Organizing and Displaying Your Collections – With Terry John Woods

beach cottage living room
Corner cupboards in the living and dining rooms were custom made from reclaimed antique barn wood.

Old, quaint, and idiosyncratic—the 1840 Cape Cod cottage in Berwick, Maine, captivated Terry John Woods and his partner, Dale West, when they first spotted it driving around the neighborhood. Perched on a rock ledge—“Like being in a tree house,” Terry says—just 10 brief minutes from the shore, it boasted all the quirky twists and turns of a floor plan that any designer could ever desire. It had “hidden charm” and radiated potential. In other words, it was just begging to be taken apart and put back together. Terry lives for this type of challenge.

Terry is not happy unless he is reclaiming a house, bringing it back to its glory days while bestowing a glow that makes it look seriously reborn. Although reconfiguring spaces was not really an issue with this renovation, there was a lot of hidden character to be recaptured. A small barn had been joined to the main house and repurposed as a bathroom and mudroom—resulting in those alluring twists and turns. It was “intimate” (meaning small—1,100 square feet of living space). So as a getaway, it was perfect for Terry to adopt as an artist’s retreat. The fact that his artwork focuses on ocean themes made it even more apropos.

beach cottage slipcovered chair
Terry’s use of a white palette, natural fiber rugs, and casually slipcovered furniture exudes a comfortable, peaceful lifestyle.

An Artist’s Take on Emanating Lightness and Brightness

When an artist adopts a house, certain light requirements must be fulfilled. High on the agenda for all of his house renovation projects—he has several under his belt—is a bright, airy interior. To accomplish that, he turns to tints of white. In this case, he selected a warm white (Behr Swiss Coffee) throughout the house with the exception of pale bluish gray (Behr Gentle Rain) in the dining room. Thus the rooms gather incoming light and bounce it around, depending on the hour of the day, for a refreshing departure from the dark colors formerly in residence. Further, he prefers the continuity of a single color throughout. “When you go from room to room, you feel cohesiveness when the house shares a single color theme.” Walls and trim are the same hue, but the trim’s satin sheen reflects light.

Terry’s Mantra: Minimal is Meaningful

After removing built-in cupboards, reducing the superabundance of doors, and redoing the floors, he began layering furniture and accents in the house. “Minimal is meaningful” is his mantra. He couples simplicity with character, patina, and storied pieces possessing innate integrity. Although he brings in objects from his past and continues to collect, everything is simply and sparingly displayed. As a result, each thoughtfully placed object is savored.

vintage wooden horse
Recycled retro pieces are not only lovely to display but harken back to a simpler time (and are good for the environment).

“My surroundings have to be full of character,” he says. “It’s light and sparse but oozes hominess.” Negative space between objects puts the focus where he wants it to fall. “I like things that are similar but separate. For example, a little art goes a long way, and the rest of the wall should be empty.” His style is a “stand back” sort of presentation. “It’s not so much about a vignette as a whole picture.”

Terry, author of Terry John Woods’ New Farmhouse Style (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2009) and several other titles, designs in a style that anyone can grasp and repeat. “Proportion is so important,” he explains. “It’s all about scale. Many photos over a sofa will appear cluttered. One painting or piece of art says so much more.”

Since the coastal light is what seduced him in the first place, he does not dilute its brilliance. “Natural light is airy. I leave the windows naked rather than filtering them with curtains. Instead, the furniture softens the room.”

The Art of Collecting – From the Pro

In addition to furnishings with patina and history, another element permeates the house and makes it infinitely personal: his collections. They bring depth, expression, personality, romance, history, and roots into the scene. They pique visitors’ curiosity and express the character of the residents. Terry uses repetition of similar objects when displaying his collections.

Vintage clocks artfully displayed
Clocks are Terry’s signature; a handful of vintage clocks are artfully displayed on an antique buffet. He often uses repetition of similar objects to create interest.


Simple Ways to Display Your Collections — In Farmhouse Chic Style

Terry John Woods has collecting down pat. Not only has he collected for his entire life, but his collections have become the hallmark of his decor. He gave us a few pointers on displaying them effectively:


  1.   Give collections breathing room. “Let the space around your objects tell your eye where to go. A well-displayed collection draws you in.”
  2.  Display something you love. Remember that your home is all about you—claim the venue.
  3.   Do not be afraid to use items on display. “Don’t just look at them,” Terry urges. “Incorporate them into your life. Handling them makes them more meaningful in the present tense.”
  4.  Compartmentalize by clustering similar objects together—another trick that gives them more meaning.
  5.   Be creative. If your collection happens to be quirky, all the better.
  6.   Do something unexpected with your collection to make it idiosyncratic—for example, turn the objects in different positions.
  7.  Art does not need to be hung—propping art on mantels or lining it up where the floor meets a wall is also valid and feels more intimate than a traditional studio-type display.


Excerpted from “Simply Meaningful” by Tovah Martin, Coastal Design magazine, Spring 2019. For full article and more tips from Terry, you can purchase the spring issue at



© 2020 Coastal Design.