Among the more daunting elements of decor there is the matter of art. What do you say to a naked wall?
For some with a good eye and strong visceral reactions (plus deep pockets if you shop Sotheby’s or Christie’s for near-museum quality), selecting art is a no-brainer. But for most of us, there are so many issues: scale, style, colour, how to display — not to mention affordability.
But the ultimate choice is personal: Does the piece engage you? You are, after all, going to live with it.
And a good piece of art can change the dynamic of a room. It can be dramatic, explosive, ethereal, charming, edgy, whimsical.
“Art is the butter-cream frosting on the perfect cake,” says Newport Beach, Calif.- based interior designer Barclay Butera, who also has a lifestyle furniture collection that includes art for Wendover.
“It goes back to the old saying, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’” says Bob Williams, co-founder and president of design for Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams. “Having art in a home is the ultimate finishing touch. You can have (interiors) decorated, with comfortable upholstery. But the art reflects the homeowner’s taste.”
Whether or not it’s a painting, photo, print, limited edition or even production piece based on or inspired by original art, a textile or flea market find, there are so many more sources today that can help lend character to a space, in an enormous price range. What you like is clearly subjective. Those who consider themselves connoisseurs may sniff at what some call art. And art galleries can be intimidating, especially those that keep price tags a secret.
For Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, finding evocative art, like the photography of friend Tipper Gore, has uncovered relatively unknown regional artists. The process is not based on a marketing plan designed to scope out trends or figure out what their customers want.
“We make it simple,” says Gold. “We pick out things we like. A lot of our customers are busy professional people who don’t necessarily have time or style sense. We offer different degrees of collecting art. We’re not saying (a piece) ever will be worth a gazillion dollars. But we are trying to offer gallery quality without the sticker shock.”
“I’m an avid collector,” says Butera, “but I do not get sucked into trends or what’s hot. I pick up pieces I love and live with them forever. I have a massively huge vintage British flag hanging in my dining room. But I’m also a huge Warhol fan with several originals and still adore using sexy Slim Aarons photography in my mid-century projects.”
Last fall, Jenn Szekely launched a new company called Room 125, drawing from the resources of an antique shop she owned in Boston. “There was a void in the market for large format pieces of art. It was either a mass-produced poster or something $10,000 and up. I thought, what if I take some objects I collected and celebrate them?
“Some objects are very old, but they’re presented in a fresh way and they look very modern,” Szekely says. Subjects include black and white photography from antique negatives, Art Deco fashion drawings and 18th century engravings — which she upsizes to four or five feet. All are produced in limited editions of 175, and some are offered in American-made reclaimed wood frames.
Large scale resonates with people, says Szekely. “It’s about playing with proportions. It’s trending now with smaller-scale furniture, a nice juxtaposition. And in New York, where housing is small space, it gives great presence to urban environments.”
Nature is inspiration for some. One company called Natural Curiosities carved a huge niche in this category. Launched by a Brit, Christopher Wilcox, about six years ago, it was one of the first to spotlight startling collections of colourful seaweeds, Gauguin-esque flower blooms, cartography, textiles, grasses, plants, graphics and architectural drawings, some in megawatt scale.
At Natural Curiosities you also can find mounted butterflies, bugs and dimensional art. For those still insecure about weaving art into decor, take cues from magazines, both editorial and ads. Some stores such as Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams have their design associates go to customers’ homes, measure and consult about specific pieces, to ensure that they look good.
“(The process) is daunting to some people,” says Williams. “That’s why we invest so much in our catalogues and visual display in our stores, so that it can help consumers envision art in a room.”
Butera recommends mixing it up so that nothing is too precious. “When I mix salvaged pieces with really big-ticket fine art, clients love it. The room has instant character, nothing looks overstaged. That’s what I love, real approachable elegance.”