Expert advice for your next decorating conundrum.
Upon moving into a new space, you begin with the necessities—furniture, rugs, the basics. The addition of decor is often more of a slow burn as you experiment with how you want your personality to come across aesthetically—a whole other can of worms if you have roommates. This is where the burnout sets in, at least in my own personal experience. Somehow it seems you're always left with that one pesky expanse of blank wall space you're unsure how to fill—especially stark-white rentals lacking in a surplus of windows. Art, in the traditional sense, is not only difficult to acquire but can quickly have you seeing dollar signs, especially for grander pieces. If you go for gallery, that requires a strategy, not to mention, a trip to the frame store can rack up a hefty price tag. Needless to say, the task at hand is daunting. So we've asked Bettina Huang, general manager at Platform, a new company backed by David Zwirner, and interior designer Sophie Ashby of Studio Ashby, to provide some direction.
The biggest takeaway? Don't put too much pressure on yourself. "People worry about getting haircuts, but hair grows back. It's not quite the same," says Huang, "but there is something similar about hanging art. It doesn't have to be intimidating because it's fairly easy to fix mistakes or change things up in the future. Spackling little nail holes is easy, and hang on to extra paint in whatever color your walls are painted."
"The interesting thing about owning art is that if it's good art and something you love and feel proud of, it speaks for itself," she continues. "Hang it somewhere where you'll see it and appreciate it, but you don't have to stress about it being exactly right. In fact, I think it looks better when people aren't fussy and it's not exactly right!" That seems doable, right? Discover how to get started below.
Do: Plan Ahead (A Little)
Photo: Philip Durrant
"The first thing to do is think about what kind of approach makes sense for you. That connects to three primary factors: 1) Temperament. What would be most enjoyable for you, based on your personality? Do you enjoy looking for the things you buy? Do you want to find art that you really connect with? Or are you trying to get this done as efficiently as possible? 2) Time. How much time do you have? Do you feel like you need to fill your walls right away, or can you take your time to search? 3) Intention. You might have one piece of art that you love and it's actually too small for your large wall. With the right placement on the wall, and if you can shuffle things around in the rest of your room, you might be able to make that look intentional, even if your goal is to buy more art to more proportionately fill that wall space.
"As for me, whether it's art, clothing, or furniture, I've always been one to buy organically over time, and only when I find something that I truly connect with. I've also never felt time pressure to decorate my home because I don't see an end goal but rather an evolution over time. There have been times when I had only one piece that I wanted to hang on my walls, so I hung it directly over my fireplace in the center of the room and the other walls were blank. I embraced creating that kind of a focal point in the room. That's evolved over time as I've acquired more art and objects, so I've filled my walls in a way that has been organic." —Huang
Do: Experiment with DIY
Photo: Alexander James
"I use wallpaper to create a focus within a living space—be it a feature wall or even a small, dark room—which requires a dramatic look. I narrow down a choice of design by drawing from an existing element, for instance, a favorite piece of art, then using its palette as a guide. I try to avoid trendy wallpaper designs and make my choices based on blending styles timelessly. I love to use vintage frames for mounting new art. Old timber frames have unique character, whereas buying a new, complicated, and intricate frame can be expensive. We source frames when we visit flea markets like Ardingly and Kempton. Also, if the frame is much bigger than the artwork, you can always use mounts to your advantage. I love using linen-wrapped mounts." —Ashby
Don't: Assume You Have to Spend a Ton of Money
Photo: Annie Schlechter
"First of all, know that size and price are often proportional when you are comparing works by an artist within the same medium, but when you look across different artists and mediums, there isn't a straight-line algorithm that relates size to price, so you can find works of art that are large and affordable. If you are open to a range of artists, you can find great art that's large and still potentially within budget. You also have more options if you are interested in works on paper, whether they're paintings, collages, or prints. Of course, you'll want to make sure you get those framed (if they aren't framed already), which adds somewhat to the cost. But still, if you compare a work on canvas to a framed work on paper by the same artist, the latter will usually be more affordable on a price-per-square-inch basis." —Huang
"If you are on a smaller budget, framing prints in various sizes from a gallery or museum gift shop is a clever way of sourcing art affordably. I like the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Tate, or the Reunion des Musees Nationaux Grand Palais' online shops. I often buy prints of my favorite artists at the end of an exhibition I visit because I just want to take a little piece of it home and an Auerbach, Picasso, or Matisse is outside of the realm of possibility!" —Ashby
Do: Think Beyond the Realm of Paintings
Photo: Annie Schlechter
"Consider mixing art on your wall with other objects you might have collected. For example, on my walls I've got a Marcel Dzama watercolor hanging beside a Seletti dinner plate that came from their Maurizio Cattelan collaboration. While it may not be fine art, it has a place on the wall too, and it helps me fill the space. You can also hang a floating bookshelf on which you could place art along with books and other objects." —Huang
Do: Work with the Size of Your Space
Photo: Alexander James
"A mirror is an affordable piece which can be ordered to size and helps a room feel bigger. A small wall-hung mirror won't make the most of the space, so if you're tight on room, use large sheets of mirror where possible. It may seem counterintuitive, but in small spaces I often feel that going bold is much better than the relentless quest for that 'light and airy' look. Embrace the intimacy of the room by introducing statement art and paint the walls. A paint color can create atmosphere and is also one of the cheapest ways to transform the feel of a space.
