Creating Curious Displays

Vintage martini glass planting – Apartment 46

There’s a romantic crispness to the air right now. Night comes earlier and it’s the perfect time to cocoon under warm blankets in candlelit rooms. It’s my favorite season of the year. As the last days of summer disappear, creative souls start bursting at the seams with ideas for their Halloween and Fall displays. I’m not known to be a thematic sort of girl and I don’t “do” holiday specific windows at Apartment 46. However, I’m all for unpredictable and imaginative displays, and I am nearly always designing some take on a cabinet of curiosities. In fact, our whole shop is modeled on what I believe a curious collector’s apartment would feel like.

Apartment 46 display

Thinking about what I might like to use in my Fall window displays, I decided to go with muted Autumnal tones like gold and brown. I wanted to convey a sort of cozy-yet-eccentric feeling. A version of Sherlock Holmes’s girlfriend as a Natural History buff.

Vintage shadow box at Apartment 46

I’ve been asked a few times how I come up with the vignettes throughout the shop and I honestly don’t know. I often obsess over the positioning of the tiniest object for longer than is likely healthy. It’s just a feeling. Most creatives have an inherent understanding of spacing and how objects inhabit a space – whether it’s 1 or 3 dimensional.  The rule of thumb in interior design is that a combination of 3, 5, or 7 objects together is most pleasing to the eye. Yet these “rules” don’t really come into play for me when I’m designing what I’ve dubbed a “Curious Display.”

In the Apartment 46 window

When it comes to Fall holidays, I can’t think of a more perfect way to showcase your creativity than to do a Curious Display! Recently, an inspired client of mine, Lauren Layne, came in for a few items for her own Curious Display. She draped tables and mirrors in black gauze and collected items that gave her space that Natural History-meets Halloween type feeling.

That’s gorgeous Lauren in the mirror!

On surfaces throughout the front room she put together vignettes that evoke her own brand of spooky/interesting.

Lauren’s House

Displays don’t have to be large. They can be as small as a jar filled with bits and pieces of things you find in the woods. They can be a grouping of small specimen bottles filled with feathers, tiny pearls and shards of beach glass. They can fill a nook or a full mantel. It’s up to you. In keeping with the Halloween/spooky feeling, you should look around your home (and neighborhood) for gnarled branches, pine cones, bird feathers, small jars, votive candles, vintage photographs, and any other science-y type objects that you can group together on tables, shelves and window sills.

A nest my mother gave me

I decided to use hanging Spanish moss in our shop windows instead of spider webs or black curtains. I love the Bayou cemetery vibe it provides. I most inspired by this photo of Savannah, Georgia. I get chills thinking about the mist and the dusk and what other-wordly things might be lurking there. When the window lights are on, it shines on the moss and makes you wonder what we’re hiding inside!

Savannah, Georgia

I think the best rule-of-thumb for creating an interesting display (especially a spooky/odd one for Halloween), is to check out images on Google of Victorian Curiosities. I should warn you, there are some pretty yucky things in jars, and I’m not into taxidermy at all, but I understand that 100 years ago, people were fascinated by things they had never seen or would never see in their lifetimes. Much like today! I know that they didn’t really have a grasp on animal/insect extinction or animal cruelty, but there was a way in which they assembled things they deemed “curious” that both boggles and horrifies the mind a little. Adapting this style to one that’s more animal-insect friendly is easy enough to do.

By putting a collection of random shells together in a segmented crate, you can create an instant display. I would take it to the next level though and add little handwritten or typed names for the shells and glue them underneath each piece. I also think incorporating a bit of art into your display makes it so much more interesting! You can put a small picture inside of a box and arrange items around it, stack in next to your display, hang it from clear fishing line…I love the work of Lindsey Carr. Everything she does is both ethereal and scary to me.

Lindsey Carr for Society 6

I would put something more random every third or fifth cubby, like a doll eye or dried rose or bundle of string with a feather in it. Stuff like that. In a way, it’s kind of like channeling an obsessiveness you may not naturally possess.

There is something a little creepy (in a good way) about the random doll legs, empty pharmacy bottles and small bones in the above collection. It could just as easily be sweet by filling the cubbies with flowers, hearts, love notes and glitter, so you may have to fight the rainbows and unicorns inside of you to create a creepier Curious Display. :) Starting with the right container is a requirement. I saw some amazing options on Etsy, like this one from Spooky Vintage:

I also saw this gorgeous one online. All you would need to do is remove all the drawers to create cubbies – or not. You could leave a few drawers with that beautiful lettering on them and then stuff little visual surprises inside. I would love to plant tiny succulents in some of the empty drawers and use them in my display separately!

At the risk of sounding like a borderline hoarder, I confess that I sometimes save broken items with the intent of using them in my plantings, shadowboxes, displays and leaving around here and there. A good place to look for potentially creepy items is garage sales. Old dolls have wonderful eyes you can gouge out (I know, it sounds so terrible!), odd bits of old tools, random tea cups can hold Tillandsias, rusty metal boxes and so much more!

Courtesy of Real Simple Magazine

In my opinion, no one has created more stunning and elaborate Curious Displays than Bonnier de la Mosson. Oft published images of his work, on display at the Bibliotèque centrale du Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, in Paris, show how meticulous and mind-blowingly beautiful his work is.

Letting your imagination flow and looking at things with a new found appreciation for their wonderful weirdness will guide you in the right direction toward creating awesome Curious Displays of your own. I would love to see what you come up with and publish the results in our Halloween blog!

Much love,

Melisa

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About Melisa

Interior and garden designer, owner of Apartment 46 design studio, mother, friend, adventurer and explorer.
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