Luxury living: Decorating your home with art and sculpture
How to select the best art and sculpture decoration for your home.
Ideally, homeowners would select their art and sculpture before committing to the rest of their home decor. However, in the real world, most people’s homes are fully furnished by the time they begin collecting art. Why do people collect art in the first place? What art would be appropriate for your home? What should you know before selecting art? Where can you find quality art and sculpture for reasonable prices? In the course of perusing the answers to these questions, it is hoped that any questions you may have about collecting art will be answered.
Why do people collect art and sculpture?
Some of the primary reasons art is collected are:
• You love the piece
• You think the work will increase in value
• There’s a bare spot on the wall that you need to fill
• You made an impulse, bargain purchase
• The artwork would help tie together the disparate elements that are already in a room in your house
• Someone made or purchased art for you
The only artwork that should be displayed in your home are pieces that you love. You may love a piece because your child made it or you may love a professional work of art for what it says to you. You should not have pieces in your home that you do not enjoy viewing.
So donate that department-store print, that your sister gave you when she heard you were collecting iris pieces, to Good-Will. Or have a yard-sale to get rid of those impulse, bargain-art pieces. They are not a bargain if you don’t love them. Save the money for a quality piece.
Even if you are collecting art with the hope that it will increase in value, make your rule be that you must love the piece. Discipline your spending so that you have the funds for a really fine piece, by not frittering away money on bargain items that you feel iffy about.
What art would be appropriate for your home?
Does your home and its furnishings reflect a specific theme? Ideally, your home reflects a certain style or period, even if it is an eclectic mix of interesting elements that you love. You then would select art pieces you’ve admired that would go with the theme.
Art need not be limited to two-dimensional pieces. Handmade furniture, pottery, sculpture and textiles will also add beauty to your home. Here are some themes and some ideas for art that would integrate well:
• The Modernist Home
Your home consists of geometric shapes, and a clean, linear exterior. There is lots of glass. The interior is bright and clean, free of clutter, with rich wood floors in some areas, tile in others. You have high ceilings and vast, wall spaces.
Your furnishings provide the art design in your home. Geometric, armless chairs, made of zigzagging flat planes of zebra-wood, circle the glass-topped dining room table.
Displayed on the table are three hand-blown vases in bright primary colors. The dining-room wall art echoes the vase colors with its huge canvases. The canvas backgrounds have geometric swaths of color. Superimposed black-line figure art is the focus of the pieces. In fact, artwork that suggests the human form pervades the entire home.
In the living-room, a wall of same-sized, black-and-white photographs, are framed in chrome and are hung in a precise, grid-like manner. The images in the photos are human close-ups. The organic forms supply contrast to the geometric display and the print images serve as one of the focal points in the living-room.
An oversized ceramic-relief piece rises above the room on the staircase wall. Made of stoneware clay, its organic forms suggest the human body. Rounded, beige-glazed elements protrude from a black, rectangular surface. The central sculptural element of the living room is the stand-alone fireplace with its matte-black marble under the hearth.
The artwork in your Modernist home is simple with a focus on superior craftsmanship and quality materials.
• The Southwestern Home
Your home’s exterior consists of white-washed stucco with clay-tile roofing. For the interior, smooth, round, log timbers add a rustic look to the ceiling. The floors have large tiles in some areas and wide-plank boards in others.
The well-worn, but sturdy antique tables and chests of drawers serve as simple living and dining-room furnishings. A Native American rug hangs on the wall. Beneath it on the floor are six, large, hand-woven baskets, precisely placed. Large and small Navajo pottery pieces serve as accents throughout the rooms.
A collection of smooth, round river rocks rest on the coffee table. A Native-American theme is defined with fine prints, framed simply in smooth pine. Also, a silver-and-turquoise, squash-blossom necklace hangs on a wall as an object d’art.
The Southwestern home has Georgia-O’Keefe simplicity. The art objects are smooth and meant to be handled. Red, black, rust and turquoise are the featured colors against textured, white walls.
