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Sharing space with a collection means editing well

By Wendy Williams

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 19 2011 9:05 a.m. MDT

This undated photo courtesy of Charlotte Lee shows Lee's duck collection in the basement of her home in Wa. The University of Washington engineering professor is in the Guinness World Records for her rubber duck collection. All 5,239 of them and counting.

Charlotte Lee, Associated Press

My husband is an avid sports collector. That's why we have a signed baseball bat on our fireplace mantle. And more than 300 mini-helmets scattered in every room of our house. Not to mention the vintage cards, balls, and the plastic-bagged uniforms hanging in a downstairs closet.

My only comfort? I'm not alone. Every morning, Charlotte Lee wakes up in a houseful of ducks.

The University of Washington engineering professor is in the Guinness World Records for her rubber duck collection. All 5,239 of them and counting.

"We seem like normal people," says Lee, "until you see our basement."

There's no reason that a collection can't be incorporated into a home decorating scheme, says Sandra Espinet, guest designer on HGTV's fantasy makeover series, "HGTV'd." She recommends rotating the collection seasonally, or only displaying the items nearest and dearest to you.

"Editing is super important," says Espinet. "Otherwise you run the risk of overwhelming your living space. A massive collection in a media room is fun and cool, but when it carries over into your bedroom, you cross the line into college dorm territory."

Lee's husband, Marcel Blonk, wasn't thrilled with her collection initially. "After I got to about 400 ducks, he wanted me to stop," says Lee. "But then we made friends who are also rubber duck collectors, and he took the 'If you can't beat them, join them' approach."

To keep the ducks from taking over their entire home, Lee and Blonk built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to showcase the collection. Now she's got her ducks in rows.

What happens when shelving in a designated room isn't enough to contain the sprawl of a collection?

Richard Goodson of Chicago has collected more than 4,000 pieces of memorabilia from the movie "It's a Wonderful Life," but is careful about what he displays in his home.

"There's no way my wife would want me to show this stuff all over our house," said Goodson. "So I bring things out sparingly. I've got a few key pieces on the walls, like a couple of 8-by-10's that show scenes from the movie, and a collage with cast signatures underneath, but that's about it."

His favorite item is Jimmy Stewart's hand prints and signature in concrete from the now closed Planet Hollywood in California. But he only brings that out at events for the movie.

Goodson has organized his collection into categories. He's got 30 black binders of media support (ads, call sheets, promotional 8-by-10's) stashed in his bedroom. Each binder is devoted to a separate cast member, alphabetized and stacked flat so that it takes up less space. Oversize items are stored in the garage in airtight bins.

And some of the collection is on loan to the Hollywood Boulevard, a small movie theater and restaurant in Woodridge, Ill., that will run "It's a Wonderful Life" just before Christmas this year.

Espinet would approve. "It's OK to collect stuff," she said. "It's just how much stuff you have and how you choose to display it in your house."

As for me, I finally convinced my husband that he needed a better way to store his clutter — I mean memorabilia. So he went online and bought cases for the baseball bats and balls. The cases come with removable glass tops, and have either wood or mirrored bottoms. Some can be hung on the wall. Others can sit on his desk until he moves them downstairs to his new man-cave.

Yes, the contractor is already here, building custom shelves for the mini-helmets. I never thought I'd enjoy the sound of a hammer and saw so much.

Now I just have to find a spot in the house for my collection of the world's worst souvenirs and greeting cards.

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