How to Display Antiques

To display antique pieces is to highlight their features and their historical and aesthetic values. When displaying antiques, these items can help you achieve better perspectives – shelves, display cases, tabletops, frames, and wall hanging devices.

So you’ve bought your first antique piece, an exquisite gilded mantel clock dating way back to the 17th century. But when you bring it home, you’re too tired to find a proper place for it, so you put it on top of the shelf where all that’s visible is the arched top. No one would know you have a valuable antique piece unless you reach for it yourself and show your guests.

That’s a common mistake among first-time antique buyers. An antique is valuable wherever you put it, but when you’re decorating, you should think of it as a decorative rather than historical piece. There are several ways to display antiques and highlight their aesthetic and historical value at the same time. Here are a few suggestions to help you out.


Wooden shelves are best for displaying collections of a similar piece, such as porcelain dolls or antique silver. These pieces command more attention as a group than as individual pieces. For more interest, don’t arrange them in straight rows—this will make it look like a store display. Instead, try putting them at different angles or at different heights. Break up the monotony with interesting accents such as tassels or dried flowers. Choose a low shelf for breakables, but make sure each piece is still visible from eye level.

Display cases

If you have one or two items that you want to draw attention to, a glass display case may be your best choice. Small display cases emphasize the size of an object and make it stand out among all your other items. You can put it on a low shelf or on an end table, where it can be the focal point of your room. You can even install a small light inside to further emphasize the object. There are full-length glass cases that can hold an entire collection, but they’re not a good idea for home displays—a shelf can hold the same amount and is not as breakable.


Decorative antiques can serve as table centerpieces for your living room. Wooden vases, small sculptures, and a stick pin collection all make excellent decorations. Put two or three interesting pieces together at the center for more variety. However, this may not be a good idea for glass or porcelain pieces, as they can easily get knocked off the table by running kids. If you do want to place breakable antiques on a tabletop, keep them on a low surface and make sure your floor is carpeted to cushion falls.


If your piece is small and breakable, framing will protect it from rough handling (not all your guests know how delicate an antique is), oxidation, and other common hazards. Even if it falls, the frame will be the first to break, and you can easily put the item aside while you find another frame. Framing also draws more attention to your piece, compared to a shelf arrangement where it will compete for attention with your other antique pieces. Choose a frame that complements or contrasts your piece.

Wall hanging

Some pieces, such as quilts and tapestries, can be hung directly on your wall. The main advantage of wall hanging is that there’s no complex installation process, and you can take it down and fold it up any time you want. If you have a collection, you can rotate between patterns to add interest to the room. Don’t tack or staple them to the wall; instead, use strong mounting tape or hang them on a curtain rod. Be sure to display them in a low-lit area, as the light can cause irreversible damage to the fabric.