• The Victorian Home
Your home’s exterior is painted in mustard yellow, burgundy and olive green, to help accentuate the gingerbread details found on the wrap-around porch.
Dark, wood-work prevails in your home’s interior, from the wainscoting, to the doorways with their cornices. Elaborate window treatments include valances, and fringed and tasseled panels over lace curtains. Dark wood furnishings serve to show off curio display pieces. Your collections include blue delft plates, gold-trimmed pitchers and ceramic dogs. Steamer trunks function as side-tables, while ferns in brass planters punctuate the room.
Fleur-de-lis wallpaper serves as a back-drop for oval-framed antique photos of your ancestors. (A good photography store provided you with much-improved copies of your worn photos. Your friends purchased their photos from antique stores and have other people’s relatives hanging on their walls.)
Ornate gold frames, frame intricate prints and original oil paintings of older city scenes, Victorian picnics, and houses on a rocky coast. Your pieces hang from the gold upper-rail moulding via silk cords. A tassel hangs down from medallions located above the paintings. Kate Greenaway was England’s most well-known Victorian illustrator. You were able to find a dime-store print of Greenaway’s watercolor work. You are looking for an artist who paints in a similar style.
You bought Gothic-Revival parlor chairs, framed in ornate rosewood and trimmed in burgundy silk, at an auction house. At a quilt show, you were able to purchase velvet, crazy patchwork pillows with detailed embroidery for display on the settee.
You were going to contract a stained-glass worker to do two windows in your house, but then you saw two beautiful pieces at the weekend craft festival and you now have them hanging in front of your windows, instead. You are contracting an assemblage artist to make a gold-framed shadow box for your collection of Victorian baby clothes and shoes. You are trying to decide if a white-marble cherub statue would look appropriate nearby.
Standing lamps with fringe, tassels and beads add the finishing touches to the parlor. You purchased the basic lamp parts at an antique store and had a bead artist create the shades for you.
You delight in paying attention to all the exquisite details that are possible in a Victorian home.
• The Eclectic Ethnic Home
Your home has a warm, cozy feel and is a large, brownstone apartment. The interior walls are painted a golden yellow. The living room is large, but set up with two conversation areas that are defined by area rugs. One rug is a brown and beige zebra print and the other is a light-colored persian piece you picked up in a flea market.
Your easy chairs are leather and your couches are covered in a rich beige-on-beige fabric. The couch throws are hand-crafted of nubby, earth-tone, wool weaves. The pillows are sewn in an African print fabric that resembles mud-cloth. You like turtle designs. You helped support the Saturday-market vendors when you purchased your textile pieces.
Wooden boxes with ornate latches are stacked to serve as side tables with storage. You picked up some primitive-looking wood carvings at the craft market. The vases on the fireplace mantel are made of stoneware with black-and-white glazes that depict primitive figures. You were very pleased to find one with the turtle motif and have asked the ceramist to produce two more similar pieces for you.
You weren’t sure how it would look in your living room, but you fell in love with a metal-artist’s basket-weave, sheet-metal relief. The way the metal was heated and finished helped to give the coloration you so like. When you had the piece installed at home, you saw how well the warm, metal colors went with the rest of your decor. Even though the piece could fit in a more modern setting, you love it in your eclectic mix of objects.
You wanted original, two-dimensional art and found that drawings by your favorite artist were in your price range. You liked the charcoal sketches on rough, white paper and had the pieces reframed in ebony. By hanging the three one-foot by three-foot pieces near each other, you created a triptych that made the three parts look like they were originally one piece.
You purchased two miniature watercolors from a friend and had them custom-framed in a wide burgundy mat with a simple gold frame. An oil painting of ceramic jugs in earth colors seemed perfect for the dining-room. Rattan and iron chairs surround the dining-room table. On the center of the table you put a glass vase with white lilies and long, curly twigs.
The eclectic home allows one to accumulate a variety of art forms and styles. You can remove pieces as you tire of them and substitute new finds.
What should you know before collecting art?
