Credit: Leslie Schwartz

Amy Meadows has a thing for miniature chairs. Salesmen’s samples, dollhouse furniture, and replicas dominate a wall in the dining room of the three-bedroom Old Irving Park foursquare she shares with her husband and two teenage children.

“What I’ve learned over time is the value of grouping a collection,” says Meadows, a freelance retail window display designer. “Dropping pieces throughout the house is certainly one way to do it, but I don’t feel it creates the visual wow of putting them together. It kind of becomes a trail of bread crumbs.”

Meadows keeps duplicates from the chair collection in a plastic tub in the basement, alongside containers holding assortments of folk art crosses, antique hand tools (levels, squares, fold-out rulers, crosscut saws), paint-by-numbers art, and vintage souvenir plates from places like the Pro Football Hall of Fame. She rotates the collections into and out of storage, most recently retiring her crosses from a spot in the front room. “Sometimes collecting is simply keeping track of all the things that come your way,” she says.

Rather than toss years’ worth of postcards sent by traveling relatives, Meadows deposits them into either of two shadow boxes hanging in the master bedroom. And there’s an antique medicine cabinet in the dining room for miscellaneous odds and ends, including a small painting of Hank Williams and a nativity scene carved into a wooden matchstick. A first-edition Christo print sits on the top. “I mix and match high and low,” she says, adding that Tiffany’s is famous for doing the same with its windows.

In fact, decorating a home isn’t so different from styling a store window, she says: “You want to exaggerate for effect in order to catch the eye, amuse, challenge and entertain.” —Tate Gunnerson

“I didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘Oh, I think I’ll collect small
chairs.’ The first one was a gift from co-workers on the occasion of
my marriage in 1991, and I realized that I really did have a fondness
for chairs. I’m sure part of is that a lot of lovely Danish modern
furniture, the beautiful, almost sculptural lines of some of those
early pieces.

“One of my favorites is perhaps the humblest one, which is just
twisted wire. Was that something somebody made because they were bored
to death? Is it a gift somebody created for a child? Is it art? I
don’t know, but I think that because it’s so humble, and I love the
lines. It reminds me of some of Alexander Calder’s wire sculptures.

“But the sentimental favorite for me is the one that started it all–a
winged skull….

“Placing the 3D pieces on the wall is a little bit of a surprise.
Put them on the wall and let the wall stand on its own as an

“The fabulous little painting of Hank Williams was a gift with
purchase from a gallery in New Orleans where we purchased the tryptich
that hangs over the sofa. I was looking at the little painting and he
said, ‘You just bought three paintings, why don’t you take that one
too?’ What else do I have? Old hardware that almost looks like a
railroad spikes. Also, there are some of my children’s early ceramic
masterpieces, a John Derian tray, and a little inverted test tube that
holds a nativity scene carved out of a wooden match. Ha. I think I
bought that down in Puerto Rico.

“The print on top is a Christo. It was concurrent with his
exhibit at the Garfield Park Conservatory. That was a gift for those
of us who had purchased tickets to attend an evening lecture with him.
‘We’re really sorry that he was unable to make it, but instead we’re
able to offer you this original gift.’ I was sad that he was unable to
reschedule, but I’m oh so happy to have the print.”

“That’s another collection I’d forgotten about. It’s a very rugged,
empty frame that a friend of mine found in the alley and brought to
me. It was sopping wet. It wasn’t until it dried that I was able to
read that somebody had written on the back that the frame had been
made from the red oak tree from the front yard on their family
homestead. There are three lamps out of carved horn, oversized
alabaster grapes and a sculpture of wood, nails and glass that goes
back to an American Arts and Crafts Expo from a million years ago.”

“”The family tradition is that as they travel anywhere they send a
postcard. If they’re traveling as a group, they’ll make sure everybody
signs the postcard. I have years and years of my husband’s family trip
in those boxes in the bedroom.

I purchased the boxes from a catalog, and I’ve never seen them
since. I believe they were a Pottery Barn offering. They’re open at
the top, so the idea is to drop, drop, drop. They had one shown with
corks. To hold lightweight things that don’t require strategic
placement, it becomes a very user-friendly shadowbox.”