How to Decorate with Art

It’s a multi-billion dollar industry where well-heeled buyers will squabble to outbid each other for items ranging from multi-million dollar balloon animals to self-descructing paintings; We get it, the art world can be an intimidating (and confusing) place. But when hanging art in your own home, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed.

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House Beautiful

As interior designer David Netto—who has outfitted homes for clients with some pretty formidable collections— says, “I use art to make rooms because I’m not a curator, I’m a decorator. I try not to be intimidated by it.” And, though Netto may be dealing with a different caliber of work than most homeowners (though he’s also not averse to a bargain find—more on that later!), his sentiment can be universally applied. In a panel last week hosted by Galerie magazine, Netto joined fellow designers Alexandra Loew and Steve and Brooke Giannetti to discuss decorating with art. And, whether your collection consists of Picassos or postcards, we think some of their takeaways are spot on.

Anything can be art (no, really).

Good news: there’s no official committee sitting around a long table determining what is and what is not art—especially not when it comes to your own home. Frame a postcard, concept poster, menu from a beloved restaurant, and voilà, you have your wall decor. Netto recalls one project where he hung pressed photos in frames—a truly DIY art solution.

Try it on for size.

Nervous about placement? Don’t be. First of all, it’s important to remember that a nail hole is TINY and very easy to spackle (I recommend 3M’s Patch + Primer for this) if you do change your mind. Be even more certain of your decision by trying out placements before grabbing that hammer. For a gallery wall, cut out craft paper in the size of your various frames and play with your arrangement using masking tape. For larger pieces, Steve Giannetti has a tried-and-true trick: “just cut out a photo of the piece and hold it up against the wall and snap a photo with your iPhone,” he advises. “It looks just like it’s on the wall, with the exception of your hand being there!”

Use art in place of architectural detail.

Besides the traditional, eye-level wall decoration, art can do double duty in a home that’s lacking in trim, molding, or other interesting architectural details. Those pressed flowers David mentioned ended up in an interesting spot for this reason. “I thought the room was kind of stumpy and needed more detail,” the designer explains. “I wish there were a frieze or moulding, so I hung these at the height where that would be. That’s a way to make art work in the place of architectural detail.” Brian Gluckstein used a similar technique in a recent showstopping staircase design.

There’s no need to do it all at once.

House Beautiful

Feeling pressure to fill your walls a week after move-in? Don’t. After all, most designers admit they’re going for the opposite look: “I like to make it look like there’s a collection built up over years,” Netto says. So, that is to say, there’s nothing wrong with actually building your collection up over years. If you need to fill space in the meantime, throw up a magazine cutout, postcard, or other ephemera. They’ll look just as good as museum-quality works with…wait for it…

Play with frames.

…the right frame. We can’t stress this enough: Literally anything looks wall-worthy with a good frame job. Even on high-budget jobs, Netto says, “I like to go up to Hudson, to vintage stores, and find some great little things to fill in at great prices. You can make those look really great with good framing and a mat.”

Make use of oft-forgotten spaces.

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No wall space? No problem! Art on a bookshelf by Scot Meacham Wood.

Lisa Romerein

Art isn’t just for carefully flanking your dining or living room—there are plenty of often-overlooked spaces in a home where art can have an unexpectedly big effect. One of David’s favorites? The staircase. “A staircase is always the opportunity for a great hang,” says the designer. “There’s a space between floors so you can stagger.” Other suggestions? A laundry room (we love the thoughtful piece Gail Davis put in this one, to add a little meaning to a mundane task), bathroom, mudroom, or pantry. Or, if your wall space is dedicated to bookshelves, make like Scot Meacham Wood and hang your art right on top.

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A gallery wall by Veneer Designs, featuring Samsung’s Frame TV.

Courtesy of Veneer Designs

Hide your TV.

While it’s an integral accessory for Saturday morning binge-watching, it’s no secret that the TV is often not the most beautiful thing in the home (except in a few rare instances). So why should it be the main attraction on your living room wall? Netto suggests using art to detract from that big, black box. “Hang a salon of similarly sized things around it and just pretend the TV is a part of the gallery wall,” he says.

Try new pairings.

Think twice before you toss something you think won’t work in the mix. “I always say ‘there are no bad ideas, only bad execution,'” says Alexandra Loew. “Even not great art can have a new perspective, if you pair it with different decorative objects or furniture.” So switch up pairing, location, and position before giving up on something.

When you can’t find what you want, DIY!

Been hunting in vain for months for a piece with the right color scheme to work in your space? Get out the brush! Even the Giannetti’s aren’t above a little DIY. “Steve is a great artist,” reveals Brooke. “He’s the only one where I can just say, ‘Can you do something 4 x 6 in these colors that match the throw pillows?’ And he will!” That’s the spirit.

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