The problem with dispersing collectibles is that they lose their visual clout, especially if they are small or delicate. I'm not thinking about large paintings or sculpture obviously, but more about small pieces like early pre-Columbian terracotta or early Venetian glass or any small works that can be benefit from being clustered.
Clustering valuable small pieces, moreover, requires more than placing them on a table top. Just plunking a mini-sculpture down on a credenza or chest of drawers or a coffee table dosen't make it seem important. In fact, the piece loses its dignity by being surrounded by such common-place objects as ashtrays, magazines and coffee cups.
This doesn't mean that one cannot adapt a table to a collection. A wonderful variation on this theme is the table-top collection. The entire table is given over to the collection. I've done this with seashells, with small bronzes or lucite pedestals, with a fantastic collection of antique demitasse cups and saucers and with antique brass keys.
But what about the room where the only table top is frequently used, such as the dining room? I faced this problem recently in a dining room that had a beautiful unbroken wall perfect for conversion into a "museum."
It was obvious that to display this collection, I had to design a museum-type display. If you have seen any recent shows of Egyptian, Pompeiian, or Chinese art, you know that even the smallest piece of sculpture or jewelry can look important if it is displayed prominently in a case or on a shelf or pedestal that is designed to fit it exactly.
This theory can be retrofitted for a home collection. I designed a series of box-like shelves, dimensioned to hold one, two, three, or even several similar, small pieces of the basketry, masks, terracotta and pottery bowls and candelabra that a couple had collected during years of living in Mexico. The pieces were from many parts of the country; the only things they had in common were that they were essentially small in scale and in some cases, related to dining and could be used as part of the table-top decoration for festive meals.
The shelves were lacquered in white, to match the white wall behind -- and disappear into the background -- making the collection that much more exciting. Overhead, I recessed a series of very small wall-washer lights, as closely spaced as necessary to illuminate the entire wall without "scalloping" the light on the wall. This was important because the collection occupied the whole wall, from side to side and from ceiling to floor.
On either side, the two walls were painted a deep rust, similar in color to the baskets and terracotta color of the pottery pieces. A simple contemporary round table and classic steel and cane chairs that can seat eight comfortably were selected. The dining area was placed slightly off-center in the room, to make it easier to see the collected works from close proximity.
The floor, left in its original oak, was waxed to blend with the cane seats of the chair and made an easy transition from the rich wall color to the brightly illuminated collection wall.