I’ve had a love and appreciation for beautiful objects ever since my mother took me to my first garage sale as a young girl. Browsing delicate trinkets and wondering about their histories sparks a fascination that can’t be explained, which holds true for many individuals. It is astounding how much emphasis and value we place on the tiny objects that make up our lives. Objects are powerful.
Those weekend garage sales went on to influence my early career. In the 90s, I worked in the silver department of Christie’s auction house, taking my love and appreciation of objects to the next level. I learned how to identify design periods, designers, and the provenance or story of a piece. Here, I got to see just how much there is to know about objects. In fact, some people get a degree and make a whole career out of the study and curation of objects. A colleague of mine from Christie’s actually went on to study the history of objects at Bard College—simply amazing!
Collections bring us so much personal joy, and objects can be a way for people to come together in discussions. Ever heard of a conversation piece? Objects truly are conversation starters and methods to understand those around us. In this Interior Design Glossary entry, my team of Austin interior designers and I review the definition, history, and benefits of objects, as well as how to display them in the home.
What are Objects?
We all know what objects are, of course! Objects include sculptures, records, pottery, art, taxidermy birds, marble busts, shells, lamps, unicorn figurines, movie posters, celebrity memorabilia, books, and pretty much anything else. However, what role do objects play in the interior design and personalization of a home? At their root, our collections showcase our personalities—allowing our guests, friends, and family members a glimpse into our inner worlds. Decorator Michael Greer wrote that accessories, objects, and collections “document the you-ness of you.” This sentiment is why the smallest trinket can hold the biggest meaning and become one of our most cherished possessions.
A Brief History of Objects in Interior Design
Humans have been collecting objects since the dawn of time. My team of Austin interior designers and I are certain that cave dwellers organized rock collections next to stalagmites to achieve the perfect feng shui. Throughout human existence, we have tied meaning, value, and sentimentality to objects that help turn our houses into homes. Objects come in various shapes, sizes, and styles—representing individuals and the regions where they are made. A cherished object could be a piece of Southwestern-style turquoise from your recent trip to Santa Fe or a rad record collection you’ve had since you decorated your first apartment with 1980s interior design trends. Collecting objects helps us remember our personal histories and life’s happiest moments along the way, which is why they have endured throughout history.
How to Place Value on Objects
How do we place value on objects? When comparing big box store decor to auction house items, there is a massive price difference. Why can an antique bowl sell at a Christie’s auction for $18,000 while a similar-sized bowl can be purchased at Target for $18? There’s an object economy, and not all objects are created equal.
My cousin, Angus Wilkie, knows all about the intricate process of valuing an object. Angus is a dealer in antiques and displays his incredible collections at his store Cove Landing in New York City. I am always amazed at the beauty of the objects that he finds. While there are many components to consider, valuing an object comes down to design quality, production quantity, and provenance.
Design quality refers to how the item was made. Was it dreamed up by a notable designer, or is it a knockoff of last year’s major trend? How much time and effort went into drawing the design, sourcing the materials, and crafting the piece? Quality influences price.
Production quantity refers to how many copies of the object were produced. For example, an original Van Gogh painting will be worth more than a poster print because there is one original and thousands of copies. When there is less of something in production, there is a higher potential of it being worth more.
Provenance refers to how the item came to be or the story and history behind it. For example, a bracelet previously owned by Marilyn Monroe and a pen used by Ernest Hemingway hold a different value than the same items formerly owned by Joe Shmoe. Sometimes, the history of a piece or the craft adds value and makes it collectible.
Benefits of Objects in Interior Design
What would a home be with nothing inside it? Here are the four main benefits of collecting and displaying objects in your interior design plan.
Objects and collections are expressive of our tastes and interests. What we collect and display showcases our personality and reminds us of who we are.
Create Conversation Pieces
Unique objects can strike up a conversation. I don’t think anyone ever had a dull cocktail party graced by the presence of signed Elvis Presley records.
Serve as Investments
Certain objects continue to increase in value. For example, a Birkin bag has been reported to be an even better investment than gold!
Add Beauty to the Home
Objects fill our homes with beauty, character, and personality—which is what interior design is all about!
Ways to Display Objects
Objects without proper displays can become clutter. Here are six creative ways to display your personal objects and collections in the home.
Custom built-ins can be specifically designed to fit your unique collection of objects and showcase them in the best light.
Brackets are small ornamental shelves that can be arranged on the wall to add dimension, style, and personality to any room.
Bar carts are the perfect place to display your collection of drinkware or aged whiskeys.
Displaying collections on the fireplace mantel is a classic option that evokes charm and warmth.
Group objects on trays to create emphasis and establish order, making a statement rather than clutter.
Call attention to major statement pieces by giving them a home of their own. Center tables are display and catch-all tables placed in the center of a room or in an alcove—perfect for vases and sculptures.
Should You Fill Your Home with Objects?
Yes! It is a joy and a privilege to discover unique finds, learn about how they were created, gain insight into the cultures they represent, and place them in the perfect spot of honor in our homes. Objects showcase who we are, reflect periods of our life, and tell our stories. The key to filling your home with beautiful objects is curation. My team of Austin interior designers and I can help you curate your collection and design the perfect plan for display.
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Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.