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Design 101 - How to Choose Art for your Home

Updated: Apr 18

This topic is near and dear to me, because if there is one "decorative" item that I can't live without in my home it is art...

...paintings, drawings, prints, name it, I need it. Exhibit A below...the gallery wall in my dining room. I recently talked about why art is so important to me in an Instagram post here. If you want to understand my affinity for art definitely hop over there and give it a read.

But while I find art to be a comforting, familiar thing I realize a lot of people find art intimidating. I think that stems from some outdated idea that art is somehow elitist. But you don't need a degree in it to understand art or to know what's "good". Here's the thing. Art is good if YOU think it's good. And art that resonates with one person may not resonate with another.

Let's do a little analogy, shall we? Imagine art is ice cream. Some people love vanilla, some only want chocolate or rocky road. Then there's others that need something a little more exotic like brambleberry crisp or brown butter almond brittle (guilty). You don't need someone else telling you what you like or what's good when it comes to ice cream. You just know. In the end we all get to eat ice cream and that's the point.

THERE IS AN ICE CREAM FLAVOR FOR EVERYONE! And there is ART is for everyone. The key is finding something you love and saying to hell with the rest of the world.

In fact, if you look closely at my dining room picture above, the two center pieces of art at the top were painted by my daughter when she was about 5. I love them, they're special to me, and so I gave them a place of importance in my home. Art doesn't have to be stuffy!

Have I convinced you? Good! Now we can get on to the good stuff.

When choosing art for a home I take two different approaches.

  1. Buy art you love and build a room around it.

  2. Design a room and find art that works with the design.

If you are building a room around art, there's a few different ways you can do this. The first is to make the rest of the room a neutral backdrop so that the art really stands out. Think art gallery but not so stark because this is your home.

This gorgeous NYC apartment designed by Julie Hillman is a good example. It feels livable but the furnishings and decor are very neutral which directs your attention to the art.

Another way you can build a room around your art is to pull colors or themes from it and use those throughout the room. Do leave some contrast so the art still stands out.

This living room designed by Picchio Interiors illustrates this perfectly. See how the dusky pinks, maroons and blues from the artwork are used in the furnishings and decor? And, the plants peppered around the room echo the botanicals seen in the painting. But the art still remains the focal point for two reasons. One, because of its large scale and placement on a wall symmetrically bookended by shelves. And two, because it is a print amongst solid colors.

The last way to design around your art is to go ahead and infuse the room with lots of personality but keep the contrast between the room and your art high. Hold onto your pants here because this one is a little wild for most people.

Check out this stunning design by Francis Sultana. While the room is a riot of colors and textures the art pieces still manage to still stand out. Why? Because of the contrast. Sultana chose a softer blue color for the walls and long sofas, which contrast sharply with the bright, almost neon colors in the art. He also chose furnishings that sit lower so as not to compete with the height of the paintings.

OK, let's look at the other end of the spectrum, and the situation that most of you probably have.

You have a furnished room, and maybe have some decor as well. But you have blank walls staring you in the face and you need some art to put on them.

There's a couple of different ways to handle this and it depends on whether or not you want your art to 1) stand out or 2) blend in.

If you want your art to stand out, go for the highest contrast you can. Either go for a style of art that is very different from your room, as seen in this traditional home with modern art below (from Elle Decor)...

Or choose art with colors that do not appear in the rest of your room as in this bedroom designed by Melissa Colgan below.

If you're looking for your art to blend in make sure the style of art and/or the colors in the art reflect what is in the rest of the room.

This dining room (as seen in Atlanta Homes & Gardens) is an excellent example. The artwork is similar colors to the rest of the room and adds to the composition rather than standing out from it. The mix of modern and traditional art also reflects the mix of styles seen in the furnishings.

Ok, so you've decided on your approach to using art. Now what about all the technical stuff?

There are a few things you need to think about no matter what your approach to using art is and they are as follows:

  1. Real Estate

  2. Scale

  3. Balance


First things first. Real Estate. What kind of wall or floor space do you have available for your art? I'm all for buying what you love, but if what you love is a ten-foot-tall sculpture and you have 8 foot ceilings we have a serious mismatch there! Before you lay down the cash, whether it's $10 or $10,000 (lucky you), make sure your artwork will fit.

If you have a large space to fill but can't drop the kind of dough it takes for large-scale art, you still have options. One is to haunt garage and estate sales, and even thrift stores to look for larger pieces at good prices. One of my favorite sites is Everything But the House. They have online estate sales and they ship wherever you like.

Another strategy is to create a gallery wall like I did. That wall in my dining room above is about 10' long but I was only trying to do a low-budget spruce up. I was not ready for a large, major investment piece. So, I chose a number of artworks that appealed to me and reflected my vision for the room. Then I put them all in similar black frames so they felt related and hung them together for more impact.


Scale is SUPER STINKIN' important when it comes to art. Think about my dining room wall. I had 10 feet to fill. If I put a puny little 18"x24" artwork there it would not only look ridiculous hanging by itself, it would get lost visually. I see this mistake most often with artwork hung on the wall behind a sofa.

Take for instance this shoppable design below that I created. I changed the scale of the art to show you what NOT to do.

See how in the first picture the scale of the art looks more right in the space? It not only fills up a large wall, it relates better to the size of the sofa. In the second picture the art just looks a little lost. That doesn't mean you can't use a piece of art that size behind a sofa. But what you should do is flank it with pieces on either side so the overall scale of the composition is larger.

Like so...

Now that you know, you can apply this principle to any wall and any space.


Alright, on to balance. Balance can be achieved through symmetry or asymmetry. In the living room above I used both. Symmetry is, in essence, a mirror image. If you drew a line down the center of the sofa, the art frames on one side exactly mirror the frames on the other side so they are symmetrical.

I used a bit of asymmetry with the subject of the art. While the pieces on either side are both images of rock formations, their appearance is very different. This creates a balanced form of asymmetry that is pleasing to the eye.

Alright lovelies... that you know how to beat the intimidation factor, how to approach using art and what technical details to consider GET OUT THERE AND SHOP. SOME. ART! Below are links to some of my favorite places to find it. Have fun!

This blog post contains affiliate links. After clicking on a link, any purchase, at no additional charge to you, renders me a small percentage and helps to make this blog possible. Thank you.

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Very good and well written. Love all the tads bits and are definitely all true. Thank you for sharing some new places to find art...

Jun 27, 2021
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