How to Choose Art for Your Home
Owning art finishes a home, filling its empty spaces with color and character. But choosing the right artwork for your walls can be a challenge. Select the wrong pieces and your home will look haphazardly decorated.
On the other hand, choose a cohesive ensemble of artwork, and your home will look professionally decorated. The following tips will guide you through the process of choosing the right artwork for your home.
Decide on a look
Do you like modern art or landscapes, black and white photographs or vibrant pop culture prints? Or, are you attracted to particular themes, like animals or the American Southwest? Start by determining what you like, and build your collection from there.
Pottery Barn suggests thinking about the overall feel you want to create in a room. Do you want neat rows of similar pieces hanging on the walls to evoke a sophisticated feel? Or, do you want to take a more gallery-style approach with various sizes filling the space?
Find an anchor piece
Already have a piece of art that you love? Let that piece dictate the artwork in the rest of the room. In other words, if the artwork you love features geometric shapes painted with primary colors, skip the 18th-century landscape you’re considering. Instead, complement it with contemporary artwork using similarly bold colors.
If you don’t have an anchor piece, find one. Look for the piece to serve as the focal point in the room, maybe something to hang over the couch or the bed. You can shop for an anchor piece online at Singulart, Great Big Canvas and any of these other great outlets. Or, visit local galleries, art fairs and home decorating stores.
Choose your color palette
Too often, homeowners fixate on trying to find artwork that matches the color scheme of their room. While there’s nothing wrong with that approach, don’t limit yourself. Sometimes, it’s perfectly acceptable to choose a piece featuring colors that are the direct opposite of what you have in the room. A painting where the dominant color is orange can work well in a room that is decorated with blue.
Use that color to unify the artwork throughout the room. If you decide to use the orange painting as your anchor piece, select additional artwork that showcases a similar pop of orange. Once you establish a color palette for your artwork, consider extending it throughout your home for a cohesive look.
The intensity of art describes how strong the color, lighting or feeling of a piece is. For example, bright colors are more intense and evoke a stronger emotion than their more neutral, lower-intensity counterparts. Themes can also influence intensity, though. Despite the somber colors of Francisco Goya’s famous “The Third of May 1908,” the painting’s depiction of men facing a firing squad is very emotional.
As you select artwork, make sure it has a similar intensity, at least in each room. It’s okay to put whimsical pieces in a child’s bedroom and more intense pieces in the study. Just don’t combine the two intensities in the family room.
Mix old and new
While you want to create a cohesive look when it comes to your artwork, you don’t have to let your room limit your choices. Consider adding a few modern art pieces to a room full of antiques or vintage prints to a room decorated with modern furniture. The contrast will create visual interest in the room.
Even though you are mixing old and new, keep the artwork similar in color, intensity and, to an extent, theme. This gives the room a professionally-designed, synergistic look.
Size does matter when it comes to art. As a general rule, your artwork should measure between ⅔ to ¾ the width of whatever piece of furniture you hang it over. If you already have a piece of art you love but it doesn’t fill the space adequately, you have a few options. Consider reframing it using a larger mat to increase its dimensions.
Or, group it with several smaller pieces to create a gallery wall. You’ll find several examples of gallery wall layouts online to help you arrange your pieces perfectly. Just take the time to arrange the artwork on the floor before hanging it on the wall to make sure you have pieces that work together and don’t look like a jumbled mess.
Think small, too
Don’t forget the mantle, bookshelf and other small spaces when choosing artwork. Not only can these spaces use a pop of color, but they can tie the room together. If you don’t have a mantle or bookshelf, install an art ledge where you can layer several mixed-sized pieces of art together. Or, add small pieces interspersed on side tables and coffee tables.
When layering on an art shelf, place larger, less intense art in the back, and smaller, more eye-catching pieces in front. As always, the pieces should complement each other and the rest of the art in the room.
As you select artwork, give some thought to the walls. Tall, narrow walls usually look best with similarly-shaped artwork. Large, wide spaces benefit from horizontal works or layouts. Similarly, if a space has a long wall, such as a great room connecting a dining area and family room, divide the wall in two and orient your artwork to each space. Tailor one display to the wall near the kitchen table and another over the couch, for example.
Just as important as orientation is height. Artwork should hang 6 to 12 inches over a piece of furniture. However, free-hanging artwork should be placed at eye level. If you are particularly short or tall, use 5 feet 7½ inches, the average height for a man, according the National Center for Health Statistics.
Measure, measure, measure again
Because the size of your artwork greatly impacts the feel of a room, take measurements before you start shopping. Measure the space you intend to fill and determine an acceptable range of sizes. If you want a piece for over the couch, as an example, measure the couch and then figure what ⅔, and then ¾ of that length is. Your artwork should fit somewhere within that range.
Measuring is extremely important if you plan to create a gallery wall. Start by determining the dimensions of the space you plan to fill with the gallery. Then, sketch out a design on graph paper using each square as an inch. Once you have the layout perfected, you’ll know exactly the size each piece needs to be before you go shopping.
Buy what you love
Ultimately, the artwork on your wall should bring you joy and reflect your personality. Don’t buy a piece simply because it’s the right color or size. Make sure it speaks to you on some level.
And what if you find a piece that you love but doesn’t quite work with the space you were shopping for? Consider putting it in another room, or redesign the space so the piece you love fits. You may have to move the current art on the walls to other rooms or replace it altogether with new pieces that complement the new piece, but if you love your new artwork and feel “meh” about your existing collection, it will be worth it.
Ready to collect
If you freeze every time you think about buying a piece of artwork, give yourself a break. Remember you don’t have to commit long term—even to an expensive piece. (You can sell it later, maybe even for a profit.) Adding art to your home will give your home that finished look that will make you love it all the more.