Being a Collector. Curator.

As I was re-organizing my prop room this weekend after what looked like a tornado hit it, I couldn’t help but to wonder, “Was I a hoarder or a collector?” Though I always manage to organize my precious junk in color coordinated shelves and boxes, it would be hard for me to explain my well managed junk room to an outsider, or anyone who doesn’t understand prop and food styling. A few non-food photography, non-client folks have wandered in our studio on rare occasions and they often wonder what that “room” is with all mis-matched kitchen stuff, linens and old wood. Rather than delve into the topic of food styling and food photography, I’ve always called it my “expensive junk room”.

With that comment, they probably assume that I’m  a hoarder. But when I think deeply into the subject, I consider my self a collector, a curator of many things outside of what’s in my prop room.

I discussed this idea as part of our little talk at our White Party with Thermador last week to the beautiful attendees who trekked through Southern California traffic to come join. And yes, they all did come dressed (all 60 bloggers!) in white to join in our sisterhood and brotherhood of online community and camaraderie.  Todd and I shared a little about how we manage to work, live, struggle and succeed together as a couple in this online world.

One of the topics that I brought up was how I stay focused and inspired. Of course, Todd is one of those factors that keeps me motivated to love life and work hard. But another way in which I stay focused is collecting.

When I talk about collecting, I just don’t mean dishes, props or wood surfaces. These material things are always part of work that makes work more fun. Really, how can I turn down a gig that gives me a great budget for new props?

For me, collecting meaningful things are what I cherish the most: special moments, ideas, wisdom and good people. These are what I curate. And these are what I love gathering in a truly special place.

Everywhere we travel to for work or for pleasure, I’m collecting inspiring things I see on a daily basis.  Got a good idea? Oh I have ideas running through my head all the time, but only a few actually make sense and the rest are way too random to even discuss. Most of these ideas are silly things that will probably never come to fruition, but I collect them in my head because they keep me laughing, focused and inspired.

Good peeps and long talks. From awesome people we meet to our hour-long conversations together, I save these memories on my inspiration board. Really good people can often be hard to come by and when I’m lucky enough to have a few moments of their time, I collect every bit of wisdom, humor and insight that they toss my way. Yes, I’m a total hoarder of nice folks. Once I find them, I never want to let them go.

It’s all these non-material elements that make me want to collect and hoard, or what ever you want to call it. My list grows longer as the years go by and even beyond the collecting, it’s the sharing of what I’ve been able to curate over the years that makes it more enjoyable.

And last but not least, if I did have to admit to actually being a voracious collector of material things, I would confess to curating a substantial amount of vintage dishes. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy touching, seeing and feeling old dishes. Each one tells a unique story, a special place and time at the dinner table. I sense a moment of unique gathering, sharing and feeding on each plate. When I come across a dish, plate or platter with time-worn scuffed-beauty, I feel like just won the lottery. The same goes for all the awesome people, ideas and moments that come across my way. Because of all this, I’ll never stop collecting and curating. And if it goes as far as calling myself a “hoarder”, then so be it.


I’ve previously written about my love of aged treasures and blue mason jars.

Part of my life collection, through my iphone:

My most memorable meal with my best friends: Todd, Sara, Shawn and Clinton in Havana, Cuba. 2011

Welcome embrace to Americans. I’ll never forget the warm welcome of these Cuban school boys. Havana, Cuba. 2011

Little Virgina’s happy moment in the sand. Orlando, Florida. 2012

Our Stone Stew Dinners, where everyone shares a story and a meal together.

And finally, some of my favorite vintage pieces! So, am I a hoarder?

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. @rendezvoushotel

    Being a Collector. Curator.:
    As I was re-organizing my prop room this weekend after what looked like a tornad…

  2. Trevor

    You may be a collector on a grand scale…of dishes, good people, inspirations and ideas… but you are quite generous with ALL of the above so that does not make you a hoarder. Sorry. XXOO, T.

  3. Deb Sullins

    Not a are a member of my club. I call us ” The rescuers of old stuff”!

  4. Vicky

    You’re definitely not a hoarder cause you lack one very important characteristic that all hoarders share and that is not using the stuff they accumulate.

