Art. It can be an intimidating subject, a stimulating hobby, a downright obsession. Where you fall in this broad continuum is reflected in your home-in the furniture and accessories you have chosen, and by the ambience and energy within. The truly artful interior is compelling, provocative and sublime, transformed from visual silence into a symphony of texture, color and light. It may make a bold statement or be understated in design, but every artful interior has one thing in common: art that has been chosen with feeling and displayed with style.
How Great Thou Art
Art should come first; it is the most important element in an environment, at least according to Allyn Gallup, owner of Mira Mar Gallery. Yet it rarely happens that way. "Someone will pay seven figures for a residence and sign up for six-figure interior design, then at the very end when the designer has already gone way over budget, they'll get to the art. And they'll wind up with an interior that will not look anywhere near what it could have looked like had the right premium been put on art."
Of course, not everyone has a million-dollar home, let alone a design budget, but on a smaller scale, the same missed opportunity exists. "With a little courage and imagination, and relatively speaking, not a lot more money, almost anyone could have real art," suggests Gallup. Real art, not framed prints, stuff from catalogs or home stores. "One of the tragedies is that people-even those with enormous wealth-don't realize how much better their environment could be if they put original art in it. For some reason, people have no problem pulling the trigger on a luxury car or an expensive sofa, but buying a work of art is a big deal; they have a huge emotional problem with that. I believe it's due to an inherent lack of confidence because people don't know what is 'good'."
He's got a point. How many of us really know that much about art? It does appear that knowledge and personal taste are closely related, however, and can be developed. Like anything-wine, for example-the more you are exposed to really good stuff, the more sophisticated your tastes become. Start by looking at a lot of art (in all its glorious forms) and decide what you're drawn to-or work with a designer, art dealer or broker you trust.
"When I purchase art, whether it be for myself or a client, I like to know its history; I don't spontaneously purchase anything," says interior designer Wilson Stiles, whose own apartment is filled with pieces of historical significance. "Although my initial response is visceral, I like the intellectual satisfaction of learning what it is, what inspired it, how it fits into the realm of history of design," he says.
Homes enhanced by art chosen in this fashion cannot be compared to those filled with pieces having purely decorative value.
Let It Shine
Also a master at display, Wilson suggests rethinking traditional placement. "Have art at two different eye levels: one when you're standing and one when you're sitting. It's important when trying to create a reposeful interior to have objects and paintings at eye level when you are sitting down." It also makes art more approachable, particularly sculpture-especially if it is not encased behind glass.
Grouping is equally important. "You don't have to fill up every square inch," he says. "Having that relationship between positive and negative space is essential so the negative space can also frame the piece." When working with a client, Wilson may take everything out of a room and bring it back in, one piece at a time. "Sometimes this is the best way to edit. You can look at the space with a fresh eye, reposition things and get rid of pieces that aren't needed."
What if you own more art than you can attractively display at one time? Rotate your art. Put some in storage, bring other pieces out and enjoy them all over again. We rearrange our furniture, why not our art? The idea is to position, or reposition, everything for maximum visual appeal. Place it where you can see it and appreciate it, under the best possible light.
To See is to Believe
Lighting may be one of the most overlooked elements of design, yet it plays a critical role in creating an artful interior. At Light Up Your Life, a Sarasota lighting store owned by Susan and Moritz Inderbinen, customers browse the showroom much as they would a fine art gallery. "People are becoming more aware of how important lighting is, how it can dramatically enhance their environment," says Susan.
The hottest trend is the rail system. "It can be discreet or we can jazz it up so that it becomes part of your décor. The metal tracks can be curved in the field to form practically any shape, providing versatile illuminating options," she says. For example, you can shed light on your dinner table with an Italian glass pendant while shining spots on several pieces of art.
Another way people are decorating without going to great expense is by utilizing retrofit kits and canopies to replace their six-inch recessed cans. For less than $100, you can swap out that garish eyeball bulb in preparation for something more attractive and functional. "Retrofit kits are very fashionable these days, making the best of what you have without tearing up your ceiling," Susan explains. They open the door to literally hundreds of artistic lighting options.
Susan stresses that you must highlight objects of art with care. "You have to consider not only the strength of the bulb, but what the bulb does-whether it's got a filter or a color tint and also the beam spread. One bulb may come in five different beam spreads."
Paintings or photographs may be the first things noticed in an artful interior, but their frames should not be. While the frame can serve as a visual enhancement, its fundamental purpose is to provide a stable platform for hanging and to protect the work from moisture, light and corrosive elements. And while opinions may vary regarding style, any reputable framer would agree that nothing should compete with the art. Whether you choose an ornate frame and colored mats or opt for simple framing with no distractions, the primary goal is to preserve your investment. Insist on materials formulated for today's museum standards.
Dotti Sechrist, owner of Frame Center & Gallery, has seen what can happen when substandard materials are used. "I've rescued a lot of work framed by 'reputable' frame shops. I try to educate customers so that they understand that even though it's more expensive to frame to museum standards, it's worth it in the long run." All materials should be acid-free with a neutral pH, and no glue or adhesives should ever touch the artwork. She also recommends UV glass to prevent outside light sources from fading the colors. Thoroughly inspect your artwork every 10 years, but monitor for subtle signs of trouble. "Look for indications that acid is leaching into the artwork; the matt bevel should remain nice and white-not yellow, and watch for hazing on the glass, which would indicate moisture and mildew inside," says Sechrist. It's also advisable to consult a conservator if you have art that is of value to you or your family. They are experts at preservation, restoration and general care of your art.
"Often you don't know what's going on in their interior, but if you frame for the piece itself, and the frame looks perfect with the painting, it will go," Susan says. Many professionals will come to the home so that they can assist with this all-important decision.
Pictures aren't the only things being framed these days. If you haven't invested in original art, perhaps you've splurged on a plasma TV. "We're doing one now in 22-carat gold. It's a huge trend in decorating," says Sechrist.
A Lifestyle Investment
Although art requires a monetary investment, don't count on making money from your art. "Some art does have a good chance of appreciating. Over a long period of time, if the general interest in the artist is maintained over decades, the price of the art may go up. But in general, I would not consider it a financial investment," advises Allyn Gallup. "It is an investment in life enhancement, in your own ego. Most of all, it's fun!"
This is not to say you should not protect your investment. Chances are, your homeowner's coverage is not nearly enough to cover your most valued art possessions. A fine art policy gives you peace of mind to display, use and enjoy your collection; and a company specializing in art insurance can address issues such as valuation, preservation, proper shipping, property transfer and estate management.
Filling the Void
Whether you develop a passionate pursuit or simply satisfy a budding curiosity, the discovery of art can lead to great things-including an artful interior. Art can stimulate your mind and open you to new ways of seeing. It can inspire, uplift and enrich your life in ways unrealized in a home devoid of art.
Wilson Stiles, Inc.
83 Cocoanut Ave.
Sarasota, FL 34236
Frame Center & Gallery
2881 Clark Road
Sarasota, FL 34231
Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art
Mira Mar Gallery
1284 Palm Ave. N. (location may be moved by publication date)
Sarasota, FL 34237
Light Up Your Life
1620 N. Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, FL 34236