Squinting your eyes, you take a step back from the family room couch, envisioning a black and white photo print of ballerinas hung in the bare spot on the wall. But then again, an impressionistic seascape oil painting in blues and purples might work even better. Or maybe a bright abstract watercolor featuring red limbs intertwined with distorted shapes could create the right mood.
In theory, the thought of filling expanses of blank wall space in your home with amazing original artwork is exhilarating. Yet when it comes down to it, the decorating process can be a daunting task given the limitless options.
“The area over my mantle glares at me every time I walk by. I’m really itching to put something great right there — something with the wow factor,” said Kelsey Fitzpatrick, a Roselle resident redecorating her living room. “But I’m just not sure what the etiquette is. My room is shaping up to be French-chateau shabby-chic, so do I get a piece depicting a little bistro? Or can I get something unrelated, like a portrait of a flamenco dancer? I’m not sure how to proceed.”
For many like Fitzpatrick, collecting art is overwhelming, and questions over sticking to color palettes and whether it’s OK to mix mediums abound. Vertical or horizontal? A series or one main piece? People, landscape, floral or still? It’s enough to give you a migraine.
Yet with the help of some local experts, you’ll know just where to shop for a charming sketch and exactly how to blend it into your existing decor.
Q: Is it OK to feature different art forms (i.e. an etching, acrylic or photograph) in one room? Can the subject matter vary from piece to piece in a given area of the home?
A: “Everything right now is juxtaposed. It’s absolutely intriguing to mix it up,” said Kathleen Newhouse, chief executive officer of Park Place Interiors, which has locations in Geneva and Elmhurst. “As long as there’s a focal point that commands and centers interest — like a montage — and gives people a sense of order.”
Maintaining a sense of harmony within a room is important, and Newhouse suggests finding a common denominator among furniture, accessories and art and visually highlighting that theme.
“You need a unifying agent, like color, that can play off of the art and the fabrics or print in the room to tie all of the elements together,” she added. “The key is not about matching but developing enough repetition to integrate things while including enough contrast to avoid boredom or overkill.”
If you have an affinity for Mediterranean art and hang a picturesque piece of white-washed homes with cerulean roofs in Mykonos, don’t feel obligated to repeat the medium and subject matter for the sake of consistency, but perhaps a Greek Key design in a lamp or rug will be a great accent.
“You don’t want to overdo it by hitting people over the head with your theme,” said Newhouse, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers. “But if there are opportunities to incorporate it into the architecture or other surrounding elements, it makes for a nice aesthetic.”
Q: What about mixing and matching stylistically with different genres?
A: Tim DeWine, co-owner of Expression Gallery of Fine Art in Hinsdale, doesn’t think you need to worry about it.
“Unquestionably, you can do a realistic and abstract piece in the same room. It creates tension and adds drama to the area,” he said. “You see it all the time in Architectural Digest. A home with 18th-century Louis XVI furniture and a Picasso over the fireplace.
“It’s been done for hundreds of years. ... A home from the 1700s might have an Asian flair and some medieval touches,” DeWine added. “To me, that adds character because the most important thing is to find a piece of art that speaks to you. If you’re dismissing something because it doesn’t pull enough blue, you aren’t looking at it in the right way.”
Don’t feel confined to a certain era or geographical region, but Lisle artist Nancy D’Agostino said that mood is an important consideration.
“You want to take that into account,” she said. “You want to put a peaceful piece somewhere where you need serenity, rather than in the middle of big bursts of energetic color like in a sunroom or breakfast room.”
Q: How do I find the right frame? And is it acceptable to have frames of various materials in close proximity?
A: According to Laura Zender, owner of Laura Zender Designs in Western Springs, you should always match the frame to the art and not the furniture.
“I would say try to stick with one or two families, though,” she said. “A couple of metallic shades like a brushed nickel and oil-rubbed bronze with a dark wood or something. Don’t go too hodgepodge with the materials.”
“In ballroom dancing, they say that everyone looks at the female dancer and it’s the job of the male partner to create the frame that showcases the beauty,” he said. “The same mantra can be applied to art. The frame has to be specific to the piece and not chosen because the gold etching has the same molding as the lattice-work on your sofa.”
Q: Where are some good locations to shop for unique pieces?
A: Over the years, Zender has acquired a list of great sources for art. She always hits the Old Town, Oak Brook and Ann Arbor art fairs during the summer. Binth, a Chicago-based card company, carries a line of original silk-screen art prints that Zender is enamored of. The Uncommon Ground coffeehouse in Wrigleyville has an informal rotating gallery of emerging artists she often pulls from. Papery in La Grange and Pearl Art & Craft Supplies also have great caches. And for online shoppers, Zender recommends the Chicago Artists’ Coalition’s virtual gallery.