DESIGNER AND AUTHOR JOHN PHIFER MARRS SHARES HIS EXPERT TIPS FOR DISPLAYING CHERISHED COLLECTIBLES. PLUS: A TRIO OF LOTS FROM UPCOMING AUCTIONS INSPIRED BY MARRS’ DESIGNS
By Rhonda Reinhart • Photos by Michael Hunter and Dallas Visual Design
John Phifer Marrs has been designing homes for collectors for more than three decades. But it wasn’t until a couple of years ago, after participating in a decorative arts lecture series at Heritage Auctions, that he got the idea to write a book about the countless spaces he has created for collections of all kinds.
The result, Interiors for Collectors, published in September by Gibbs Smith, features walls, rooms and entire wings dedicated to what Marrs calls “magnificent collections of just about anything and everything you can imagine.” Whether it’s Victorian silver and art glass, political memorabilia and geodes, or handbags and antique furnishings, this connoisseur of collections has arranged, organized and edited it all.
But no matter the size or type of the collection, the spaces featured in Marrs’ book share a common theme: “The book is about collectors who live with their collections,” he says. “These are not museums. These are homes.”
Here Marrs shares his top tips for displaying and maintaining your collections – whatever and wherever they may be.
1. Group Like Items Together
“My favorite saying is ‘One is nice, two is better, but three is a collection,’” Marrs says. Here, a grouping of antique paintings that once were scattered throughout his client’s house now are arranged salon-style in her dining room. Not only does this display pack a more powerful visual punch, but it also brings more joy to the homeowner’s frequent dinner parties. Bonus tip: When it comes to framing your paintings, Marrs is adamant that you ignore your decor. “I choose a frame that enhances the painting and has nothing to do with the decoration of the room,” he says. “It must have only to do with the painting itself. You frame it once, and you frame it forever.”
2. Edit Collections Once a Year
“If you want to be a more intelligent collector, then I think you should look at how you could refine your collection and make it better,” Marrs says. “In my own collecting, things I might have loved 10 years ago, I now feel like might not be as good a quality as what I could possibly attain. So I edit, organize and hopefully improve the collection.” Marrs suggests making time for an annual assessment of your acquisitions, selling or consigning the pieces that no longer fit with your collecting goals. In other words: “Let somebody else love on it for a while,” he says. “It will be as joyful for them as it was for you when you first got it.”
3. Procure a Great Display Piece
“No matter how fabulous a collection is, you need that element of display to really make it come to life,” Marrs says. “Put it in a beautiful cabinet, or put it on a wall of shelves and light it, and it is suddenly stunning.” For the designer’s personal collection of Parian ware, he opted for a breakfront with a boldly painted background. “The contrast of that creamy white against that coral-salmon color, to me, was just so pretty,” he says. For a similar look, Marrs suggests checking out auction houses for antique cabinets or other pieces of furniture that could contain your collection. “In essence, by putting it in that piece, you have organized your collection,” he says. “Lighting and lining the background will enhance it even more.” When it comes to light, however, if you’re the DIY sort, Marrs cautions that an expert might be needed: “Light can be the enemy of a collection,” he says, “especially with manuscripts.”
4. Like It? Go for It.
It has been said that the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do. The same goes for treasure hunting. If you see a piece that is sure to make your collection sing, don’t hesitate to buy it or bid on it. Otherwise, someone else could beat you to it. “If you have the ability to do it, add it to your collection,” Marrs says. “It might end up being the star. Or, in five years, you might get rid of it and upgrade it again. That’s OK, too.”
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Mix Old With New
In this dining room belonging to a collector of French antiques, Marrs installed an ornate antique chandelier. But finding an appropriate antique table and chairs presented a few challenges. “Antique dining chairs are delicate,” Marrs says. “So if you’re going to be a nervous wreck about it, it’s better to do a reproduction that’s sturdy and comfortable.” The dining table, likewise, had several prerequisites. “It needed to be in the French style,” he says, “but it needed to be a certain size and accommodate a certain number of people.” The solution: Commission a custom piece. “That’s my role as a decorator and designer,” Marrs says. “To help people organize their collections and display them and really live with them.”
Upcoming Lots Inspired by Marrs’ Designs
RHONDA REINHART is the editor of Intelligent Collector.