Thomas J. Story
Designer Francesca Harris believes in collections rather than single objects. "Collections have impact," she says.

Click through our gallery of stylish ways to show off family photos, treasured keepsakes, and everyday objects

Jess Chamberlain  – April 27, 2007 | Updated February 7, 2019

You could almost mistake Francesca Harris’s home for an art gallery. Black-and-white picture frames adorn almost every wall; little vignettes of heirlooms and mementos top most surfaces. Harris, a design-build contractor and home inspector in Corte Madera, California, believes in meaningful decor. “I’m obsessed with my family photos,” she says. “I love making art out of memories.”

On the wall above her desk, white picture frames of the same type but in varying sizes create a nostalgic collage: her wedding day, her sons’ toddler years, her mother’s childhood portrait, her brother’s first ice cream cone. “Framed images ― whether old or new ― become more substantial when they’re grouped together,” Harris says. The use of mass-market frames and mats gives her the freedom to swap photos in and out, and keeps her displays from feeling too precious. “Having two young boys forces me to be practical,” she says.

Stick to a black-and-white palette

To keep her aesthetic polished and classic, Harris buys three or four of the same frames at a time, always in black or white. “I love color for the moment, but don’t want to live with it permanently,” she explains. In keeping with this philosophy, most of her interior walls are white, except for a chocolate brown accent wall in her bedroom that puts the bed front and center. (The glossy hue also acts as a dramatic backdrop for a trio of photographs casually propped above and below a white side table.) Likewise, furnishings throughout her home are informal and crisp. Well-chosen accessories in complementary materials ― such as two vintage chrome sconces above her sofa or a transparent acrylic resin lamp on her living-room bookcase ― set off the pristine neutrals.

Harris limits color to small, surprising accents, such as the rows of books on her shelves. “I remove most of the jacket covers, since the texture of the linen binding underneath provides an amazingly rich hue,” she says. Grouping her books by color family creates an instant visual punch. 

Turn everyday objects into art

Because she runs her business from home, Harris insists on a meticulous workspace. “Once I get the kids to school, my home becomes an office,” she says. “Everything has to be organized, and each space has to be functional.” White magazine files from Ikea (which echo the white mats in her frames) are one indispensable tool. On a shelf above her desk, several small vintage clocks create a vignette next to silver picture frames and a collection of candles. “Collections have more impact than single objects,” she explains. Even open shelving in the kitchen becomes an opportunity for display; in this case, the objects are everyday dishware (along with a few artwork projects by her boys).

A disciplined hand with personal decor has resulted in a home rich with style and meaning. In the end, Harris says, it all comes down to one principle: “I make sure to surround myself with things I love.”

Design: Francesca Harris, FHIG, Corte Madera, CA (415/366-7191).