November 17, 2013

Make room for souvenirs

Thoughtful displays turn kitschy into cool

By Mary Beth Breckenridge
McClatchy Newspapers

AKRON, Ohio — There’s a reason the words “tacky souvenirs” are often used together.

click image to enlarge

Collecting items like Russian dolls may not appeal, but consider one grouped with a great photograph from a trip to Moscow, along with other travel ephemera. Keepsake boxes and mobiles are alternative ways to display knickknacks.

All too often, we haul things back from vacations with the best of intentions but then display them with the least of thought. The effect is dowdy rather than decorative.

But with a little creativity and maybe a little forethought, you can turn souvenir displays into treasured mementos of your travels. Here are some ideas.


It’s easy to get seduced by souvenir shops. Hand-painted cowbells and miniature replicas of the Empire State Building look fun on the shelves, but what will you do with them when you get home?

Hudson, Ohio, interior designer Allison Perley-Harter recommends thinking about what you’d like to bring back before you leave home.

Sure, it takes some of the spontaneity out of shopping, but you’re replacing that with the thrill of the hunt.

You might even start collecting a certain kind of item every time you travel – maybe paintings or sculpture, or even pot holders, tablecloths or switchplate covers.

“There’s always some artisan … doing work that reminds you of the local scene,” said Harter, who runs Perley Gates Art & Design.


As with any collection, grouping souvenirs makes more of a decorative impact than scattering them around, Perley-Harter said. That Empire State Building replica might look silly by itself on your mantel, but a grouping of architectural miniatures displayed with an architecture book or a print of an iconic building? That’s eye-catching.

Even souvenirs that scream kitsch take on a new interest when they’re displayed in groups. A bunch of plastic snow globes or souvenir shot glasses, artfully arranged, becomes a tongue-in-cheek treasure.

Just remember that grouping odd numbers of items generally is more visually pleasing than even numbers, although once the number gets high enough, that effect disappears. No one’s going to be troubled if your display has 14 key chains and not 15.


Designating a place in your home for travel souvenirs creates a conversation starter, said Gina Bishop, a Hudson resident who repurposes vintage items for her periodic Homegirl barn sales and has earned national publicity for her decorating talents.

Small compartments are ideal for that purpose. Bishop once hung a mail sorter in a family’s dining room, which the family members filled with souvenirs. “It was such a talking point for their own personal family and for those who came into their home,” she said.

Shelves work well, too. Perley-Harter keeps glass she’s collected in an old liquor cabinet, a display that started as a way to protect the glass from earthquake damage when she lived in Los Angeles.

In Brecksville, Ohio, resident Linda Roether’s home, souvenirs go on what she playfully calls the Shelf of Wonders. It’s a small shelf, so Roether knows she can only bring back things that will fit.


Glass containers are great ways to display small souvenirs or found objects, Perley-Harter said. Decorative jars, vases, old-fashioned canning jars, pretty bottles – all can be grouped into effective displays.

Imagine a trio of different-size containers, one displaying interesting stones, one holding sand and seashells, and a third filled with beach glass. Or picture a rack of antique test tubes, each containing sand from a beach you’ve visited. You might even label the containers with the location they represent.

Karen Starr, an interior designer and co-owner of Akron, Ohio’s Hazel Tree Interiors, makes leaded-glass pyramids specifically for displaying small keepsakes. One on display in her store holds seashells collected by her late grandfather, but any tiny objects would work, she said.

A tiered cookie stand can also hold small travel mementos, said interior designer John C. Antro of Green, Ohio. It has the advantage of adding a little height to the display.

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