Art for Impact

Learn to display your favorite furniture, art, and collectibles with confidence.
Alicia K. Clavell

Atlanta homeowners Lyn and Bob McDonough didn't just make room for art, they made rooms for it. Working with local residential designer Eric Rothman of HammerSmith and interior designer Kathy Guyton of Guyton Design Group, they successfully planned their new home around a considerable collection of art--not the other way around.

"We worked with the McDonoughs to create rooms where you could experience their art," says Eric. Kathy kept the decor clean and simple. She even had the walls painted a neutral color so that the art pieces would be the focus. "Architecturally, the house was wonderful, and the art was so fabulous that there was just no reason for anything to compete," she says. Here, Eric, Kathy, and the McDonoughs share lessons on how to successfully create artful displays in your own home.

First Impressions
Make an impact in a front room or foyer with a favorite furniture item or painting. Personal pieces in the McDonoughs' foyer set the stage for the rest of the decor. "Start with works that really speak to you," recommends Kathy. "Don't buy a painting just because it matches."

In the foyer, an iron table, fitted with a marble top, is bathed in light. Black-and-white prints are suspended above, and a rustic wooden piece completes the vignette. "Any architectural clutter would have detracted from the art," says Eric.

Bigger Is Better
The large painting above the cased opening transforms a long hallway. A rainbow-colored rug ushers you into the living room. Natural light floods the two-story hall, which functions as a gallery, and illuminates the painting. "Within reason, buy what you like, and don't worry about the size," says Kathy. "But keep in mind that some things, such as this piece, need to be seen from a great distance."

Architecture as Art
"The spaces in our home were designed around art," says Lyn. But not every space calls for that. Some, such as this stairway wall, call for none. Instead of displaying paintings where they wouldn't be appreciated, Eric added molding strips that look like a series of panels.

Artful Surprise
Highlight unique pieces in unexpected places. These handmade window fragments from Afghanistan create a fabulous focal point in an often-neglected area--the corner.

Three-dimensional art, including architectural fragments such as these, can add a special element to any space. A window frame, a finial, or even a tapestry can enliven a room and serve as an interesting focal point.

Go With the Flow
Utilize color, fabric, or art in your home, as the McDonoughs have done, to create a sense of flow from room to room. There is literally a surprise around every corner of this house.

"We were trying to create a fun, mysterious, exciting process of experiencing the space," says Eric. "So instead of the home being a straight line with open vistas, we created a path of discovery." The art is your guide as you move through the spaces. The three prints in the parlor, for example, lead your eyes to the dining room.

Feast for Your Eyes
A piece of art, a color, or even a texture can help bring a room's design together. In this case, a mixture of similar textures and furniture within the same color tones helped to create a cohesive look. "Many of the objects in the McDonoughs' home express a craftsman approach to something functional," says Kathy.

The couple chose pieces that weren't just furniture but art as well. For example, the bases of their dining room table are hand-carved wooden pedestals. Each one is slightly different--perfectly imperfect. A simple wooden trough serves as the table's centerpiece, and a wrought-iron chandelier punctuates the space. An antique buffet table to one side of the room displays trinkets from travels abroad.

Conversation Starters
Showcase pieces you love, and above all, have fun with your displays. Here a grouping of three Indonesian cowbells, a handwoven rug, and a favorite ceramic jar-turned-lamp, inspires conversation. When you're creating a vignette, group an odd number of items--three or five--for a more aesthetically pleasing look. Also, consider displaying objects at varied heights for a more interesting arrangement.

On a Lighter Note
"When we planned this house, we focused on having a lot of windows and light," says Lyn. In spaces where there was little natural light, such as this niche underneath the stairs, different lighting techniques were incorporated. Here an adjustable can light spotlights an oversize antique finial.

"Be fair to a painting or piece of art by making sure that you can do the best for it," suggests Kathy. "Some things need a lot of light because they're very detailed and dark."

Insider Tips
"Art galleries will generally let you take anything home and try it," says Kathy. Live with the piece for a day or so, and if it doesn't look right, return it.

Choose pieces that you love. "Art should be something that you have because you appreciate it and it's meaningful to you," says Eric.

Kathy suggests changing art seasonally. "It's fine to have a closet where you can divide your art to store it properly and change it out," she says.

"Less is more," says Eric. "If you want to appreciate the art and the space, you'll create more impact by having fewer items dramatically displayed," he says.

Photographs are an inexpensive way to start an art collection. "Cover a wall--floor to ceiling or corner to corner--to make a strong statement without spending a lot of money," suggests Kathy. If the pictures are all very different, frame them all in black or brushed frames.

Display your art in interesting ways. Overlap pieces in corners, hang art in place of shutters, or just lean items up against the glass.

Maintain a neutral setting. "I try to keep the background clean and simple and let the strong, important things stand out," says Kathy.