A disadvantage in using bookcases, curio cabinets and coffee tables for family museums is space limitation. Clothing or large items cannot be displayed properly. However, these items can be best displayed in custom-built units. First, determine both the size of the items and the collection as a whole. (Remember selection is encouragd). Then assess the room's space, traffic pattern and furniture arrangements. Once the space is determined, make a sketch or find pictures (many online) of what type of unit you have in mind. Allow room for pieces that are large, such as a child’s wagon or dollhouse. Arrange the shelving (adjustable shelves add versatility) to accommodate tall items. If clothing is displayed, such as a wedding gown or military uniform, allow enough room to provide space for the dress form (if you should use one). I did not employ any dress forms for the Keith’s leisure suit or my Dynasty Suite. I used strong gift boxes (ones for sweaters). There are a few other tricks to make the clothing displays work (I will fill you in on later).
Modular wall systems are very popular. The best units are often a mixture of display and storage. Equipped with adjustable shelving, cabinets, drawers, with glass front doors and other specialty options, these freestanding boxes and cubes can be stacked and rotated atop one another, giving you ample ways to display and store your heirlooms while organizing a myriad of objects associated with collections. They can work independently or in groups, depending on the size of your need and the space you have.
Built-ins work where a piece of furniture or a modular wall system cannot fit, allowing you to tailor the space precisely to your needs.
For example, within a thick wall, under a staircase, over a doorway and around windows. Though some pre-made cabinetry can be fitted to look built-in, they are better customized to your specifications by a cabinet-maker or finish carpenter. The prices vary depending on size, materials, complexity of the design, and labor. They are well suited to odd size items that need odd size space and save on valuable floor space.
Pay close attention to the shelves back wall, where you can hang photographs, plates, even small items of clothing. Styrofoam blocks (found in craft stores) are good for building height. Step-layering shelves adds display space and dimension. By grouping interrelated items together, it makes a cohesive display. Arrange by age (baby) or time (school years) or hobby interests. Cluster a specific collection to tell a story. Just as in a museum, the display conveys an historical era or epoch, allowing the viewer to see a bigger picture of who, when, and how the person, place or thing came about and contributed to the family history.
I advise leaving a good portion of space under the top shelf for storage. Install curtains or doors over this area to conceal other items or the remainder of your heirlooms. You don’t have to display everything. One or two of a particular subject matter is sufficient, storing the rest. If you desire to change that display, those other items are in easy reach. The curtain also enhances the museum’s look.
Get the entire family involved with the project. You will be surprised at some of the suggestions they will make. Keep an open mind and Your Family Museum will be fun for everyone.