  5. Terry Covington

    I would love to know the recipe for what looks like something with asparagus in the middle of the table in the Stone Stew Dinner photo — and also how Stone Stew got its name! And, I keep hearing about inspiration boards, but to be honest I’m not really sure what they are or how to start one. I’ve also been a collector/curator of a few things — quotations, for instance, since I was 13. That’s 40 years of quotations saved up. I need to organize them. Would love to see a post about inspiration boards, Diane. And thanks for writing this post, it’s wonderful.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Hi Terry- the asparagus dish on the table is actually a brand new recipe in our upcoming cookbook. It’s a delicious asparagus quiche. 🙂
      The Stone Stew dinners are what we call our small, intimate dinner parties. It’s inspired by the classic Stone Soup story, where people contribute a small ingredient to eventually create this nurturing soup that fed the whole community. Stone Stew conveys the same idea, where everyone brings a dish or a story to the table. But in our case, the Stew part conveys the slow simmering of ideas and conversation, something that isn’t rushed and instead, we take our time to enjoy each others company.
      As far as inspiration boards, you can gather them in any way that works best for you. You can use online resources such as Pinterest, or something as simple as a notebook and pen. The idea is to not forget those things that are important and inspire us. Most of my inspiration boards are in my head because once they enter my life, I rarely ever forget them.

      1. Terry Covington

        Diane, Thank you for the very gracious response. I am really looking forward to your cookbook, and I completely LOVE the ideas behind “Stone Stew.” I used to read several versions of the Stone Soup story to my kids when they were little. I love the idea of inspiration boards becoming an integral part of your life, too — I have an idea for how to start mine. Such a very inspiring post!

  6. Ashley

    Great post! I call mine a “stash” because that sounds small and not so crazy. It really doesn’t seem like much to me, but sometimes people will comment on how MUCH stuff I must have based on my blog photos. Collector/curator is great!

  7. Abbe@This is How I Cook

    Ummmm. If I owned the top dish and quietly collected it, I would hoard it forever and never let it go. It is a beauty. And I would buy more so I could curate them. And when I died I might will them to a museum. Ummmm. Better stop now!

  8. LisaR @ Who Stole My Baby?

    I have the same dilemma. My magazines are out of control. But whenever I need a good kick in the pants to clean, I just watch a real episode of Hoarders, and I’m good to go. Scary stuff, that is.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Seriously. After watching the show for the first time last month, we started cleaning out the garage the next morning. 🙂

  9. Rachael @ Set the Table

    I say you have an eye for beautiful pieces and know just how to use them. And you share your collections beautifully for the rest of us to enjoy. I say keep collecting!

  10. Eileen

    I have been picking up vintage pieces for quite some time. The china cabinet where I keep them does runneth over… You have some beautiful pieces!

  11. Gerry @ Foodness Gracious

    I think hoarding, collecting and curating are all connected. Hoarding gets a bad rap from those crazy t.v shows but to me I think of your hoarding as keeping special items which mean so much to you and just never wanting to let them go, not because you’re a really bad organizer or OCD’er.
    Thanks again for the party, it was awesome meeting people in the real world 😉

  12. Amanda

    Lovely. Collector or hoarder? All a manner of gratitude I would say. Thanks for passing along the attitude of thankfulness.

  13. Vyvilyn

    Excellent post on “curating” Diane! Being a photography and craft hobbyist myself, I find it hard NOT to collect things for my projects and future projects (much like an artist needs his/her palette). I’ve been called a hoarder many times but would like to think of myself as a sentimental hoarder since I only keep things that could add to my memories. But you really bring it to a new level with “curating!”

  14. Averie @ Averie Cooks

    Your talk last week was fabulous and it really struck a chord with me and has given me food for thought, things to ponder and toss around…thank you 🙂

    And if you’re ever selling any of things you hoard, I’m buying! Those dishes are just stunning in the last pic!

  15. Kiran @

    Not a hoarder for sure — a collector and curator of beautiful, timeless pieces that comes with stories. And as soon as we acquire, new memories are created with it 🙂

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