Real Estate

A Fresh Look

Selecting art -- on a budget

Carefully chosen art can add life to any room. But how do you select an appropriate piece when you're on a budget?

Follow these easy steps and you'll have a "recipe" to fill that blank space with a piece that enhances the beauty of your home.

First, stand in the space needing artwork and listen to what the room is saying. Every room gives off a message and communicates feelings. Jot down a few words or phrases that summarize what the room is expressing; for example: relaxed, playful, formal, respect for nature, airy, friendly, unique, etc.

Then determine the room's predominant theme or style. Is it rustic country, English traditional, early grad student, contemporary?

Next, note the scale of the pieces in the room. Are they ornate and fine in detail, or are they large and clean-lined? Finally, note the predominant colors in the room.

To determine the size and shape of the piece(s) you need, first make sure the room has a furniture arrangement that is satisfying to you.

Next, note the overall geometric shape of the blank zones needing art. Art that echoes this overall shape will feel more comfortable to the eye, rather than a piece that opposes this shape. For example, if the area over your couch is an approximately 9 foot long by 5 foot tall rectangular shape, a long, rectangular piece of art (or three smaller pieces in a row occupying a long rectangular space) will feel visually peaceful. In contrast, if you place a tall, narrow piece of art in this space, your eye will tend to dwell on the empty spaces to either side, causing a visual imbalance.

To determine a minimum and maximum size for your new artwork, cut and tape a large piece of paper onto the wall. If the paper looks too large, snip off pieces until you get to a size that looks right to you.

You now have a very specific list of attributes for selecting artwork that will harmonize with the overall message of the room. So where can you find art that will work in your home?

Use what you already have. Go on a treasure hunt in your home. Is there a piece that you could move from one room to another? Do you have something in a closet or the garage that would work if you spray-paint the frame or re-mat it? Can you switch out a poster and re-use the frame for a watercolor?

If you have a particular piece that you want to hang but it doesn't quite work in the room, try to make it work by rearranging the accessories near it. For example, if you have a small-scaled antique painting of a vase of flowers in a modern, clean-lined room, create a scene or vignette around the artwork so that it won't feel isolated or dissonant. You might set a vase in the same shape on a table nearby, along with a few accessories that reflect the message of the painting and place a pillow in the artwork's predominant color on a nearby chair.

Recycle "gently used" art. We all have a few odds and ends of artwork stashed in a closet, so why not trade with a friend or hold an art swap party?

Consignment shops, garage and rummage sales and flea markets are great places to find artwork at extremely reasonable prices.

To make sure your new art will harmonize color-wise with your home, visit your local paint store and pick up a hand full of swatches. Take them home and match them to the colors in the room needing art. Take the swatches and your list of attributes when you go shopping.

Splurge on new art. If you don't enjoy scrounging for discounts at swap meets, you can still find reasonably priced artwork at many retail shops. Cost Plus World Market, Pier 1 Imports, Target, Ross Dress for Less, Kmart and HomeGoods all carry framed artwork worthy of gracing your home.

Kit Davey is a Redwood City-based interior designer who specializes in redecorating using what you already have. Contact her at, 650-367-7370 or

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