A blank wall is like a naked body — lovely in its most basic form but full of possibilities for adornment.
I buy and sell vintage art for a living, and many of my finds never make it into the shop. The walls of my home are hung with interesting woodcuts, sculptures, oils, watercolors, textiles, collages, and photographs. I live in a stylish and chic space that reflects me and my family to a ‘t,’ and our art collection was amassed at a fraction of the cost had I purchased everything new.
If I can do it, so can you.
This pep talk is for you if you spend more on your window treatments than you do on art. Or if you’ve always imagined living in your own gallery but think you can’t afford to collect. Or if you haven’t refreshed your walls since 1979. Or if you’re over the age of 22 and you hang stuff from Target or HomeGoods.
Here’s my solemn vow: You could walk into any musty dusty shop on God’s green earth, and there is something hiding in plain sight that’s worthy of your walls. Luck is not involved. Open your eyes and your mind, and you will find a treasure to rescue.
If you doubt me, let’s walk through my technique.
- Relax your expectations. Enjoy the process. I used to skip wearing my contacts to the bars in college. Everyone looked fuzzy and a little more attractive. Like that!
- If you reach out to touch something, that is your gatherer instinct kicking in. Listen!
- Bad framing can disguise good art. Good framing does not a masterpiece make. I buy frames and recycle the ugly print inside them. And I buy art and recycle the ugly frame it comes in.
- Embrace your inner weird. “Dogs Playing Poker” painted on black velvet? If it represents your intrinsic view of the world, pull out your wallet. As Diana Vreeland said, “We all need a splash of bad taste; no taste is what I’m against.”
- Consider things that remind you of your childhood. Think back to your favorite picture books — for me, it’s A Snowy Day — and use that style as a starting point.
- Seek out things that remind you of your ancestors. Did your grandfather own an ice cream parlor? Hang a collection of wood-handled scoopers.
- Look for artisan craftsmanship. Objects made by hand are underpriced and becoming more and more rare.
- Forget the obvious use of an object. Hang plates. Take a book apart, and frame its illustrations.
One last piece of advice: be true to yourself. Don’t borrow sophistication. Forget the formal definition of art and have fun.
My friend Patrick, who grew up in Kansas, just hung the blades of an old windmill on his wall. It looks like a sculpture. Stunning!
While in Florence, my friend Ann slept with a curly-haired Italian named Fabio. She hung a photograph of Michelangelo’s David to remind her of him.
My brother-in-law has a life-sized poster of Jerry Garcia hanging in his house to remind him of the night, in 1985 at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City, when he and my sister danced their way up to the 10th row with no hassles.
You catch my drift. Good luck and on with the hunt!
Photo by Renn Kuhnen.