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Hamptons Life

Jun 24, 2019 12:41 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Curating Artwork In Home Decor

A trio of paintings by Jeffrey Alan Scudder (courtesy of Creative Art Partners) hangs in an East Hampton family room. Note how the primary colors of yellow, red, and blue in the art are echoed in the accessories and pillows below. CHRISTIAN HARDER
Jun 24, 2019 12:41 PM

One of the key areas where I’ve found clients needing the most help is in curating their artwork. Or, for that matter, virtually anything that is hung on their walls, regardless of whether one might call it “art.”

To state the obvious, all elements within any interior design project are critical to the end result: finishes, lighting, furniture, etc. all play important roles individually. However, by virtue of being a focal point by its very definition, artwork tends to be the singular make-or-break moment for most interiors. It is usually where the eye rests and lingers. It helps bring the vision full circle and sets the tone for the space. In an East End home, for example, the same pieces of furniture might have lived comfortably in an urban or suburban setting before arriving here, but by including certain Hamptons or North Fork nods in the artwork, one can completely transform the entire experience for those inhabiting the space.

When selecting placement for any piece, my recommendation first and foremost is to consider and decide on the optimal scale. The most common error—and perhaps the easiest to avoid—tends to be in a piece’s size. While perhaps best left to a professional, certain rules of thumb can and do apply. For instance, when it comes to a piece that is hung over a solid large furniture item positioned close to a wall such as a dresser or sofa, it’s typically best to ensure that the width of the artwork is the same or less than the total width of the furniture below it. If there are multiple artworks (I.e. a pair or a series), the same rule generally applies to the full set. Furthermore, if a piece is hung on a wall that does not have furniture against or near it, it’s usually always worth taking advantage of this expanse and finding larger scale artworks accordingly (unless it is a narrow space like a hallway). Be sure to not only pay attention to width, but also to height: celebrate high ceilings by hanging art that draws the eye up and accentuates the height of the room. And, of course, depth: if the wall in question is a corridor or otherwise a type of circulation space, it’s best to not select anything that protrudes too far from the wall’s surface for practical purposes. These kinds of deep, three-dimensional pieces (such as a woven basket or vintage / secondhand taxidermy) often work best at greater heights such as above headboards or fireplaces. Finally, ensure that there is variation among pieces within each room; otherwise, competition will likely ensue.

For medium, I always recommend a variety. Though not always true, the best rooms tend to have pieces that represent a range: paintings, photography, drawings, three-dimensional objects; the list goes on. Consider the distance from which pieces can be viewed and select the content and its optimal level of detail accordingly. For example, a large Rothko can work very well when viewed from somewhat of a distance, but a map of Long Island or a small drawing of a bucolic landscape is best appreciated when oneself and one’s guests are able to interact with it a little more closely. Try mixing in found objects from antique shops like wheels, bowls and oars to enhance the relaxed East End identity of the region.

For content, it’s important to remember that people will respond to what they see. Multiple nautical references will obviously elicit and reinforce a seaside vibe; natural landscapes will remind visitors that they are no longer in the city; and so on and so forth. Furthermore, I myself am guilty of including works that, while beautiful and electrifying, are probably (or just downright truthfully) a bit ill-suited for people of certain age groups. Be sure to think about the room in question and consider keeping the most controversial pieces to the more private spaces. That is, unless you want to make a statement—which is, in itself, a perfectly respectable strategy.

For color, a simple approach to follow is to echo other elements within the room. If one has a navy blue lounge chair, consider hanging an artwork within that same room that contains navy at some visible level. If all of the finishes and furniture are in the light, bright, and unsaturated visual spectrum, it would make sense to include artworks that follow suit. That said, try to not be too obsessed with matching—forced color or tone coordination can result in an unintended effect of reading as too trite, especially if there’s an unusual or complicated color story occurring.

For framing, I tend to prefer limiting woods to those that coordinate with the other wooden elements in the space (whether it be the flooring, the furniture, or other items), and metals that also coordinate with the room around it: if all door hardware and table bases are brass, consider brass or gold-tone frames. This helps achieve a clean, thoughtful look. Variety and coordination, though, always add depth and interest, and hint at a collection developed over time, rather than something put together overnight. Even if your entire room was conceived in a matter of weeks, it’s usually not the preferred effect once completed.

Perhaps most importantly, one should allow the art curation to express one’s own personality. This is the best opportunity to really bring ideas to life, and spark if not inspiration, at least a somewhat interesting conversation.

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