displayed. But one on its own looks lonely, and I think more than 2 or 3 would be overdoing it. A glass-fronted cabinet, if you have the space, can look fantastic as long as the contents are well edited: have something to unify them, such as colour, and play about with scale.  A tray is a wonderful way to display a collection of objects – that way you can’t pile on too many things, they are grouped together rather than spread around the room, and putting almost anything on a lovely tray instantly improves the way it looks.

From Baer Home Design

Home is where the Art is

I see many nice homes which lack personality.  They are tastefully decorated, but lack something…when I look around it  often comes down to a bland expanse of wall.  Maybe the odd baby or wedding photo, but even these may be sparse and out of scale with the blank space.

I have nothing against baby or wedding photos – these all have their place in our homes. But they can’t be the only thing for the eye to be drawn to when walking into a room.  And if you are going to  display them, group them together for more impact. That way, instead of the photos looking like you are just hiding existing nails in the wall, you have created a purposeful display which someone can linger at for a few minutes.

I love to see  ‘gallery’ walls, where different styles, sizes and medium can be mixed up on the walls. It creates a wonderfully interesting focal point, sparks conversations. It also really helps to warm up a space, through the colours and texture.

The best thing about this approach to using artwork is that you needn’t have a big budget, nor have any particular expertise. What is important is to pick things you really do like, whether it be for colour, shape, subject, or even the frame.  You can even mix in those family photos, if they work. It is often recommended to ensure there is something common which pulls it all together – perhaps the same style or colour of frame, or maybe a common colour which appears in the overall montage. But as you can see from the example on the left, it is not necessary. Just play around with the layout till the balance feels right.

How you lay them out depends on your personality.  Wheter you like things lined up and squared off, or prefer a more higgledy-piggledy look, the following tip is a good way of playing around with the layout without making hundreds of holes in the wall:

Get 1 or more big pieces of cardboard or paper (if you ever do flat-pack furniture, the packaging can be useful for this). Lay the cardboard out on the floor, and lay out your pictures on top. Play around with the arrangement till you are happy with the look.  Then draw around each picture on the cardboard, so you have a template.  Note where the hook or wire on the back of each picture is! Tack up the template on the wall, and use a hammer & nail to mark each spot to put a picture hook.

Of course different frames have different ways of attaching themselves to the wall, some have a catch at the top, some use picture wire.  To ensure your picture goes exactly where you want it, you can make the ingenious “picture hanging tool” below to ensure each picture hangs perfectly in its designated spot. I stumbled across it on Pinterest one day, and it is such a logical and easy way to hang pictures! Click on the link to get the instructions:

The Picture Hanging Tool

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