Decorating with Antiques & Collectables

Whether you’ve amassed a collection to rival that of your favorite museum or are simply starting out with a few charming finds, welcoming antiques and collectables into your home can be an exciting yet daunting task. Some collectors are often unsure of how to weave their treasures with their home’s style, where and how to display items and at times, if they even should. To help navigate such questions we spoke with Emanuel Bouqvar and Lisette Ruch of E & L Alexandria, a full-service arts and antiques firm based on Long Island (

In merging the old with the new, the duo sees no limitations. “When it comes to welcoming in art or antiques, you most certainly do not have to keep to a single style in your home—how boring!” says Ruch. “An eclectic array of different styles can be very pleasing to the eye and provide a little of the unexpected. Style doesn’t matter as much as the design fundamentals of color, contrast and balance.”

For example, Ruch and Bouqvar are fond of pairing traditional, period-style furniture with modern and contemporary artwork. Of course, for them that artwork must be original. “It must be an original work otherwise you can never be sure that your money is being well spent,” says Ruch.

A recent installation of an abstract expressionist piece by Joan Mitchell paired with an English 18th century inlaid chest of drawers is a great example of how old meets new can work in the home. The ensemble, part of a traditional dining room, works as there is a consistent coloring between the wall and the art. The bright and erratic colors of the artwork contrast with the dark wood of the chest, while everything is balanced by the simple line and form of the furniture.

Another way to make your collection relevant in the 21st century? Accessories! It’s fun to freshen up a Louis XV style sofa with some contemporary pillows in modern colors. A selection of black and brown pillows against a bright gold and green sofa is unexpected but the green in the pillow ties it all together and balances the arrangement.

When it comes to how to show off your collections, don’t think of it as all or nothing. “Just because you have a collection does not mean you have to show it in its entirety at any given point in time,” says Ruch.

Bouqvar further explains that by doing so, you risk making a space look busy and cluttered. “Instead of showing it all at once, collectors should consider rotating their collection, just like a museum does. After all who can enjoy too many pieces at one time? It’s fun to curate your own home. Think about doing it seasonally, selecting only a few pieces to display for a few months at a time. The rest just keep tucked away safely until you feel like looking at something new.”

However, if you do insist on displaying everything all at once, the duo suggests investing in built-in shelves, which will help avoid anyone knocking into the shelving and damaging your collection. The next step is the arrangement and grouping of the pieces, which is key to good design. “We like to add other items to the shelves, like books or items with a completely different shape and color than your collectible, to break up the space,” explains Ruch. “There should always be empty space along the shelf to avoid it looking too busy. You may have to sacrifice displaying everything for good taste.”

Finally Bouqvar and Ruch both say they are firm believers in using and enjoying collectables. “Some people are trained to put things away but, then we gently remind them that they bought the items to enjoy!” says Ruch. “However, this is not to say you shouldn’t safeguard your treasures. A Tiffany Favrile vase should not be on an open table to get knocked down, but should be on display in a glass encased étagère—with a light, because it is a crime to display it without one.”

Bouqvar recalls how impressed he was when a client used his beautiful 19th century carved silverware collection during a dinner party. “The table was just beautiful and we felt so special that he used his treasures while entertaining us,” he says. “When you use what you have like that, it really makes a statement. Sitting down to a table with a gorgeous 250 year old silver tureen filled with flowers as a centerpiece? I just think of the history there and how cool it is to be enjoying it now.”

lauren debellis

A former magazine editor, Lauren DeBellis has been writing and producing stories about home decorating and design for nearly ten years. She resides in East Northport with her husband.