How to display souvenirs without being tacky

  • Article by: MARY BETH BRECKENRIDGE , Akron Beacon Journal
  • Updated: November 26, 2013 - 3:30 PM
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Allison Perley-Harter stands in her home next to her glass collection in Hudson, Ohio, on Oct. 26, 2013.

Photo: Karen Schiely • Akron Beacon Journal,

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

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.

Plan ahead

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 artisans doing work that reminds you of the local scene,” said Harter, who runs Perley Gates Art & Design.

Group for effect

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.

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.

Make space

Designating a place in your home for travel souvenirs creates a conversation starter, said Gina Bishop, a Hudson, Ohio, 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.

Contain and conquer

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.

Create a vignette

Filling a shadow box with travel keepsakes turns your souvenirs into art. You can buy shadow boxes from craft stores, or you can make your own out of any sufficiently deep box — even half of a vintage suitcase.

Arranging your knickknacks into a pleasing display takes some skill, but Jon Haidet of Hazel Tree Interiors said he can create a composition from items clients bring in. Antro suggests making a three-dimensional artwork by decorating a framed vacation photo with a related memento — for example, gluing a seashell onto a picture of a child picking up that shell. The effect could be made even more dramatic by hanging the picture on a wall mural made by enlarging that same photo, he said.

Or make a mobile from objects you found on vacation, such as driftwood and shells, he said. Hang a few vacation photos among the shells if you like.

Decorate a tree

Don’t want to display your souvenirs year-round? Consider bringing home keepsakes that can decorate a Christmas tree.

You don’t have to limit yourself to ornaments. Almost any small object can become a tree decoration — figurines, cookie cutters, plates, dolls, spoons, you name it. Tie on a ribbon, glue on an ornament hook or just perch the item on a branch or secure it with a wire.

Displaying souvenirs that way keeps them special, since they come out of storage only once a year. And hanging them on the tree offers the perfect chance to reminisce about a vacation.







  • related content

  • The glass collection of Allison Perley-Harter is displayed in this 1940’s retro liquor cabinet in Hudson, Ohio, on Oct. 26, 2013.

  • Creating a vignette with a keepsake box can turn mementos into art.

  • A wide range of glass souvenirs from fine cordial glasses to shot glasses are displayed in the glass collection of Allison Perley-Harter in a liquor cabinet in her home in Hudson, Ohio, on Oct. 26, 2013.)

  • Two examples, created at Hazel Tree Interiors, on designing Keepsake boxes using frames at Hazel Tree in Akron, Ohio, on Oct. 25, 2013.

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