Collected vs. Decorated: Tips from An ASID Interior Designer

You’ll often hear interior designers say, “A room should feel collected vs. decorated.” In fact, I caught myself using this exact phrase at a recent meeting with Luxe Arizona.

But just what does it mean?

Collected vs. Decorated, Defined

For starters, a “decorated” room might look too “matchy-matchy.”

Meaning, a “decorated” room often looks too symmetrical, overly planned or lacking originality. Things in such a room appear formulaic.

For example, our fixtures might all be coordinated in bronze, or your color palette is all blue and white, or all of your furniture is from the same manufacturer.

On the flip side, a “collected” look can animate your home and bring it to life.

To me, collected means just that: that your rooms have evolved naturally over a period of time. They’re likely full of treasured pieces that you might have found and added gradually. They may have iconic, trendy pieces, but the overall design doesn’t look like it’s in a “time capsule.”

Your collected items—furniture and otherwise—tell others who you are, what your interests might be and where you’ve been over your lifetime. They tell a story about your tastes and aspirations, whether they be quirky or carefully culled.

Unlike home décor that’s decorated, your collected décor is unique to you alone. It speaks to the idea that your home doesn’t look like anyone else’s, nor does it resemble something picked up lock, stock and barrel from the pages of a trendy catalogue.

Instead, a collected look is just as it’s described. It might include one-of-a-kind artworks that you spotted at a gallery opening and purchased, or items that were passed down to you from family members.

But, all that said, let me warn you: A collected look can easily transform into a cluttered look.

If you don’t keep a careful handle on your collected trappings, they can begin to overwhelm a set of rooms and literally take over your surroundings.

To keep that from happening, you need to strike the right balance, scale and rhythm for your interior rooms, which is what a skilled interior designer is trained to help you with.

In my own residence, I address the balance issue by being discriminating about what I put on display. After they’ve been out and on display for a while, I’ll put away a few my collections and keepsakes. Then, when I want to freshen things up, I bring them back out, and—voila!—I’ve rediscovered my treasures all over again.

An interior designer is the perfect resource to help you discover treasures you may already have and incorporate them into your existing décor. He or she will look at your home creatively, with a fresh and experienced set of eyes.

The trick, though, is to do a room makeover such that it ends up looking as if you’ve put it together piece by piece, over time, and not in one fell swoop.

Following are a few tips to give your home that “collected-over-time” look.

Mix and match, but be consistent

Yes, it’s fine to go ahead and mix it up a bit. Adding eclectic-looking (but complementary) furniture styles, finishes, textures, etc., is one of the easiest ways to help a room look as if it’s evolved over time.

Your interior designer can be a great help in harmoniously combining old with new—from vintage and thrifted collections to hand-me-downs and brand-new pieces. In fact, vintage pieces mixed with new ones allow for unexpected discoveries, ones that can definitely add interest to the space in question.

The key in mixing and matching, however, is to look for consistency among the items Pay attention to color, scale, shape, texture and visual balance, with a goal to make sure all the various pieces complement one another. One example would be to seek out styles of furniture from different periods, but that, as a whole, come together to make a harmonious statement.

Remember, too, that since our tastes, interests and style ideas evolve over time, your home will tend to reflect those changes, with the items in your home becoming visual representations of different points or phases in your life.

Think outside the box

Here’s your chance to get really creative with your “collected” home, using some items in ways other than what might have been intended for them.

Perhaps one of the most classic examples of “repurposed” décor is when designers or homeowners find an old chest of drawers and reincorporate it as a bathroom vanity/sink.

That idea caught on like wildfire and continues today.

Like the example of the vanity-sink, one way to find a new use for an old object is to try and divorce yourself from the idea of what it might have been intended for. Look at its shape: can it be adapted and used as something else?

This takes some real brainstorming, but once you’re able to see an item of décor more objectively, the sky’s the limit on what quaint new uses you might be able to come up with for it.

Keep in mind, though, that simpler is better. Less is more.

If you can, in fact, use a vintage object simply as is, without modifying it, then the look tends to suggest less effort and, thus, more naturalness. If you have to try too hard to make something work, it often ends up looking “kitschy.”

Get creative with shopping (including your mother’s home!)

Here’s where your designer can really help you, because we have access to showrooms and other design-related elements that homeowners or those outside the design profession might not typically be exposed to.

For example, we regularly source from showrooms all over the country, the Scottsdale Design Center and the LA Showrooms are our main resources. Design Alliance LA and John Brooks Inc., are two of many multi-line showrooms that can help us create countless “collected-look” ideas.

Art galleries, and even antique and thrift stores, can also provide you with ideas to achieve that “collected” look.

If you’re lucky enough to have them at your disposal, peruse your mother or grandmother’s home for original items that hold meaning for your family. If you regularly drink tea, shine up and set out for display your great-grandmother’s silver tea set.

Or layer in sentimental abstract art from your children or grandchildren on your book case—just pop it an elegant frame and see for yourself how transformed it can look.

Collect things you love that tell your story

By definition, collections are usually made up of like items that are meaningful to someone or have some financial value. This means that your collected rooms should incorporate pieces that tell your story and put your passions on display.

If you’re an aviation buff, let that be something of a guide in your decorating—be it with related art, sculpture or even funky aviation-related items that can become conversation pieces when they’re part of your décor.

And the same is true if you happen to be a quilter or an avid traveler, or have any other passionate pursuit.

Choose items with personality that you can layer in to add interest, without throwing off that all-important room balance. It’s okay to layer and stack so that you’re not showcasing items permanently.

Our lives are forever fluid and in motion, so your rooms can be in constant change, too!

Remember that some of the most elegant, cozy and breathtaking rooms are ones that showcase personal collections

Whether they’re photos, heirlooms, books, something old or something new, these meaningful objects can speak volumes to those who live inside the walls as well as those who are just visiting. It is rooms such as these that truly sing.

To conclude . . .

Don’t forget that the goal always is to eschew the decorated look and embrace the collected. It’s all about learning how to let the objects you love and—perhaps acquired over a lifetime—help to inform your design.

The result will be for you to achieve a much more interesting and storied interior that truly reflects your personality. Happy decorating!


collected vs decorated rooms by karen rapp interiors