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What's Up Magazine

Home is Where the Art is

Nov 20, 2013 12:12PM ● By Cate Reynolds
Photos by TONY LEWIS, JR.

My daughter Juliet has an Ellen DeGeneris-style sense of humor. She howled with laughter when I told her I was writing an article on how to incorporate artwork into your décor. “Mom, when we were kids, the only art in our house were prints rented from the library, crayon drawings I made in kindergarten, and some wild paintings my brothers brought home from their art classes,” she said between giggles.

She has a good memory. Art for the average home does not usually include original works by the Great Masters. Rather, it is apt to be a mix of prints, posters, photographs, ceramics, and sculptures that reflect the owner’s personal preferences. Often, these collections are undervalued as a creative way to enhance and add vibrancy to a home’s décor.

What are some ways to integrate artwork into the home? For ideas, we consulted gallery owners Cynthia McBride of Annapolis, Carla Massoni of Chestertown, and Nancy Hammond of Centreville for their professional suggestions. The women also shared suggestions for would-be collectors, namely to research local talent by visiting the Maryland Federation of Art and Maryland Hall for the Art, as well as area galleries and museum shops, and set a budget for your purchases.

The best of their individual recommendations are distilled within four specific categories:

Go Bold

Image titleNancy Hammond’s colorful creations are, by definition, “bold.” A visit to her Centreville gallery provides a pleasurable jolt to the senses and an appreciation of the Chesapeake region that inspires her work. Her signature posters are displayed on walls painted in both bright and subtle colors that complement the work; her etched glass bowls and goblets, small posters, and jewelry are shown to good advantage and benefit from thoughtful placement in the front room.

But for her home, Hammond uses a neutral paint for most of the walls, while choosing colors from her artwork to accent a single wall. She also is conscious of using art appropriate to the prime function of a room. “I wanted a big 3D artwork of mine of women wrestling with a boom vang at 20 knots for the dining room, but I had to accommodate my conservative husband,” she says.

Instead, she used a series of her flower prints of lime green, lemon, and orange lilies to give the room a country look—choosing an upholstery fabric for the dining room chairs that echoed those colors. Hammond also consulted designer Louise Christoffers of Higgins and Spencer in St. Michaels for help with an overall look. “Louise has a spectacular color sense, choosing coral for the interior of the china closet to match the wall in the dining room and using the same color for the living room sofa upholstery,” Hammond says. “Your eye catches glimpses of all these matches as you go from room to room.”

Incidental Intelligence: Hammond says she is an admirer of midcentury architect Luis Barragan, whose work is often seen in San Miquel, Mexico. “A book by Annie Kelly called Casa San Miquel—Inspired Design and Decoration is kind of a Bible for me,” she confides.

Try a Grouping

Image title“Blending can be boring,” observes Cynthia McBride, noting the prevalence of neutral color in many modern homes. She advises to use artwork to add color and interest. Too much of any one color can make a grouping blur, McBride says, so use a grouping design where threads of color fl ow from one painting to the next, unifying the grouping while letting each work of art “star,” all the while still being a good “neighbor” to the paintings around it.

Being creative in the placement of artwork is key, McBride says. Picture rails and easels on coffee tables or mantles add a variety of visual levels and soften the hard edges of furniture. In her own home, McBride uses bookshelves to display small paintings and sculptures, inviting enjoyment of smaller works at eye level. “With all the recommendations and rules, just remember that a beautiful work of art will look beautiful wherever you place it. So place it where you and your family will enjoy it to the fullest,” McBride says.

Create a Gallery Wall

Image titleCarla Massoni, who thinks knowing the artist personally is a bonus, practices what she preaches. One of the walls in her house displays works by artists she has known during her 25 years as a gallery owner. “I was their first buyer—something special to the artists, as well as to me,” she says. It is an eclectic and colorful assortment of style and subject, unified only by this particular common denominator.

Other theme-based displays could feature photographs grouped in a hallway or along a staircase. McBride recommends freshening up aging wooden frames on family pictures with a new coat of paint. “Use the same color on all of them to create continuity,” she suggests. This idea reminded me of a clever friend who chose black metal frames for a series of seven Picasso prints from an art calendar to create an elegant and very functional display in her modern kitchen (see bottom left). Positioned on a rim below a black granite backsplash, they hide the room’s wall outlets while providing a most attractive “un-kitchenish” accent.

Writer’s Note: For birthdays and holidays, I give my four grown children a piece of art chosen to match their special interests. Just a fun idea with the holidays right around the corner!

Think Abstract

Image titleGail Hillow Watkins, a nationally known Annapolis artist, is noted for her cerebral abstract paintings. Inspired by travel in Egypt and Italy, she uses muted colors and provocative shapes to convey her fascination with ancient cultures and the timeless themes of rebirth and regeneration. Annapolitans Louise and John Page Williams have a diverse collection of art in their spacious Pendennis Mount home, including 13 pieces by Watkins.

“Because many of the artist’s intricate pieces resemble ancient tapestries, they work well with our antiques and the pale cream walls,” Louise Williams says. Attention to scale and subject influences placement of art in her home, where a large Watkins piece at one end of the dining room table is a “conversation starter” for dinner guests and two vertical pieces catch the light from windows on either side. Watkins’ picture of a wood duck enlivens a bathroom wall, where its colorful swirls echo the pattern of the tile work. “That was pure serendipity,” Williams says.