Real Estate

A master collector’s tips for decorating with your best finds

Photo by Derek Shapton

Dyan Kirshenbaum, collector extraordinare, is responsible for all of the treasures that bring her cottage to life, including her decades-old collection of handmade miniature houses and cabins. Here are her best tips for finding and decorating with objects and art you love.


  • Trust your taste. “Buy what you like.”
  • Be spontaneous. “I’m into instant gratification. If you see something you like, get it. You may find a better one if you keep looking. But this one works for you—now go enjoy it.”
  • Don’t focus on monetary value. “Anything can be considered valuable.
  • Live with what you love, and it will always have value.”
  • Don’t assume that you need big bucks to collect. “Over the years, I’ve collected at every price range. I never went above my station.”
  • No price tag? No problem. “Even if it doesn’t look like something is for sale, ask. Great acquisitions happen that way.”
  • Don’t sweat the bartering. “Before I start, I’m okay with the price. Then I usually take one stab at it, and a deal is struck. Everyone’s happy. You bring the karma with the object; you don’t want to taint it.”
  • Have a sense of humour. “Don’t take collecting too seriously. Enjoy it, but don’t let it grip you.”


  • Mix it up. “It’s more fun if the collection isn’t together.” Five ’60s pop-art lamps in one room make it look like the cottage needs redecorating; one looks stylish.
  • Instead of lining up like with like, link pieces visually using colour, shape, or a common element. “Putting together the puzzle is fun.”
  • Think contrast too. Evocative blackand- white photos of Dyan’s parents jump out when hung in a grouping that includes other things. She mixes in a classic Mountie shot, a naive painting of a fisherman, and a Snakes-and-Ladders board.
  • Use what you collect. Her “bucket benches”—originally used for milk pails—are pressed into service to hold everything from books to blankets. The dogs snooze on collectible quilts. “And you might not even notice I collect hooked rugs because they’re on the floors.”
  • Don’t be a slave to your things. “If something gets damaged or breaks, it’s just stuff.”
  • Edit. “I tell friends who can’t bear to part with anything they’ve inherited, ‘Choose the one you love the best and let go of the rest.’ ”
  • Relax. “Our bedside tables aren’t beautiful, but they work. It all doesn’t have to be perfect.”
  • Lose the fear. “People ask me if I think something will work in their place. If you love it,get it. There are no mistakes.”

See more of Dyan’s cottage finds and read the full story from our Spring 2016 issue.

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