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The First Rule To Decorating With Art: There Are No Rules

April 22nd, 2011 · 5 Comments

I recently received an email from a young collector who wanted to get some advice on how to think about home design and art. This is one of those question that comes up time and again so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my thoughts on the topic.

Devon wrote, “I’m moving into my first ‘grown up’ apartment and as I accumulate furniture and everyday detritus I also want to start collecting art… I’ve noticed that a lot of pictures of interiors feature art that matches the decor… that seems kind of trite to me, but I’m new to this. I also noticed on your blog that you talk a lot about how certain art ‘goes together’ because of color, use of space, form, etc…so I guess my question is, are there rules to follow when accumulating/placing art? Does it have to or should it ‘match’ decor? Should I look for commonalities?

A very ‘matchy’ but still very modern bedroom

The answer to this question starts with the vision you hold of your ideal home. Knowing what you’d like to accomplish with your home is perhaps the biggest challenge, but once tackled really informs every subsequent decision you make. Below I answer the three big questions Devon is tackling:

No. 1.

To match or not to match? Well, do you want to live in a space that looks like it’s right out of a glossy magazine or do you prefer a more lived-in or bohemian feel? In other words, how much do you want your things to match?

To draw a comparison, the bedroom above is a very modern, minimalist-leaning bedroom with a lot of matching. By contrast the bedroom below has a very eclectic look, mixing what looks like flea market finds with a few modern drawings and some very bold prints. They both work really well and show there’s no “right” answer when it comes to matching; it’s really a matter of personal preference.

A lived-in, eclectic bedroom via The Selby

If you’re going for a very specific or “done” look then that will likely influence what kind of art you collect. You will want to ask yourself if the bright-red painting you fell in love with will really work in your very Scandinavian white and wood living room. However, if you’re taking a more laid-back approach of mixing and matching then by all means buy art as it strikes you. With this kind of organic decorating part of the fun is experimenting and seeing what works with what.

A mix of small drawings framed as a group via design*sponge.

No. 2:

What role should art play in a space? This may sound opaque but really what it means is this: do you want your art to blend in with your space and give it a little warmth? Or do you want your art to be really bold and grab your attention? Bold can mean big and graphic (like in the black and white bedroom), it can mean lots of contrast (color or stylistic) and it can also mean bold as a collective (like in the second bedroom).

Smaller, more subtle art accents the room via Apartment Therapy.


Bright, graphic art sets off modern furniture via Apartment Therapy.

No. 3.

Should an art collection all “go together?” Your art does not need to have a common thread, and you shouldn’t be weighted down by the worry of how each new piece will “go” with the others. Quite simply art is special because it’s unique so it’s important to keep that in mind. On the other hand themes or commonalities across art create structure and really help a space look more polished and put-together. Themes can be much more subtle than an artist or a medium; a theme could be a mood, geography, era, influence, etc. It can be anything you conceive of and can be as wild or conceptual as you want.

A series of stark landscapes creates a clean look. Elle Decor via Stephmodo.


A grouping of simple, graphic art that plays off of the graphic textiles via design*sponge.


Just one example of being creative with mixing and matching art. via whitetapestry.

Note: What to avoid: art that really, truly doesn’t go in your space will scream out at you. If it’s way too big or too small, too contrasting or too stylized you will probably sense as much. If you question your judgement, invite some honest friends over to give you an opinion.