Suppose you got a little bump in your decorating budget.
Instead of hitting the local department store for a new card table, you went to Christie's and dropped $100,000 on the four-seater, macassar ebony version designed by furniture legend Ã mile-Jacques Ruhlmann in the 1920s.
Or you skipped that trip to Target for bedside lighting and shopped online for a $50,000, steel-and aluminum floor lamp, custom-created by architect Philip Johnson in 1953.
Or you called your decorator and OK'd that six-figure buy on an exotic, art deco, wooden screen, fashioned by French lacquer master Jean Dunand around 1925. For sure, you'd be the only one west of the Mississippi to own this classic.
That's what it's like to be Denver's Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, which has been on a shopping spree of late, adding rare treasures to its bulging collection of furniture, tableware, ceramics and more.
The Kirkland isn't exactly a home — it's a museum unlike any other. But it makes purchases in the same way a wise homeowner should, looking for items that fit its style, that add interest and complement its unique architecture, that increase the monetary and visual value of its spaces and give it something to brag about.
Most people can't afford the Tiffany vases the Kirkland recently acquired, or the Koloman Moser goblet or the Archibald Knox pewter biscuit box, and few of us have the time (or, frankly, the obsessive nature or the daring) that it takes to assemble such wares.
But we all like to make our homes our own and collect things in our price range. We can learn a few lessons about what to pick up, pass up and keep from a look around the Kirkland.
What the Kirkland Museum teaches about decorating
1. Craftsmanship counts.
The Ruhlmann table, circa, 1927, is a legend in design circles, as much for its lighter-than-air look as for its craftsmanship. The French designer squeezed a lot of details into his tiny table, from its gilded bronze feet to its flippable felt top, which make it a stand-out even among the thousands of finely honed objects at the Kirkland. The plans and the skill died with Ruhlmann in 1937, and only a half-dozen or so were made.
2. Have a chuckle.
A chair shaped like a hand? That's a lot of laughs (until you try to sit in this 1960s plastic prank). The Kirkland isn't afraid to put forth a TV that looks like a robot or a sofa that fits together like a child's building blocks. They're not the finest specimens in the place, but they certainly lighten it up.
3. Antiques happen overnight.
The most oft-overheard phrase from Kirkland visitors: "I used to have one just like that." Yes, but that's before you unloaded it at a garage sale because you were tired of looking at it. Objects that are particularly well-made or uniquely designed tend to appreciate over time. Even mass-produced items like these 1963 David Rowland chairs start to appeal to collectors as they age. What do you think that iPhone or Vespa or Tupperware set will be worth in a few years?
4. Too much is just fine.
The Kirkland piles it on without thinking twice, and it works. You just have to have the guts, and the good lighting, to make it work. It's a fine trick for displaying collections of china or cutlery that aren't quite complete. Instead of seeing what's not there, visitors are dazzled by the excess.
5. Decorate in strange places.
The Kirkland is unrelenting in the way it uses every square inch to display its wares, so naturally it hangs paintings in its elevator and houses glassware in its working kitchen. There's stuff in, and on top of, cases, in the courtyard, on the front porch and in the basement. Art is hung salon style, maximizing wall space. It's clever and rarely feels like a cram.
6. Anything is worth showing off.
The Kirkland has high standards but it's perfectly willing to expand its definition of decorative art when something interesting comes along. This 1899 baluster shield by Hector Guimard is a good example. It started out as a gewgaw for the Paris Metro, and now it hangs on museum walls. France won't let them out of the country anymore, but the Kirkland saw its value early and snapped one up.
7. Mix old and new.
Arts & crafts, art nouveau, art deco, modern. Ceramic, glass and Bakelite. The Kirkland sets old things next to newer ones (like this 1953 Philip Johnson lamp). Rather than being awkward, it looks timeless.
8. Rare counts.
Jean Dunand wove art deco details into the fish tails on this lacquer screen. It's the only one of its kind within 1,000 miles.