Art, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s collected masterpiece may evoke nothing but ennui in another. Art is notoriously subjective, and people are often quite opinionated about it, offering plenty of criticism as well as praise where their neighbors and friends may feel completely otherwise.
And while art is subjective, it’s universally acknowledged that a home without art—paintings, sculpture, or photos—feels barren, almost unlived in.
“There are a lot of people with no art on the walls,” says Allison Faith Morgan, Owner and Principal Interior Designer at Outside Interiors in Cape May. “It doesn’t make me feel like it’s a home. Every now and then I go to a house where they may have lived for twelve years and there’s literally not a single painting or family picture on the wall. It’s like “What are you doing with all these walls?”
For non-designers, a blank wall can be intimidating. Choosing artwork can exacerbate that challenge, especially for those who are new to collecting, but the important thing, according to Morgan, is choosing art that resonates with you personally. “The most important thing is picking art you love,” says Morgan.
“What can I look at forever? What can I look at, that if I plop onto that comfy couch and look at it, has the capacity to take me away,” says artist Terri Amig of the questions you should ask yourself when choosing artwork.
Whether that’s a stark abstract that’s five feet wide or a postcard-sized oil painting in a gilded frame, art should speak to the heart. However, it also has to fit your home.
How do you make art fit your design aesthetic?
There are often two distinct methods of discussing artwork as it pertains to design. Either the artwork has already been selected, and influences the rest of the design, or there’s an established design and homeowners must find art that fits.
“The clients that I’ve worked with have all been different. I’ll have some that I meet that tell me right up front they have this really special piece that they want to incorporate in a certain room,” says Morgan. “Something like that will kind of be my jumping off point to make sure that everything in the room kind of complements it.” That’s not to say homeowners need, or should, pull every color from a painting and put it in their home. Rather, consider using the artwork as inspiration for the rest of the space.
“I’m not the kind of person that believes the artwork should match per se,” says Morgan. “I feel like art is very individual and if you love it, then put it up on your wall. But if your pillows don’t match a certain color that’s in it, it’s not the end of the world. It kind of stands on its own.”
Amig agrees, saying, “I don’t really paint to go with someone’s decorations. Hopefully, a piece speaks to someone.”
With that said, if you’re using a piece of artwork as a jumping off point to designing your own home, one quick trick is to incorporate the lowlights and highlights of the colors in a painting, rather than the obvious choice of the main color.
“Let’s say it’s a painting with a ton of blue and just hints of coral. I would pull the coral out in either a pillow or a lamp or throw or ottoman. Something like that, so it doesn’t become so matchy matchy,” says Morgan. “If the predominant color of the piece is the predominant color on your sofa or sectional or rug, it becomes a little bit overwhelming.”
Adding artwork to a design
Oftentimes, with shore houses, homeowners are dealing with a blank slate, with artwork and mementos safely stashed in their full-time homes. In that case, Morgan will present some artwork at the beginning of the design process. In the case of less trafficked rooms, Morgan is comfortable using what she refers to as filler art.
“There are a couple of online companies that I work with that do kind of inexpensive filler art,” says Morgan. “So, if you need small things, for bathrooms or bedrooms and you want something that looks kind of cool but you don’t want to pay a ton of money, it’s a great option.”
However, for heavily trafficked areas of the home, Morgan likes to direct her clients to local artists and galleries. In addition to working with local artists David Macomber and Scott Troxel, Morgan patronizes Ocean Galleries in Stone Harbor and Avalon.
“They have a great selection of art that’s fresh all the time. They’re always bringing in new guest artists and they have some amazing pieces,” says Morgan. “Those are probably more of your investment pieces, pieces that would go in areas like your entry, that everyone will see when they come in, or maybe above the dining table. That would be where I would urge people to kind of spend some money and get something really high quality and well done.”
If selecting the artwork seems intimidating—especially when it has a high price tag—homeowners have some options. Higher-end galleries like SOMA or Ocean Galleries will often bring a selected piece to your home so you can see how it looks and feels at your house prior to making a final purchase.
“With smaller art, you could print out a picture and literally tape it to your wall, glance at it out of the corner of your eye,” says Morgan. “If it starts to feel good, you’re doing the right thing.”
And while Morgan does suggest including what you love and what feels good, there are a few things she’d steer clear of entirely. One such thing is going overboard with beach-themed artwork.
“We’re already at the beach. You don’t have to beat people over the head with it,” says Morgan. “You don’t want it too on the nose.”
Likewise, limit your patterns. While both wallpaper and artwork can add lots of depth and interest to your home, too much is, well, too much.
“You definitely don’t want to put a crazy abstract piece of modern art on top of a wallpaper that’s got giant floral prints all over it. It creates an atmosphere that’s not restful,” says Morgan. “Your eye is just completely overwhelmed.”
Instead, Morgan suggests complementing a bold patterned wallpaper with something simple looking like a charcoal sketch. The consistent idea throughout all of this is complementing, rather than overwhelming, a space, something that can also happen if homeowners use too much artwork.
“In terms of art and design going badly, it’s not so much the art or the décor’s fault—a space might be too cluttered,” says Morgan. “People think they are getting the gallery effect but it doesn’t work that way.”
“Your eyeball doesn’t know where to look.” ■