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How to Buy Art for Your Home: 10 Tips From Art World Pros

Art experts reveal how to choose the perfect pieces for your taste, space and budget

"Whistler" by Katie Ré Scheidt, mixed media on canvas, 48 X 48.

Last February, my family moved to a new apartment with 10-foot ceilings and an overwhelming amount of wall space. Within days, I realized we desperately needed to warm up the place with artwork yet I hadn’t a clue where to start. How much money would we need to budget? What size artwork would be appropriate? Could I mix styles? Did color matter? Faced with only questions and no answers, I sought advice from two close friends who just happen to be powerhouses in the art world. After all, though my goal was to buy a few decorative pieces and not to start a serious collection, I was still determined to get the mix right.

The one thing both Andrea Glimcher, founder of Hyphen, an arts management firm advising artists, estates and individuals, and Amy Rotter, an independent art consultant in Manhattan, emphasized repeatedly is that buying art is deeply personal. Thankfully, they also agreed there are a few universal tips that can simplify the shopping process. After following Andrea’s and Amy’s advice (and, admittedly, making one or two rookie mistakes), I ultimately purchased artwork that literally transformed our new digs into my dream home. Honestly, the process wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I had initially feared. Simply go slowly and stick with this step-by-step art buying guide to find the perfect piece for your taste, space and budget.

1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK

The more art you see in person, the more you will develop an understanding of what you do and don’t like. It is essential to visit museums, galleries and also art fairs. Artforum.com features a fairly exhaustive calendar listing of art fairs representing different viewpoints, mediums and price ranges. Of course, before you buy, you also need to take stock and decide where you want to hang artwork. Your living room? Office? Foyer? Over the sofa? Bed? Dining bench? Photograph these spaces and be sure the pics are accessible when you shop. Additionally, to establish the spatial constraints for your artwork, determine in advance the dimensions of all relevant rooms and walls, as well as the weight the walls can bear. Warning: Don’t forget to measure your home’s or building’s access routes. The last thing you want is to buy a piece of art that won’t fit through your front door or up a staircase!

Large scale paintings bring a sense of intimacy to a cavernous space.

2. CONSIDER SIZE

The size of a piece required for a particular space is largely a matter of taste. However, there are few things that look more awkward than a tiny painting floating solo against a huge wall, or conversely, a massive work of art that’s been crammed into a tiny space between two doors.  If you have a large wall, you have two options: Hang one large piece (center it!) over a sofa to anchor the living room or create a “salon wall”–a grouping of various sized works, arranged at different heights. In the latter case, feel free to mix drawings with prints, small paintings and even photography. Bottom line: When it comes to size, you have options!

Mixing different styles and periods gives your decor a bespoke, modern feel.
Mixing different styles and periods gives your decor a bespoke, modern feel.

3. JUXTAPOSE STYLES

It is more than okay, and even encouraged, to introduce contemporary art into a traditional setting and vice versa. There is no reason, for example, an antique dresser shouldn’t have a modern painting hanging above it. In fact, the essential qualities of both pieces oftentimes will be amplified by their direct juxtaposition.

4. FEEL FREE TO PLAY WITH COLOR…OR NOT

Many people prefer a neutral decorating palette and opt to introduce color into their home with art. However, it is equally appropriate to keep things very quiet, choosing black and white prints or photographs, landscapes and soft watercolors. Similarly, a brightly decorated home can carry art with either colorful or neutral palettes. Essentially, opt for whatever hues appeal to you though do try to avoid being overly matchy-matchy with your art and decor. One easy rule: if a painting has multiple colors, pick just one hue to pick up in surrounding furnishings/decor.  

5. DON’T FEEL RESTRICTED TO ONE MEDIUM

If you want to focus on, for instance, prints, or drawings or photography because the process moves you and the budget is right, great. Conversely, if you prefer to buy works that demonstrate a variety of processes, surfaces, and materials, go for it. There are truly no rules. In fact, while most first-time buyers tend to shop for fine art, don’t write off decorative art—items such as tableware or textiles that are beautiful yet also serve a useful function

6. BROWSE ONLINE

Throughout the year, many renowned auction houses hold online auctions featuring a range of artists, media, periods and styles. Bonus: These auctions often offer a wider range of price points than live auctions. Visit the sites of large houses such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, as well as smaller ones including Doyle, Bonhams and Wright. Also check out Paddle8 and 1stDibs which cater exclusively to online art buyers.

7. PREVIEW ART IN YOUR HOME

Determining whether a piece that looks inspiring in a white-washed gallery with soaring ceilings will also work in your home can be a challenge. One possible solution is to ask whether you can test-drive a piece for a few days. You’d be shocked at how often loaner requests are granted. Another option is to download the Artspace app and use its “View in My Room” feature—it will allow you to virtually project an artwork onto your wall, so you can see what it would look like in your very own abode. 

CT fine artist Katie Scheidt can customize pieces to fit your space. This mixed media on canvas 48 X 48 piece, entitled "Whistler" is currently available for Purchase at Minor Memorial Library & Gallery, Roxbury, CT (860) 350-2181
Many artists, including CT fine artist Katie Ré Scheidt, are willing to customize pieces to fit your space. To see more of her works, check out Instagram @kreschiedt.

9. REQUEST A CUSTOM PIECE

Has your search led you to an artist whose work moves you but doesn’t precisely fits your needs? Don’t be afraid to ask the artist to consider making a custom piece. A surprising number are happy to oblige.

9. HIRE A PRO

If the art search becomes overwhelming, turn to an art consultant who will hone down the endless options into a manageable selection of pre-curated choices. A professional can also help with invoicing, shipping and especially installation. There is a “right” way to hang art (think matting, framing and lighting) that is determined by factors including the medium, where the piece will hang and the amount of natural sunlight in the space.

This inexpensive Banksy wall decal adds a whimsical touch to child's room.
This inexpensive Banksy wall decal adds a whimsical touch to child’s room.

10. FOLLOW YOUR HEART

The only rule you absolutely must follow when buying art is to choose what you love. Remember, you’ll be living with the piece; be sure it touches you in some way.

 

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Allison Fabian Derfner
Allison Fabian Derfner is a freelance writer and editor who served most recently as Features Director at Harper’s Bazaar. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan. Allison lives with her family in New York City