"An equally effective but lesser-known choice is the use of soft wall art, such as textiles and tapestries. Soft wall art helps to make a space feel intimate, cozy, warm, and friendly. On a more practical level, they can help with acoustics and change the pace in a material palette, softening the envelope. I think of wall hangings as another art form—they have character and draw people in when they enter a room. I enjoy changing the pace between painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, and tapestries." —Ashby
Don't: Get Caught Up in Matching Art to Your Space
Photo: Annie Schlechter
"In all parts of my life, I buy based on my connection to the object (assuming it's within my budget!) rather than trying to find something that matches specific criteria, though the latter can be a legitimate way for other people. For me, it's a more meaningful approach to wait till I find something that gives me that feeling of excitement. When I can't stop thinking about it, I therefore know I should buy it. I think that if that's your approach to buying, then inevitably, your art will match your space because your space will be full of other things that resonated with you….and likely those will be in a related aesthetic." —Huang
Don't: Be Afraid of a Gallery Wall
Photo: Philip Durant
"When creating this style of a wall, someone's typically looking to achieve something that says they're interesting, curious, discerning, thoughtful, but also not too precious. I think that you can start to express those things about yourself with just a few pieces hung together on a wall, even before it gets to the density that you're looking for. This is especially true if you buy what you love. From those initial few pieces hung together, as you accumulate more art and objects that you care about, you can add them organically and it will look great. Some of the most successful gallery walls I've seen haven't been laid out just-so, and they weren't 'perfectly' spaced out. Moreover, if you have art you love, why not just go ahead and hang it, so that you can enjoy it while you continue to amass the pieces you need for that ultimate vision?
"People focus a lot on the physical placement of artwork within gallery walls, but I think they should think more and have more fun with the way different artwork can interact with each other. You can juxtapose interesting colors next to each other, or subject matter that you think is thought-provoking side by side. Or you can have a whole wall that's just your collection of portraits. But don't let the possibilities overwhelm you. Even if you were to hang at random, the result will still look great and interesting." —Huang
"There aren't hard-and-fast rules here, but the trick to a gallery wall is making it feel like it just happened, even if you actually planned every element of it intensely. That effect relates less to numbers of works and more to the way they're hung. Go for some degree of asymmetry. For example, if you have four works of the same size, you may want to try one in the center, two stacked on one side, one on the other side. It will feel slightly off center but still somehow balanced, and that's what you're looking for."Don't be afraid to let your gallery wall evolve with you as you collect pieces over time. Add as you go, rather than all at once, and experiment with mixed frame finishes such as white, black, pale oak, walnut, gilt, and leather. The wall should be adorned with beautiful pieces that you love and that tell a story. If you prefer a purely photographic wall, I would choose sleek, fine frames in monochrome or plain timber. I like to adorn blank walls with pictures, photos, postcards, and paintings. These are often unique pieces I have collected on my travels that remind me of a wonderful memory. By framing each piece beautifully, you can capture that moment in time while adding a unique point of interest to your interior." —Ashby
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Top photo: Philip Durrant
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