Each January marks a period of renewal. Our homes have hushed; decorations stuffed back into their chests, and kitchens pieced back together. We are left with a long season of cold weather, and extra time to over-analyze the décor in our house. As a designer, I see displaying artwork as the most important finishing layer to a great interior.
Artwork is also often the most fluid element of a space – swapping walls and arrangements is easy but impactful. Over the years, my luxury interior design clients have required all kinds of solutions to displaying artwork: to create interest, reinforce the interior design, or showcase a treasured collection.
If you are craving a reset, this is the perfect time to consider how your family photos, or that new piece of artwork you received for Christmas, can be used in a new and intentional way. So, let me help you think like a designer!
Works that hold the wall
There’s no denying the impact of displaying an oversized artwork. Large scale statement pieces add exceptional interest to a room, oftentimes anchoring the design as a whole. I have mapped entire rooms based on the client’s existing artwork, as well as sourced large pieces to add contrast to recently completed designs. Although these works share the commonality of grand size, each one impacts its respective space in a very different way.
At our Miami Beach Modern Traditional project, I designed a niche in the millwork to highlight the clients’ painting Untitled by David Salle. It sits directly across from the doorway, and is the only artwork wall in the room. This encourages utmost focus on the piece and draws you into the space.
In the Living Room at our Highland Park Modern project, a large Fauna painting anchors this space and sets a whimsical tone for the rest of the house. I love the way the black background echoes the dark fireplace, balancing the weight of the two walls.
We took care in displaying this oversize 3D “X” artwork at our Tribeca Loft project. Intentionally off-set on the large sofa wall, it commands immediate attention and adds a dynamic presence to this modern space.
We needed the right piece for this very visible wall. This modern work by Debra Smith made of antique Kimonos echoes the design of the Georgian colonial entryway. The graphic shapes are a great balance to curve details in the traditional architecture and decorative furnishings.
Art in unexpected places
Sometimes artwork is best displayed as a highlight to what surrounds it. Adding small pieces to the high points of a wall can draw the eye up, to emphasize a beautiful crown moulding or balance the height of oversized furniture. Displaying small artwork above and below antique sconces creates a collected feel, and placing them around modern windows will warm the space and add character. No matter the application, art in unexpected places will inevitably draw your eye to details that otherwise go unnoticed. And, it always creates a layered, interesting interior.
At my Provence Poiriers project in France, I hung a small Paris-Flea-market-find still life painting above the Guest Bathroom door. It balances the height of our stately custom canopy design and brings attention to the painted stripe detail we added to the perimeter of this bedroom. The ornate gilt frame compliments the other antiques in the room.
We needed a little punch in this breakfast nook beside this modern kitchen. A collection of my clients’ colorful Josef Albers prints was the answer. Mounted at the ceiling line, they bring color and interest to the simple window header area.
Small pieces of art can get lost on a large wall. I added layers to the formal Dining room at Provence Poiriers by placing art strategically below sconces, above tall doors, and incorporating a collage of blue and white delftware. Thus, the eye wanders throughout, and small pieces feel intentional in their scale.
We hung this Lalla Essaydi triptych in the kitchen at our Modernist Tribeca Penthouse project. It reinforces the luxe materials used in this open kitchen and elevates the space to an exotic bar-like feel in the evening. The custom picture light spanning the three colorful images completes the wall and punches the photo’s rich colors.
Making a hallway interesting with artwork
Some of my favorite rooms I’ve designed aren’t rooms at all. In many homes, hallways and vestibules are easily forgotten. But, these transition spaces present an opportunity to take a home’s interiors to the next level. Displaying artwork here is an effective way to decorate within a small footprint.
Tight quarters allow for intimate viewing of collections or family photographs. In more substantial transition spaces, creating vignettes with functional pieces of furniture and artwork encourages passersby to linger and appreciate.
On a few occasions, I have enjoyed adding color blocks of paint down long hallways to emphasize gallery walls and give added dimension to the otherwise flat spaces. Consequently, this draws the eye to the clients’ artwork even more!
One of my favorite ways to treat a long hallway is with brief design “moments” like this one at our Miami Beach Modern Traditional Project. Four Jackies by Andy Warhol is hung at the onset of this gallery hall, grounded by a nickel picture light and a grouping of furnishings. The rest of the hall is punctuated by vignettes of artwork and furniture allowing the eye to move and rest in a rhythm along the way.
Another more traditional take on a long hallway is this gallery wall I hung at Le Mas des Poiriers in Provence. This hallway is a main access across the house and opens into the Formal Living Room. I felt it needed to stand alone as a decorative statement and be inviting. I grouped antique oil paintings and etchings on each side of the door, grounded by a pair of French commodes. With the oriental rug and decorative accessories, the feeling is collected and classic.
When my client in Dallas expressed interest in framing her children’s artwork, we agreed that mixing it with collectable pop art would be a dynamic presentation. With a lot of open hallway on the second floor, it seemed the best place for this fun presentation. Visible from the first floor Foyer and just off the Game Room, I sourced pop artists, like En Iwumara and Martin Whatson, that had great color to compliment the kids’ pieces. This wall is one of four that we painted with a soft blue block of color. The series of color creates an added layer in the space.
