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HGTV star Sarah Richardson on how to live with your collections

Ideas on displaying and annotating loved pieces

By The Washington Post | September 16, 2020 | Category

Picture: Unsplash

Toronto designer Sarah Richardson has hosted and co-produced eight HGTV series including "Sarah Off the Grid" and "Sarah's House." Known for her casual approach to creating elegant and functional rooms, she has a new book "Collected City and Country: Volume 1," Richardson joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week for our Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: I have a postcard collection, and I can't figure out for the life of me how to display even a fraction of it. Help!

A: This sounds like a really fun gallery wall to me. You could create collages within larger frames, or you could frame them individually within smaller frames and create a grid on the wall.

Q: I have a collection of pitchers that I have bought all over the world at charity shops, thrift stores, high-end shops, discount department stores and from local artists. I've also inherited some of them. For future generations, I've taken pictures of each pitcher, printed them out and written where I bought the pitcher or the story behind it. I have a file with the information, so in years to come, my relatives can say she was a crazy old lady for thinking anyone would care or be grateful for the information. Is there another way to document collections?

A: That's a super idea. Can I suggest that you might also flag in the file which ones were a steal or deal and which were a splurge, so your relatives will know which are important and which were just for fun?

Q: There are so many resources for inexpensive but well-designed furniture and accessories. Where do you think clients should spend their design dollars?

A: I think it's important to take a cohesive and consistent approach in an effort to balance the budget. It's not about where you shop; it's about how you combine it all in the end. The key for me is to buy pieces that have inherent quality, are made from natural materials and will stand the test of time from both a durability and practicality perspective.

Q: A co-worker who collected items limited each collection to three things. Her belief was to improve the quality of the collection instead of counting the number of items. My number is higher, but her advice makes me think before adding to it. What do you think?

A: That's a great approach, and you can't go wrong by being restrained. I think the key is to buy what you love and feel you will be happy living with in your home.

Q: What's your take on brown furniture? Should you paint it, and can you mix it with white?

A: When you say brown, I assume you mean wood. You can certainly mix wood tones together, and it's something I often do, but the key is to not overdo it. I'd say two wood tones maximum - and you must have repetition of each color; three or more pieces of each color will create a balanced look and not a yard-sale effect.

Q: I favor a modern style, and I have a beautiful condo with high ceilings and plenty of natural light. I love the choices I made for furniture, flooring and lighting, but my space looks unfinished, because I find it difficult to commit to accessories. I have some art but few objects. It's been three years since I moved in. How do I finish my space?

A: When it comes to finishing touches, I'd suggest selecting pieces that have character and soul. Because your space sounds like it's crisp and modern, some texture and warmth in the form of natural materials might help warm up your home. Think of handmade ceramics, chunky pottery pieces, nubby wool accents or chunky baskets; all of these have a modern vibe with a touch of warmth.

Q: What would you do with a big, empty wall in a kitchen? I have an 11-foot wall that runs parallel to a long island. There wasn't enough space between the island and the wall to install cabinets, so it's completely empty. It's a blank canvas, and I don't know how to decorate it.

A: This sounds like a dynamite place for a gallery wall of photos; these could be family photos that you print in black and white or a collection of nature and travel shots. Print the images in varying sizes for a "collected over time" effect, or print everything in the same size and use the same frame style. Check out the "Makeovers" section on my website ( for examples of gallery walls.

Q: I need to replace the flooring in my laundry room and am considering installing a wood-like tile. This new floor will transition directly to the wood floor in my hallway. Do you think that would look odd? Another option would be to install a porcelain encaustic patterned tile, but I worry that's a passing fad that will look dated. What are your thoughts?

A: It can be tricky to transition from real to imitation wood, so perhaps you should consider another option. You are right that the patterned tile might be a fad. If you want to do the wood tile, choose a color that is not trying to look like wood - perhaps white or black. In a recent YouTube video, I installed a great hexagonal floor that looked fabulous, and that might work for you.

Q: Because of a renovation in another room, I have to repaint my 8-year-old son's room. It's a very small space, and I don't have any patterned fabrics or inspiration to choose from, unless you count the Minecraft sheets and comforter. How do I choose a paint color that works with his novelty sheet sets now and will transition to another interest as he gets older?

A: I'm guessing there's some blue in there somewhere. You can't go wrong with a soft, pale blue for a boy's room, which delivers timeless style. The key is to avoid anything too bright; go for a color that is two shades lighter and two shades "muddier" than the color you think you want. You can also take the patterned sheets to the paint store and pick the palest color you can find to match.

Q: I'm planning a kitchen renovation. I'd like to open up the space to the dining room and make it more convivial with a big island in between. The challenge is that the wall between the two rooms is load-bearing. What's the best way to go about this challenge?

A: The first step is to consult an engineer who can assess the project and direct you on what can be done if you reinforce the structure to open it up as desired. Next, consult a contractor to find out the cost. It will be at least a few thousand dollars, but it's very important to know that you are proceeding in the best way to protect the structural integrity of your home.

Q: What are your best tips on how to cozy up a two-story living room?

A: Start with a large statement light fixture that can drop down into the room, so the ceilings don't feel quite so voluminous. If you have a large wall space, consider doing something high-impact with an art grouping or a gallery wall. Most importantly, make sure everything your eye sees at eye level is pleasing and beautiful, so you aren't drawn to look elsewhere.

Q: I have a large collection of beauty products, including makeup, hairstyling tools and skin-care products, but minimal bathroom storage. What is the best way to store these items outside of the space they'll get used in?

A: The first step is to edit. Many of us have more than we actually use and more than we need. I love to edit, purge and streamline. If that still leaves you with many products, consider adding a wall-mounted medicine cabinet on an available wall. If that wall is above the toilet, be sure to keep the seat closed.

Q: My husband inherited his dad's camera collection, which now resides in boxes in the basement. How can we display them? Should they be in one location or scattered throughout our house?

A: A sleek bookshelf would work if you want them open, but that means dusting. Or perhaps a vintage library cabinet would be a good idea with glass doors. You might want to paint the inside white, so the cameras appear like sculptures inside and can be appreciated (and seen).

Q: I'm getting ready to redecorate my family room and dining room. I have recently purchased vintage Oriental rugs with bright colors, so essentially I'll be decorating around them. Any suggestions?

A: Let the rug be the star. Choose pale neutrals for the big upholstered pieces, so you can appreciate the dynamic colors in the rugs. Pull a few of your favorite accent colors from the rug and use them for pillows, smaller upholstery pieces, a footstool, etc. Skip busy patterns and go for more solids.