First things first: what is an altar? An altar is a structure used for spiritual practices. Many religions have them for ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, church services, and festivals, as well as for daily worship in the home.
They are also a helpful source of inspiration when you are meditating. When you lose concentration, you can open your eyes and focus on the altar to help bring your mind back. It is easier to focus on your meditation if you have something inspiring to look at, rather than an empty space or clutter, which can lower your energy and make it difficult to feel peaceful.
There is no specific way that a meditation altar should look. Each one reflects the individual practice of the one who made it. You can make it big and elaborate, or as simple as a shoebox. You can use decorative cloths to give it a more colorful, uplifting feel; or not, to give it a calmer, more Zen look.
You can display anything that inspires you: pictures of loved ones or people you admire, figures of deities, or inspirational objects. The key here is energy. Whatever makes you feel love, joy, or uplifted in any way is good to have on your altar.
Now, where do you put it? It all depends on the space you have. It is good to have it facing west; that way when you are meditating you will be facing east, which is what yogis commonly recommend. If you have a big room just for meditation, you could put one big altar at one end, with smaller ones along the sides.
If your altar will be part of a room already being used for something else, such as a bedroom or living room, pick a quiet corner and decide what size is reasonable. If your altar is in a room that is used for something else, it helps to block off the area where you meditate with a curtain or screen, which will help you focus and give you a space that is solely for meditation.
Meditation altars can also be used for other purposes. Some people enjoy having an altar in their living room or other high traffic areas, to help keep an uplifted feeling there or “raise the energy” as it is often put.
If you live in a small space, you could have an altar with a curtain or screen around it that you keep open most of the time, but close it while you are meditating. This is especially useful if you live with other people, because they will know not to disturb you when the curtain is drawn.
I have included some more photos below for you to enjoy and get ideas from. You can also visit my Pinterest board on meditation altars for more examples.