You’ve given careful thought to the style, type and colors you want in your art pieces. Now you’ll need to know how to determine the quality of your piece and whether it needs special care.
If possible, try to research your medium and your artist before purchasing their work. For example, preview pieces you like on the Friday of a three-day art festival. Talk to the artist a good bit and take their brochure. Has their work been printed up in any art publications? Find out if their artwork needs special care. Talk to other artists at the festival and see what they say about your artist’s work. Look up your artist’s web site and see if the work is consistently good. If you are pleased with what you find out, don’t wait until Sunday at closing time to return to your artist’s booth. He or she may have sold your favorites by then.
Traditional sculpture materials include clay, marble, granite, soapstone, jade, plaster, bronze and wood. Contemporary materials include aluminum, glass, found objects, and ice. When purchasing sculpture, talk to the artist about any special care. Some pieces may not be suitable for outdoor use.
Clay sculpture and pottery can be made from earthenware, stoneware or porcelain. Earthenware is fired at a lower temperature, which allows brighter colors, but less durability. Porcelain is a delicate, white clay that is also fired at a lower temperature. Stoneware is fired at a higher temperature and is more durable. Check the bottom of clay pieces to be sure there are no fine cracks. Make sure clay pieces for food use are not glazed with lead glazes. Some handmade pottery is dishwasher safe and some is not.
Clay can serve as a sculptural basis for the bronze casting of human and animal figures. There are several steps in-between the clay and the bronze. What you want to look for in a quality bronze piece is seamlessness, due to being ground smooth and covered with a patina.
Many paintings and prints should not be hung in direct sunlight. You can contact the artist to touch up a painting that has faded. You’ll pay a fee for their service, but it will be less than purchasing a new piece.
The printing process has improved in recent years. Make sure you know whether you are purchasing a print or an original. Glicee (zhee-clay) prints are made up of microscopic, water-based droplets that are sprayed onto paper or canvas. Glicee prints use a digital process that can be superior to lithographs, which use a photographic, color-separation process.
Hand-pulled prints are considered fine art, compared to prints that are made mechanically. Fine-print methods include intaglio, etching, original stone lithographs and original plate lithographs. The traditional Bavarian-limestone stones used in stone lithography are becoming rare, so, perhaps stone lithographic prints will increase in value.
Prints should have a fraction in the margin to indicate how many prints were in the run and which number your print is. No fraction could mean the print is part of an open edition, where an unlimited number of impressions will be made. Limited editions generally have more value.
Watercolors can be painted on varying weights of paper. 300-pound paper costs more than 140 or 90-pound paper. There are different paper textures – hot-pressed smooth, cold-pressed and rough. Sometimes more detail will show on the smooth paper. The rough paper allows more white of the paper to show through, because when the brush is dragged across it, paint doesn’t reach all the indentations. Traditional watercolorists do not use white paint. They reserve the white of the paper instead.
Where can you find quality art for reasonable prices?
In a depressed economy, art buyers have an advantage, but this should not mean taking advantage of an artist who is making their livelihood from the sale of their art. You may be able to do some reasonable negotiating of multiple purchases by asking for a five percent discount. An artist may be more willing to deal at the end of an art festival, rather than at the beginning.
Subscribe to some art magazines, so that you can determine the style of art you prefer. Choose a few favorite artists. Maybe you can begin by purchasing their prints until you can afford an original.
Here are some places to look for art at reasonable prices:
• non-profit art gallery and gift shop
• Saturday market
• craft festivals in small towns
• fine-art shows in small towns
• Internet sites with price bidding
• gallery shows of emerging artists
• older pieces by professional artists (Ask at their reception if they have older pieces for sale. Depending on their gallery contract, you may or may not have to pay the gallery commission.)
• mall kiosks (Artists rent temporary spaces at high costs. If they’ve had a slow sales day, they may be in the mood to bargain.)
There are many art and sculpture choices, but only a few pieces are perfect for decorating your home. The bottom line is that if you love the pieces you select, and if you pay attention to the quality and the care of the items, you will receive many years of pleasure from your collection.