Laura Walker spread her holiday collections across the basement ping-pong table. Every inch was covered with Dala horses in different sizes, bowls painted with Norwegian rosemaling, vintage Santas and Scandinavian folk art she and her husband, John, had gathered over the years from their travels.

Laura planned to pull special pieces from the collections to display inside her Minneapolis home. "But I didn't know where to start," she said.

Interior designer Jay Nuhring stepped in to edit and arrange two festive vignettes to turn treasured collectibles into the stars of a holiday-themed room.

"Collections are a reflection of a homeowner's history and things they love," said Nuhring, noting that many are passed down through generations.

And there's usually a story about each piece that can spark conversations at family gatherings. For Laura, the Dala horses evoke memories of a family trip to Scandinavia. "Our daughters chose a horse from each country," she said.

But just because you've accumulated 22 nutcrackers doesn't mean you have to display every one of them. "Exercise a little restraint," advised Nuhring. "If you set out too much, you don't appreciate them."

Interior designer Krystal Kellermann, Martha O'Hara Interiors, Mpls.,


Holiday motif: A regiment of nutcrackers surrounded by cheeses, nuts and other savory snacks embellish a dining room buffet table.

Don't go nuts with the nutcrackers: Use an odd number for a less formal look, and allow space between each one.

Center stage: Place some of the nutcrackers on clear glass cake stands to create a variety of heights for visual interest. "If a collection of objects are on one plane, it all blends together," said Kellermann. "Elevation accentuates the nutcrackers and adds drama to the display."

Earthy greens: Tuck in evergreen sprigs such as cypress and oregonia, along with magnolia branches, at the base of the nutcrackers on glass cake stands. Add faux berry floral picks for pops of red.

Fur flourish: Lay down two white faux fur table runners to create a simple luxe landscape for the display. "You could also use any white fabric," said Kellermann. "A patterned runner will be too busy."

Easy bookends: Fill clear glass apothecary jars with green apples to introduce another shade of green, and place one at each end.


Holiday motif: "Tinsel tree" scape for a foyer or console table. "Multiples of one thing can make a dramatic impact," said Kellermann.

Guiding light: Choose objects with common elements such as the tree-shape and sparkly texture. The palette of silver, gold, white and glass adds a touch of elegance. For interest, "mix in other materials, like trees of glass or dried leaves," said Kellermann. Place the tallest and largest trees in the center and build from there.

Wrap it up: To create a variety of heights and dimension, place some trees on top of boxes wrapped in simple-patterned paper, which repeats the colors in the tree display.

Mix it up: Blend in a few pieces from another collection, such as an antique red caboose and train tracks.

Finishing touch: Add slim white lamps for light and balance on each end. "Illuminate the glittery trees for sparkle," said Kellermann.


Holiday motif: Ornaments aren't only for the tree. Pick out a few favorites with a common quality, such as shiny glass, to use in a fireplace vignette.

Flexible fishing line: Layer sprigs of fresh greens, such as cypress, oregonia and spruce with brown magnolia branches and red berry pick accents. Tie the ornaments with invisible fishing line to the greens.

Winter white birch: Intersperse birch-themed sculptures or candleholders among the greens. In this case, a birch tree painting above the fireplace by Janella Fesenmaier from Art Resources Gallery repeats the theme. Use white pillar candles, which are a contrast to the evergreen sprigs, but don't compete with the colorful ornaments.

Mixed metals: Place several gold and silver candleholders of different heights and shapes within the greens.

Fairy glow: Loosely weave a string of battery-operated lights in the greenery.

Final flourish: Pick out one ornament with a decorative design for the center and an even number of glass ball ornaments for the rest of the arrangement. Hang each ornament from the mantel using fishing line and small hooks.

Interior designer Jay Nuhrin, Jay Nuhring House Styling, Mpls.


Holiday motif: An assortment of Nordic folk art collectibles on a vintage coffee table.

Creative contrast: For the main display, choose pieces with a similar style. For example, the Dala horses and other objects are painted wood. Then add an unexpected contrasting detail, such as the green ceramic bowl from Sweden. When arranging, "start with the taller pieces like the candleholders and step down to the wooden horses," said Nuhring.

Design for living: Laura Walker's collections also complement the simple clean lines of her midcentury modern-style furnishings. Use other decor, such as the sofa's vintage Hudson Bay wool blanket, to repeat the red in the glass balls and Nordic folk art.


Holiday motif: Three colorful painted vintage Santas from Germany are the centerpiece of a composition on a dining room buffet.

Strategic finishes: For the rest of the display, choose items with a variety of finishes and textures, such as a vintage glass seltzer bottle, shiny chrome Danish candleholder and cut crystal wine glasses and nut bowl. "When you blend finishes and textures, your eye lands on each individual piece," said Nuhring.

Ornamental vase: Partially fill a tall, clear hurricane vase with red and gold glass balls, repeating the colors in the vintage Santas.

Don't forget wall art: To anchor the arrangement, Nuhring hung artwork of a European coat of arms above the buffet. "Hang it high enough so it's not covered up," he said.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619 @LyUnderwood