Show off treasures in awesome display cabinets

Q: I’m on the hunt for a piece of furniture I can use to display special family heirlooms. What do you recommend?

A: To do justice to your killer collection, you need a display cabinet that’s every bit as magnificent as the treasures you want to place inside. Since a display cabinet is the kind of investment piece you’ll want to pass down to future generations — in addition to the keepsakes you’ll show off inside of it — here are some key questions to consider as you hunt for just the right piece.

What size cabinet will fit best?

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they pick out a display cabinet is getting something that’s too small for the space. Bigger is definitely better when it comes to display cases, even if your room is on the small side.

I love it when these grand pieces stand up and shout for your attention instead of hiding bashfully in a corner, lost among the other pieces of furniture. Plus, when your display cabinet is the unmistakable focal point of the room, your family heirlooms will get the notice they deserve.

Hunt for a formidable piece that stretches to the ceiling and covers most of the wall. Before you make a purchase, however, make sure your behemoth fits well in your room. Check the height to ensure it clears the ceiling with room to spare. Then consider its depth. Will it leave adequate space to use the room as you want? It would be a disaster to put a large cabinet in a dining room and not leave plenty of room for guests to pull out their chairs.

What style will look sensational?

If you’re a traditionalist, an old-fashioned breakfront china hutch may be the ideal choice for you, especially if you want to show off your display in the dining room. Since I’m crazy about rooms that sport a variety of colors, textures and styles, I’d recommend finding a hutch that looks great with your dining room table, but doesn’t match it perfectly. I have a variety of wood tones in my home, and I love the energy and interest this mismatched look creates.

Although they were originally designed to hold books, bibliotheques are also a perfect place to show off a sensational set of dishes or other keepsakes. To fill the deep shelves of a bibliotheque, place large platters or silver trays on easels to use as backdrops for cream and sugar sets, vases or pitchers.

When it comes to finding an ideal tool for displaying all kinds of treasures, I’m in love with bookcases. And it’s a good thing, because I’m also in love with a man who has never met a book he didn’t want, so we have lots of them in our home.

But bookcases are ideal for spotlighting select pieces of your collection. I like to tuck in plates, vases, footbaths, statues and antique boxes among the books to create an intriguing display loaded with texture and style.

Bookcases aren’t just for the study or family room; they look sensational in dining rooms, too.

Growing up, I had a neighbor who lined every inch of her dining room walls with matching bookcases that reached chest-high. The tops of the bookcases were used to show off heirlooms. This welcoming spot felt like a library and dining room combined into one, and she had to pry me out when it was time to go home.

Another great option for displaying heirlooms is to hunt for unique shelving at an antique store. To display her dish collection, a friend of mine used shelves salvaged from a turn-of-the-last-century drugstore, and the effect was fabulous.

Mary Carol Garrity owns three home furnishings stores in Atchison, Kan., and wrote several books on home decorating. Write to Mary Carol at Her column is syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service.

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