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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Rethink the Art in Your Home: Designer Offers 14 Tips

In the world of art and design are two schools of thought. On one side are those who create or sell art. Artists and gallery owners, for instance, tend to promote the idea if you love a piece, buy it. You will always find a place for it.


Interior designers, on the other hand, look at art as a way to finish or maybe inspire a room. They tune into the art’s scale and colors to make sure they work with the room and its furnishings. To them, even the most generic OTC (Over The Couch) art can work if the palette and size are right.


That leaves those of us who love art and who want a beautiful pulled together home and who have a limited a budget scratching our heads. Do you buy what you love and not care if it fits in? Or do you furnish your home with all-purpose art because the size and color work?


Neither. I’m optimistic enough to believe you can have art that cuts both ways — if you’re careful. So, when I heard that a local interior designer was going to give a talk at a local art gallery on “How to Marry Art and Interior Design,” I signed up.


Interior designer Angela Neel, of Winter Park, Fla, opened her informal talk at The Gallery 32789 saying, “Art is what gives a home its personality. It tells the story of those who live there. Without art, a home is just a house.”


She was singing from my hymnal now. Indeed, as far back as the Lascaux Caves in France, circa 17,000 BCE, home dwellers have used their walls to display what mattered to them. Although homes have come a long way since prehistoric cave times — let’s pause to give thanks for flush toilets, central heating and microwaves — that need for artistic expression hasn’t changed.


As Neel spoke, the 20 or so guests nodded in vigorous agreement. The conversation ranged from how to pick art, how to revitalize it, and (read this next one twice) when to let it go. Here’s what else Neel said about the marriage of art and home design:


1.     Yes, color matters. Although the main reason to acquire art is because it speaks to you, it should also work with your home. “You picked the decor and colors in your home because you liked them, so work with them,” Neel said. “Don’t put a piece of art in warm tones in a room designed with cool colors. Muddy yellow in a gray room never works.”

2.     Start with art. In some of the most successful rooms, a piece of art inspires the entire design. If you’re decorating from scratch, starting with a painting you love can be a great foundation.

3.     Let your art evolve. Tastes and décor change, and, ideally, art does, too. Periodically look at your art and ask whether it’s still working with your interior, or if you even still like it. Consider whether it’s time to refresh it or rehome it and make room for something better. Remodeling or moving is the natural time to revisit your art.

4.     Break it up. If you have always had the same painting next to your dining room table, try moving it to another room and enjoy seeing it anew.

5.     Reframe it. If a piece looks tired, or you’re tired of it, consider reframing. A new frame can revive a stodgy piece and make a traditional piece feel contemporary. An ornate frame on a modern piece can also add interest.

6.     Give it up. When a frame won’t salvage the art, it might be time to let it go. “Sometimes art runs its course,” Neel said. Consider passing the piece along to a family member, selling it, or donating it to a furniture bank.

7.     Experiment with scale. Don’t be afraid to put a big piece on a small wall, or in a small room. Doing so can actually make the space feel larger by adding depth.

8.     Take your time. Don’t hastily buy art because you want to fill a space. “I would rather see an empty wall than an ugly piece of art,” she said.

9.     Mix it up. Do not feel wedded to one style of art. Serene landscapes, bold abstracts, soft watercolors, sculptures, photography and pencil drawings can and should live successfully in the same home.

10.  Gang it up. If you have many smaller pieces, rather than scatter them, unify them on a gallery wall. They can be varied sizes, but should have something in common, such as subject matter, or similar (but not matching) frames. She recommends lining the collection up at the bottom to help the gallery cohere.

11.  Take a risk. Edgy art that reflects you can add a welcome touch of whimsy, she said. “I like unexpected art that makes a statement.”

12.  Don’t overlook non-art art. Art doesn’t have to be a two-dimensional picture. Items in shadow boxes, woven or carved wall hangings, and found objects can all serve as art.

13.  Go easy on the portraits. When homes feature five framed photos from the same photo shoot, such as a wedding or family gathering, Neel advises owners to edit the display down to perhaps one.

14.  Show it off. To look its best, art needs to be in the right place in the right light, Neel reminds us. Otherwise, great art can fizzle. For instance, big art in a narrow dark hallway will disappear, while a small well-lit piece will elevate the whole area.


CAPTION: Go big — In small spaces, large art, such as this painting by artist Mark Pulliam, can create the illusion of a bigger space, while giving the room personality. Photo courtesy of Angela Neel.

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