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fenton and fenton large abstract pink geometric art in dining room

Choosing Art for the Home: Your 10 Biggest Mistakes

Can I be real with you for a minute? I see a lot of mistakes when it comes to choosing art for the home. And hey, before I studied and worked as a designer, I too made many of these rookie blunders. I even made some of them recently. So I’m totally coming at this from a non-judgemental point of view. We’re all in this together!

I really want you to love the art you buy, but I also want it to look right on your wall. I want it to look right in the room as a whole. I want it to be the best possible art choice you could ever make. Because art matters.

To get you there, I think it’s good to explore some common art for the home no-no’s. These are the mistakes I used to make, and the ones I see readers and clients make all the time. So let’s all curb our wicked ways and figure out what art blunders to avoid, and the solutions to embrace.

And if you have any art questions for me after you’ve read through this, feel free to drop them in the comments section at the end of the post. Or, you can always come join my private Facebook group where we discuss art for the home, among other things, on-the-daily.

black metal shelf with kmart vases west elm vases and fake plants and sheer curtain

1. Waiting to Fall in Love with Something

Somewhere along the way, the notion was put out there by someone that in order to buy art it had to speak to you. You couldn’t possibly buy art unless you fell in love with it. Well, I’m here to tell you… that’s not true.

Art doesn’t have to mean something anything more than your sofa has to mean something, or your dining chairs have to mean something. They are all small parts that make up the puzzle of your room. Don’t wait months (or even years) to lock in art for your home because you haven’t found a piece you’re wetting your pants over. Liking it is good enough.

Above, the art from my Bentleigh project doesn’t mean anything emotionally to the client, but it worked with the vibe we were going for, and that’s good enough in my books!

fenton and fenton large abstract pink geometric art in dining room

2. Buying Art that’s too Small for the Wall

It’s one of the biggest crimes I see when it comes to art for the home: tiny pieces hung on giant walls. This often happens because of budget; perhaps you can’t afford a large piece that takes up the entire wall. Or sometimes it’s just because you had nowhere else to hang the piece and wanted to display it somewhere.

If the former is the issue, and budget is of concern, you’re better off hanging a gallery wall of smaller frames together than you are just leaving one small painting on a massive wall. Because honestly, it looks so odd.

The image above from Fenton and Fenton nails the concept of right size art on right size wall. What a stunner.

dark timber sideboard with dark timber frame gallery wall above it desenio

3. Only Buying Black and White Frames

This often happens when you order a cute print online from a smaller artist or supplier (which I fully support). But what happens a lot is that you then go to a budget chain to buy a frame for the print. And the budget chains have such a small selection of colours.

Usually, your frames options are black or white. Sometimes you might get a blonde oak. But here’s the news just in: the frame colour can make or break your artwork once it’s hung. I often find a darker brown frame can add a sophistication that black and white can’t give you.

We order frames for clients from frameshop.com.au and there are so many colours to choose from. So give them a go if you’re in need.

The image above is via Desenio and I’m sure you’ll agree that the art wouldn’t be as powerful if was in black or white frames.

red timber dining table with grey chairs and bright adairs abstract art

4. Hanging Unframed Canvas Prints

I love a canvas print, don’t get me wrong, but this comes with some fine print. Namely, the canvas art in question needs to be framed. If it’s a piece painted by an original artist who has not intended for it to be framed and they have painted directly onto it, all can be forgiven.

But, truthfully, I find that most canvas prints that sit on walls unframed can look cheap. And you know me, I’m all about luxe for less. So while I do love things being cheap from a pricing perspective, we don’t want them to look that way, do we?

The image above is from one of my early styling projects. And I’m totally fessing up here: I look back and really wish those abstract artworks were in frames. They would have far more presence in the space if they were.

abstract art in hamptons living room with beige sofa and white coffee table

5. Hanging Art too Low Above Furniture

This is an art mistake I’m actually copping to myself, because I’ve made this blunder in the past. Case in point: the client living room above. In hindsight, that artwork needed to be hung about 15cm higher than it was. It’s just too close for comfort to the top of the sofa.

If you threw yourself onto that sofa there’s every possibility you’d hit glass. Couch surfing should not be a contact sport. The same goes for art above sideboards and headboards. Give about 30cm space from the top of the furniture piece in question and the artwork above it.

If you want to see the rest of the rooms in this Hamptons project you can do that here.

live love laugh framed print

6. Displaying Meaningless Quote Art

I love quote art, and I realise that this is absolutely a personal thing. Different words mean different things to different people. But I think art, despite it not having to mean something special, should still reflect who you are and what you’re about.

