Any decorating magazine will give you advice on wall colors, furniture styles, carpets versus rugs, and what window treatments to use.
Seldom mentioned, although always pictured in the rooms displayed as examples, are the paintings and prints on the walls. Occasionally, especially when they appear in particularly unusual arrangements or frames, they are footnotes. But, generally, you are left on your own to find the perfect pictures for your walls.
So, let me give you a little advice. First, my credentials: since 1977, either part-time or full-time, I’ve been an antique print dealer. My mother was an artist; my husband is a photographer and artist. So I’ve lived with art all of my life. I buy it, I sell it, and I know how to hang it. And I can teach you enough, even in this short article, to get you started toward making the art on your walls define you as a smart, classy, intelligent person with impeccable taste.
First, here are the things you should never, ever buy or hang on your walls:
1. Art from a chain store. This includes the bin art at a photography or framing store.
2. Any frame made of plastic or glass.
3. A reproduction of any kind, unless you are under 25 and it is a museum shop poster.
4. Art that matches your couch or drapes.
5. Any art that you hate, for any reason.
6. Religious art – unless you are very religious, and you are going to hang it in a private part of the house. (I’m not anti-religious, and I’m also assuming your religious art is not a Leonardo da Vince or another of the great masters. If it is, pardon me. You may hang it in your dining room.)
7. Any art that is “cute.” Cute is not classy.
OK. Now, what are you going to hang?
You have three choices. The first choice is to hang things which are not, officially, art, but which become artistic when hung together as a collection . A group of fly rods, antique or modern (but the older the better). A half dozen decorative plates. (Not with Hummels on them. Perhaps all blue and white, or brown and white.) A collection of framed campaign buttons. You get the idea. Something that is distinctive, interesting, and that no one else will have on their wall, framed and hung well.
The second choice is to hang paintings. Paintings are generally expensive, but that doesn’t mean having your own gallery of oils or water colors is impossible. Look for paintings you love while you’re on vacation. Look at yard sales. Look at flea markets, at auctions, at antique shows. You may well have to re-frame your treasures, but they’ll be worth it if you love them. Don’t buy something assuming you’ll make a fortune. Chances are you won’t. Keep in mind the basics: Signed paintings are worth more than unsigned. Damaged paintings can be acquired for very little, but repairs can be expensive. (Cleaning, not so much.)
You can acquire a group of, say, small 19th century unsigned paintings of flowers and fruit (popular subjects for ladies to paint) for perhaps $50 each. Hang them as a collection and your home has a cachet like no other. Plus – you’ll have had the fun of the chase.
And as for prints, your third option: they’re perhaps the easiest to find. Check antique print dealers, “paper shows,” antique shows, and, again, flea markets, and auctions. Nineteenth and early 20th century prints were often bound in books, so antiquarian book dealers should be on your list. Prints of astronomy, flowers, birds, shells … they’re often the ones you see in those perfect room settings in magazines, all matted and framed.
And if you’d like to know more about antique prints, and finding them, have I got a mystery series for you! My Shadows Antique Mystery Series, starring antique print dealer Maggie Summer, follows her through the world of antique print buying, selling, and collecting, as well as solving murders (not always a part of that business.) Each chapter begins with a description of a print and its value. Read all 5 books in the series – and you can not only decorate your walls – you can talk about them with expertise!
Great tips, Lea! Thanks so much for joining us today. Readers, have any of you decorated your walls with unique items? Let’s hear from you. -- AP