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How to choose art for your home – and how to arrange what you already have

Great art is always part of great interior design.  But how can we arrange the art we already have, and what should we look for when choosing more art for our home?  I recently attended a lecture by Stephanie Newell-Price, who took us through what she considers when choosing and arranging art.

What is art?

Let’s start by getting something important out of the way.  ‘Art’ does not have to mean expensive pieces of original work by established artists.  Art can be photographs, prints, your own work.  Art is a collection of postcards framed together, text, a sketch.  It can be created by a child, a professional, an amateur.  The definition of art could even be stretched to include a collection of vases on a shelf, an arrangement of books, rocks, anything that adds colour, texture and interest to a room.

Here, however, we’re going to concentrate on 2D art, the kind you can put into a frame and hang on, or lean against, the wall.


London Transport Zoo postcards

London Transport Zoo postcards

When we lived near London Zoo, I bought a pack of London Transport Zoo postcards.  Had a mount made to fit an Ikea frame, and there you go: original art, unique, very inexpensive.

How to organise and position what you have

The first thing to do is analyse what kind of art you like.  Even if you think you already know, try this.  Get everything you have (that you like!) into one room and look at it all at once.  Do you have any collections of anything that you love, but that aren’t framed?  You’re looking for themes, but forget the obvious.  We’re not interested in genre, period, artist, location.  You need to look through those categories and just consider what it looks like.  Is the dominant theme mark-making, i.e. lines, blobs, dashes?  Or form, shapes?  Perhaps it’s light, or colour, or texture?  Can you pick one of these themes that’s present in the majority of the pieces that you like?

Then consider, do any of the pieces speak to each other, i.e. go well together.  Perhaps a particularly dark piece is balanced well with a light one.  Perhaps one piece picks out the colours of another.  If you have any obvious sets, put them together.

Do you really want a particular piece in a particular room?  Then that’s your starting point for that room.

Pieces behind glass will reflect the light, so it’s good to position these in places where this will be beneficial.  Don’t hang dark, heavy, matt pieces in dark rooms.  Use glazed pieces to bounce the light around, and place the dark pieces in a light room to ground it.

As you start considering the above, a plan will start to come together, and you will start to position pieces where they will go.  Then look at the room as a whole.  Is there balance?  Of colour, of dark and light, of texture?

Once you have arranged what you have, consider the holes.  Do you have items to fill the gap?  Or is there room for some new pieces?  Which brings me to…

How to choose art for your home

First, if you haven’t gone through the exercise above to analyse what you like, and identify your favourite theme in art, do that first.  If you don’t yet own anything, start browsing online or in galleries, take a quick snapshot or screenshot of ones you like (do please ask permission in a gallery or museum!), and then you can pull the photos together to analyse.

Once you know your theme, you can use it as a shortcut to narrow down work in galleries, at fairs, in museum shops etc, to hone in on the items that you are likely to like.  And then just buy what you love, safe in the knowledge that if it is part of the theme, it will look good with the rest.

Go to shows like The Affordable Art Fair, The Other Art Fair, London Original Print Fair and, if you have more to spend or are just looking for inspiration, Frieze, PAD and the London Art Fair (all London, some Bristol too).

Using a piece of art as a starting point for a room is a fun way to design if you have a blank slate of a room and a piece that you love.  Just don’t be too matchy-matchy: the picture will blend into the room and it may look too much like a bland hotel.  Consider contrasting the colours in the piece instead of matching.

Consider dark walls to make light art pop against the dark background.

Don’t let a piece being too small for your space put you off.  How about framing it with an extra large mount?  Or buying more than one and framing them together?

Protecting and framing art

Get your precious pieces framed properly.  They need to be protected from sunlight, moisture and even insects.

Don’t hang pieces where they may be bleached and irreversibly damaged by the sun.

Don’t position anything above a radiator without deflecting the heat as much as possible with a radiator cover.

I hope the above tips help, and have fun filling your homes with art!