In this vary narrow hallway at our Rye, New York renovation, we needed to break up the length. With smaller bold coral blocks of color, we visually shortened the space. As this is the bedroom hallway, we decided to frame black and white family photos unified by the same frame. Hung asymmetrically, the pattern breaks up the very long hallway.
Reinforcing the mood with art
If setting a new vibe for the room is what you’re after, consider that a new piece of art is probably up for the task. In many homes, I’ve used the client’s artwork as a blueprint for the atmosphere. Captivating landscapes or water scenes encourage relaxation in bedrooms and reading nooks. Cerebral portraits or architectural imagery can energize an office setting, and colorful pop art is playful in shared spaces. It’s important to consider the emotional impact of an artwork when you’re looking to place it.
Serenity and focus are the words that come to mind when peering into this reading corner we designed recently. A photograph by Peter C. Jones brings a muted, introspective touch of blue to the scene, setting the ambience.
I needed one large painting for this client’s chapel space that set the tone and was visible from the exterior entry door. On a recent trip to Round Top Antique Fair, I found this Coronation of the Virgin Mary antique oil painting. The color aligns with rich wood accents in the space and creates a powerful focal point on the back wall at our Dallas Historic Residence. Certainly, this sets the intention for the room.
In an effort to keep this Primary Suite neutral and calm, we added an effervescent cloud painting by Catherine Erb, which departs soothing energy at our Preston Hollow Contemporary Craftsman project.
In this masculine home office, we opted for a black and white photograph depicting Japanese ocean breakers. This industrial image by Josef Hoflehner framed in polished steel adds to our client’s powerful and cerebral office atmosphere.
Always include sculptural pieces
Lest I leave out the importance of rounding out a space with 3 dimensional objects, we should address the crucial: Displaying sculptural artwork or personal items is a great way to start a conversation, fill an awkward corner, or finish out a vignette.
Sculptural art has an ineffable quality that takes up space and adds dimension to the most sterile of environments. Additionally, personal items can be placed on pedestals or mounted on walls to be treated as artwork. I feel, without three dimensional artwork on display, an interior lacks interest.
The dining room at our Miami Beach Modern Traditional project never feels empty, being that we placed this wire mesh party dress sculpture in the corner. This levitating dress demands close investigation at every dinner party, and is a compliment to the other modern works of art in the house.
Atop the bar at our Preston Hollow project rests a seemingly forgotten purse. Get a little closer and you’ll find that the bag and its contents are a ceramic sculpture by Bertozzi & Casoni. It was such a fun addition to our client’s art collection and the perfect conversation piece perched on the corner of the bar.
The minimal, modern entryway of this Highland Park home felt like a gallery space with its terrazzo floors and clean lines. I leaned into this feeling by choosing a collection of sculpture and sculptural furniture pieces, creating an eclectic grouping with the client’s existing painting. The Jeremy Cole Trophy Wife sculpture anchors the far wall and is contrasted by an oversized neon letter K – the first initial of the clients’ last name. As a result, this became a room truly reflective of the owners’ interests, with enough footprint for guests to pause and appreciate each display of artwork.
In this Georgian style home, we aligned with its classical architecture while still incorporating an element of modernism in the decor. I love the organic quality of this ceramic vase, and wanted to contrast it with a custom angular pedestal. Adding the antique mirror, it sparks interest at the front wall of the Formal Living Room.
Our client’s powerful home office in NYC needed the same in artwork. With a selection of Asian antiquities from his collection, we gave the space a worldly and exotic vibe. The gilt monk and ancient urns are the right sculptural pieces to contrast the sleek 1930’s furnishings and build interest. Equally important is the symmetrical placement, emphasizing the power office aesthetic.
Consider black and white photography
Black and white photography is timeless and sophisticated. Its graphic quality instantly balances a more traditional room. I have used black and white imagery in countless spaces – mounted on millwork, hung atop intricate wallpapers, and every way in between. These powerful photos have great versatility, and make a statement that never gets old.
I love using large-scale black and white imagery to make a bold yet subtle statement in rooms that are yearning for edge.
I added the final layer to this classic library with a black and white photo of a French abbey. This stately architectural image is mounted atop the open bookshelves. I especially love the unexpected scale and placement of this work, and the modern twist it imparts on the traditional space.
This is a portrait of an African tribal leader we hung in the corner of a classic Connecticut kitchen. Note that this space would feel much different with, say, a painting of flowers or a sweet family photo. We wanted to add edge, and this graphic black and white image did just that.
I love working on western spaces. In this Deer Valley ski home, I wanted to water down the rustic vibes with updated artwork. In keeping with our theme, I sourced iconic black and white images of cowboys and their horses. The square size and triptych-style format reinforces the modern flair.
When finishing this primary bedroom, I wanted to display artwork that would contrast the cut velvet and formal silk fabrics. We opted to flank the bed with a pair of modern high-contrast, square format photos. The photos, shot at the Gardens of Versailles, have the right balance of crisp yet classic imagery for this traditional bedroom.
Time to get Creative!
Without reservation, I can say that displaying artwork is one of the most enjoyable and impactful components of a finished space. I hope this blog inspires a 2023 home refresh!
Here’s to a busy, inspiring and optimistic New Year.
Robin Rice says
I loved this article . It is so good to see this and your comments
Susan Bednar Long says
Thank you Robin!
Thanh Hung says
Love to see this article. So beautiful!.