With this in mind, choose quote art for your walls by all means, but avoid tired cliches that have been done to death. Or better still, create your own quote art. Brands like Olive et Oriel can do it for you, and then you have your very own custom piece, which is way more special than a stock standard online order.

I think we can all agree: Live Laugh Love quote art has had its day, right?

malvern armchair fenton and fenton original art on wall in living room

7. Having No Original Statement Pieces

I shop for art for clients from a number of popular suppliers depending on the vibe we’re going for. So mass-produced art is my jam. Or bread and butter. Or jam and butter on bread. You get what I mean!

Having said that, I still feel it’s crucial you have at least one piece in your home that has a story, and is created by a person with their artistic mind and bare hands. These pieces give your home soul in a way a mass-produced print just can’t.

I always try to squeeze some originals into client homes if budget allows. They don’t have to be big either. A small piece above a bedside will do.

See that painting above in the image via Fenton and Fenton? I want to know about it. There’s a story there. You need a piece like this worked into your abode somewhere.

gallery wall of frames above bed in moody brown bedroom desenio

8. Gallery Walls with No Consistent Theme

Gallery walls are the sorts of things that are either marvellous or messy. There never tends to be an in-between. That’s because they can be tricky to get right.

There’s frame colour to consider, there’s the style of wall you’re going for (photos, quotes, art, or a combo of the three), and then colour of the pieces comes into play too. I know it’s confusing, so I’ve got this post for you on nailing gallery walls. It takes you through how to apply a consistent theme so your wall looks fabulous.

Another gorgeous shot via Desenio above. Love the vibe of that artwork cluster.

bo concept rug as art in dining room with light timber herringbone floor

9. Not Letting the Art be the Focal Point

Art is the best way to create a focal point in your room. You know, the wow moment your eye is drawn to the moment you step foot in the space. But in order for your eye to go to it, you need the other design elements in the room to support it, not compete with it.

For example, an eye-catching artwork is great, but not with an equally loud rug. Let one be the star, and the other be the supporting player. You don’t want to invest in a gorgeous big piece of art and have it stifled by other decor in the room.

The image above via BoConcept is a great example of letting art be the focal point. And added bonus: it’s a rug on a wall! We love an alternative art idea, don’t we?

nine grid of black and white framed photos gallery wall above upholstered bench seat in entryway

10. Family Photos with no Mat Boards

I’ll let you in on a little secret: those white mat boards that come with many frames will make a photo look a thousand times better. In fact, the larger the mat board, the more of a moment you’ll create with the photo you’ve put inside the frame.

A large frame with a large mat board draws the eye right to the photo in the middle. On the flip side, a large frame with no matt board and a family photo put in it will look far less beautiful. I dare anyone to try and prove otherwise on this one. It’s mat board for the win here. I’d never display a photo any other way.

Got any questions about choosing art for the home that you need help with? Drop a comment below and ask away.

Related: Our No-Regret Buying Guide to Choosing the Right Piece for Your Walls.

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He's also spent time on TV, on Channel 10's Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7's Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you'd like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

COMMENTS
  • Miriam

    REPLY

    Hi Chris, i am mad on everything ‘Slim Aarons’, but i’m worried about his artwork not suiting our house. If i’m really in love with his art, which i am, does it matter??

    19 May, 2020
  • Jenna

    REPLY

    Hi Chris! Do you happen to know the artist of the Post No Bills and Middle Finger piece from your “Interior Design Trends for 2017: Urban Warrior” article? Absolutely loved those pieces.

    19 May, 2020
  • Vicki Maddicks

    REPLY

    Love reading your articles. They are so informative and helpful.

    19 May, 2020
  • Carol

    REPLY

    Hi Chris, is it ok to hang artwork on the wall on either side of the bed. I have a thing about artwork hanging above my head.

    19 May, 2020
      • Debbie James

        REPLY

        Hi Chris
        Hanging artwork has always been a issue in my home with my husband always putting it up to high. I have a hallway wall which expands 4.5 metres what size artwork should I place on this wall

        31 May, 2020
  • Kim Cockerell

    REPLY

    Thanks so much for the fantastic tips. One of my pet hates is art hung too high.
    I recently had a fairly cheap, large canvas print framed and it looks amazing- and expensive.

    19 May, 2020
  • Priscila Araujo

    REPLY

    Great article!! But, I’d like to know how to calculate the right size of an art for a wall, so that it doesn’t look too small or too big. Is there a formula?

    30 May, 2020
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