‘This Old Helmet Room’ – Building a Room to House Your Militaria Collection
As a collector of military helmets from various eras, I’ve long dreamt of having a room that would do double duty as office and private museum. For career reasons, I live in New York City, where space is truly at a premium. It took my wife and me nearly three years to find and purchase the perfect apartment. After an exhaustive search last October we found our dream apartment, a three-bedroom, two-bath co-op with a private terrace and 24-hour doorman. I work from home as a writer and need a doorman to receive packages, and after sharing an all-too-small home office with my wife it was decided we each needed our own space.
Actually purchasing the apartment, selling our existing apartment and arranging the move was enough to cause endless stress, and more than one sleepless night. But it also gave me the time to plan EVERY detail of my home office. One friend commented, “You’re putting more planning into this than Napoleon did when he invaded Russia.” To which I replied, “But look how that turned out.”
As a full-time writer I need to be organized, and I’ll admit I’m a control freak. I also have good sense of space, and did take the time to consider multiple options. First I decided the existing helmet room was all wrong.
My old apartment’s helmet room was located — unfortunately — in the apartment’s entryway, and thus made either for an inviting or intimidating first impression. I opted for Metro Shelves, as these are affordable and highly adjustable. Unfortunately, these get dirty very easily and the grid design is impractical for helmets and helmet stands.
The old helmet room also mixed dress and sun helmets with combat helmets, and lumped in everything with my books. If I wanted to read a book I had to move multiple helmets. And to accommodate more helmets I put up a series of white laminated shelves, that neither complemented the Metro Shelves nor worked well to show off the helmets.
Out with the Old, In With the New
The other significant problem with my old apartment’s helmet room was that it was off the kitchen. While New Yorkers might eat out a lot, we actually cook and every time I boiled water I was concerned that I was slowly but surely damaging my precious helmets. These helmets had survived wars, but my cooking pasta 20 times a week was probably doing more damage.
For that reason most collectors and preservationists would recommend keeping helmets and other military collectibles – notably uniforms and flags – out of direct sunlight, and in rooms with low humidity. My new room is far from the kitchen and has a door so I can close it off to create a mini-ecosystem. As a journalist I cover consumer products, and have written extensively about air purifiers as well. I’ve tested dozens and recommend any model from IQ Air or BlueAir. These use a HEPA filter that can really clean the air. Never use an air cleaning product with Ionic in the name, as these are 1) mostly junk that do very little, and 2) can actually create ozone, which may be good hanging over the South Pole, but is bad for you, your pets and your collectibles. Likewise, I would advise keeping collectibles away from tobacco smoke and other noxious fumes.
For the new room I opted to go green – or at least greener to an extent. I decided to stay away from manufactured woods as much as possible. I did purchase an IKEA cabinet, but according to the manufacturer these are free of formaldehyde, which is commonly used in the particleboard of cheaper cabinets.
For the new helmet room I splurged and opted to go with the Rakks shelving system. This was a truly upscale version of the traditional track shelving. It is durable, made of heavy grade aluminum and looks nice. The cost was probably four times what the based notched track shelving costs, but for my helmets it was worth it. I also opted to have a custom installer do the work for me because time was truly of the essence.
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