Tim Straker and Mike Ebright haunt flea markets and salvage yards for unique finds that connect to their passions. Not limiting themselves to the usual decorative items, they fill their Columbus, Ohio, home with pieces that speak of family history, personal interests or regional pride.
"We buy what we love and live with it for as long as we like," Tim says. Their dining room (left) and other rooms in their German Village home showcase their unusual collections. Click through our slides to find out how Tim and Mike display their finds -- with ideas you can use in your own home.
Tim's fascination with all shapes and sizes of vintage lightbulbs began with an old string of holiday lights painted by his mom and crackled by age. (Also, lightbulb inventor Thomas Edison was born in Ohio!) One way to display the bulbs: under a glass bell top.
Take-home tip: Don't shy away from collecting something that seems ho-hum, like lightbulbs. When you immerse yourself in the search, you'll discover surprising and intriguing variations.
Tim's lightbulbs, in varying colors and shapes, create a striking focal point for the dining room table.
Take-home tip: Odd-numbered groupings, like the nine bulbs here, are more interesting than sets in even numbers.
Tim and Mike created a playful fireplace display with cascading globes. (Glue holds them in place.) When they hauled home a carload, a passerby asked if the two were geography teachers.
Take-home tip: Look for versions of your collectible in different sizes; the variety of large and small examples will add interest to the grouping.
Tim bought his first vintage barometer years ago from a display in a Ralph Lauren store where he worked a summer job. Now he groups them on the buffet or hangs them.
Take-home tip: Look beyond an item's function to see its underlying stylishness. These barometers mimic the clean midcentury-modern lines of the homeowners' furnishings.
Deep-chocolate walls and modern retro furniture create a showstopping backdrop for eclectic collections in the dining room. "I like how multiples create texture," Tim says.
The vintage motel sign inspires memories of family lake vacations and cruises in Tim's beloved classic Century boat.
Take-home tip: Deep, rich colors recede to let colorful collectibles pop.
A fond childhood memory came to life when Tim purchased a collection of paint-by-number artwork on eBay.
Take-home tip: Just about anything handmade inspires a sense of authenticity, even if it's not "high art."
Open shelving, white cabinetry and a strategically placed skylight keep the kitchen bright and friendly.
Take-home tip: "We use worn pieces to warm up our modern styling," Tim says. A salvaged industrial light fixture, for example, spotlights the kitchen island.
Tim's grandfather was a chief engineer for A.E. Hull Pottery Company of Crooksville, Ohio. Tim's 400-piece pottery collection, displayed in a custom cabinet, is a tribute to that legacy. Favorites are prototypes his grandfather designed.
Take-home tip: Indulge yourself. Tim may never use all these pieces, but they have a place because they are meaningful to his family.
The glazed terra-cotta tile lining kitchen walls was fired in 100-year-old kilns at the Seneca Tile Company of Attica, Ohio. Bright kitchenware displays stand out against the muted wall color.
Take-home tip: Repeating a texture, like the glaze of this tile and these pottery pieces, ties together items from different eras.
Bits of gold still remain on stools salvaged from a gold-leaf factory; they're paired with a custom leather banquette. A $20 garage-sale side table gains new status beside a rare midcentury-modern chair. Vintage advertising posters add to a retro feel.
Take-home tip: Tim encourages friends to mix various eras or pedigrees. "Even the tackiest pieces have a place when set in the right context," he says.
See-through table and chairs on this entry wall in the living room allow collections, like the framed postcards, to take a starring role.
Take-home tip: Let some parts of your decor fade into the background. If everything says "Look at me!" nothing gets the appropriate attention.
Mike collected vintage postcards from Buckeye Lake (home of the Straker family summer cottage) and created a personal framed piece of art.
Take-home tip: Just about any memento can be framed and turned into a hanging memory.
A pop-art-style cow painting, in a place of honor over the fireplace, reflects the homeowners' strong ties to Columbus, affectionately dubbed "Cowtown USA" for its agricultural heritage.
Take-home tip: Unique pieces will mesh beautifully if you remain consistent with frame style.
Tim and Mike couldn't pass up an English wet bar mimicking the shape of a boat hull. It anchors a corner of the dining room.
Boating is a family passion: Tim's family has collected and restored wood-hull Century motorboats at their Ohio lake cottage for years.
Take-home tip: Live large. If you love boats, don't settle for just a few little nautical knickknacks. Let your passions inspire furniture pieces, hardware, accents and more.
The countertop in the powder room -- along with the kitchen countertop and the curved accent wall in the living room -- feature mahogany wood like that used in vintage boats.
Other collectibles on display: A jar of campaign buttons and a grouping of old flashlights add personality to the powder room.
Take-home tip: It's OK to mix collectibles of different eras and themes. The campaign buttons and flashlights don't "go" together, but pair nicely here anyway.
Circus letter reproductions -- three "Z's" -- bring a whimsical touch to an upstairs bedroom.
Take-home tip: Make yourself laugh. Go ahead and make a joke with your collections.
An old black-and-white photo, vintage alarm clock and trophy make a charming bedside vignette.
Take-home tip: Shape and contrast, like the shadows in this photograph, add interest -- even without the addition of bright colors.
An upstairs hall bookcase houses old model boat kits, vintage flashlights, a framed Chris-Craft Boat advertisement -- and an unusual collection of rainbow-hue books.
Take-home tip: Repeat an accent color to tie things together. Here, spots of celadon green lead the eye from the lamp to the flashlights to the books.
Tim and Mike were charmed by German Village's brick streets, gas lights, hidden gardens and restored brick homes built in the mid-1800s by German settlers, many of whom worked in nearby breweries. They've used local materials and craftspeople when updating their home, bringing warmth to their modern aesthetic.
Tim (left) and Mike bring home a new flea-market find, oversize letters likely from a former Ohio gas station sign.
Tim confesses, "Collecting can become addicting." But this is one addiction that's easy to live with.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® March/April 2010.)