How to Integrate Mementos into Your Home (and still have room to live there)

Mary Cook contributed to this story. Cook is the founder and president of Mary Cook Associates. Her new book, “The Art of Space, Seven Fundamentals that Guarantee
Great Interior Design” demystifies interior design and makes it accessible to everyone.
It’s available on

Wall art and accessories are the final layer of every room. Creating that final layer is what gets your interior design across the finish line.  Or it can stop it in its tracks.

The simple truth is, we all accumulate “stuff.” A LOT of stuff. It can make integrating our mementos into our homes pretty tricky. It’s easy to let precious keepsakes overwhelm and clutter our life and work spaces.

Pick Real Mementos
Naturally, you’ll need a plan. And a good place to start is to get an honest, realistic assessment of what’s “precious.” This can be difficult. A good rule of thumb is to apply this simple test: if you haven’t looked at, admired it, or fawned over it in the last year, it may still be precious to you, but not precious enough to put on display in your home. Believe it or not, this is actually the hardest part of the process. Once you’ve made those tough emotional decisions, the rest is execution.

Group Them
Take a look at it all. Exactly what do you have? Start sorting. Break them down into categories. Put the single items off to the side. Group collections together. You may even decide at this point that something isn’t as beloved as you originally thought. Think it through. Does the piece need to be protected or preserved by glass, or a frame? Is it for a quickly changing stage of life, like a child’s first pair of ballet slippers or a little league trophy? Or does it represent a seminal moment that will be remembered forever?

Send Them to Their Rooms
The next step is to decide what mementos should go in what rooms. Then decide how to display your keepsakes. There are three basic scenarios for displaying mementos. They can be hung on the wall, displayed on a shelf, or arranged on a table. When you put the pieces in their “assigned” rooms, you’ll quickly see which of the three display approaches is best for each group.

Make Arrangements for Them
Now comes the fun part. And it’s important. Just as important as what you have, is how you put it all together. For collections, collages can be effective in covering a large span of wall space and creating balance in a room. Measure the wall space, and tape off the wall dimensions on the floor. Arrange your collection on the floor first. Rearrange it. “Work” it and adjust it until you’re happy with it. Take key measurements to use as a guide as you hang each piece. Once you have the composition down, be sure to take a few pictures of the collage for referencing along the way.

Larger items that demand a shelf of their own will also need to be choreographed in the room as a whole. Smaller scale accessories that are integrated into shelves together with books become part of a composition and can be worked until you reach a pleasing arrangement that adds the final level of harmony to each room.

Two important things to remember:
1. Whittling down our choices is hard because we get emotional about our mementos.
2. Once you’ve done that, the task of arranging is creative, rewarding, and fun.

For more ideas on how to integrate mementos into your home, please visit Toll Brothers’ Interior Inspiration board on Pinterest, and to watch Mary Cook’s “Integrating Mementos” segment in Episode 2 of Toll Lifestyle TV, please visit the website.

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