A Blank Canvas

Art and design professionals offer insights into using fine art to decorate your home.

By Lisa Cavanaugh  |  Photography by Amber Jane Barricman

That blank wall is staring at you, and you yearn to find a piece of art that will fill it. You want your home to reflect your personality but also showcase something that evokes creative inspiration. How do you begin to choose artwork that expresses your personal style?

“Learn what you like and go with your instincts. Don’t let someone else make all the decisions,” says art consultant Sally Munson, who operated the Munson Gallery in Chatham for 25 years.

In addition to consulting for architects and interior designers, Munson also offers guidance to homeowners who are looking to add art to their living spaces. She realizes many clients aren’t sure how to tackle this challenge.

She recalls a client who had responded to an abstract piece. “She liked the color and shape, but felt she couldn’t put it in her home, for fear she couldn’t explain it to guests.” Munson urges people to ignore those concerns. “If you fall in love with a piece of art, you can make it work in your home.”

A house needs to be lived in before art makes sense there, she says. “A new home takes a little extra work to recognize the key walls. You need to do some living in it first,” and eventually the areas that work best for art will emerge.

Her own home displays meaningful wedding gifts from artists she represents. She also suggests rotating art, like she and her husband tend to do. “It’s a treat. You get a new experience of your beloved pieces.”

Having lived in New Mexico and run a gallery in Florida for five years, Munson recognizes that people in New England like to hunt down things and will make room in their budgets for more personally selected art.

If you find artwork that really speaks to you, she suggests investing in it. “A striking piece can really shine in a home—it sets the tone.”

“I’m drawn to art that makes me think,
                   relaxes me, and makes me smile.”
—Helen Addison

Helen Addison of the Addison Art Gallery in Orleans agrees that homeowners should have the confidence to buy pieces to which they are strongly drawn. “It is always disappointing to return to the gallery later and find that a painting that has been on your mind has sold,” she says.

A successful and highly respected establishment, the Addison Gallery presents works by emerging artists as well as masterpieces by more established ones. Addison feels art enthusiasts are fortunate to live on Cape Cod. “The Cape is a mecca for art lovers. We have a plethora of artists from across the globe showing alongside our region’s many museum-quality artists in an assortment of fine galleries,” she says.

Addison recommends wandering reputable galleries to learn what is available and to develop one’s own taste — which might well be eclectic. “Gallery staff are able to provide information on the artists and particular works,” says Addison. “Receptions offer opportunities to meet the artists and learn more about inspirations and techniques.”

Her gallery often collaborates with interior designers. “Designers tend to come in with something in mind and, knowing their clients’ tastes and budget, can search the gallery to narrow the options that will best fit the home and design scheme,” she says.

Addison’s home is “full of art, family pieces, work collected while traveling, and paintings purchased at other Cape galleries.” Her personal collection also holds an abundance of sculptures and paintings created by the artists she represents. “I’m drawn to art that makes me think, relaxes me, and makes me smile,” she adds.

She feels that a person’s art choices for their home are a true reflection of their interests, tastes and life. “Art can brighten a room, bring back memories of a glorious day on the beach, touch a soul,” she says. Committed to guiding gallery clients toward finding work that most inspires them,  Addison affirms that art  “is the most personal and most descriptive expression of anything in the house.”

Homes are really successful if they describe the place they’re in, says Melinda Headrick of Chatham Interiors, Inc. “The art in the home should be the thread between the owner and your area of the country.”

With a recent design for a home in Chatham, Headrick aimed to capture the town through art. “The owners aren’t from Cape Cod, but they wanted their home to reflect the locality.” She worked with local artists to commission scenes of Stage Harbor Light and other seaside themes. One artist tended to work on a very small scale, but Headrick encouraged her to create something to fit the larger expanses in the home. The artist took inspiration from Headrick’s own childhood summers in Chatham and painted “Low Tide Memories,” an evocative piece that thrilled the homeowners.

“The homeowner needs a connection with the art,” says Headrick, who strives to take into consideration both regional design and what inspires the client.

Her personal theory of interior design is based on “roots and wings.” Roots represent where you come from, your family and your past, while wings are where you’re traveling to, your hobbies and things that expand your life. Headrick believes both should be represented in home design. In her own home, she has a piece that depicts a serene path in the woods. Since she grew up in Vermont, it recalls her childhood at the same time that it informs her current life.

As an interior designer, she assists clients in choosing art to complement the overall design scheme. She is there to consider scale and dimensions, if there is appropriate lighting and, if not, how to install fixtures to effectively light the piece. She can select the art herself, or she can recommend galleries to her clients.

For those just beginning to collect, Headrick recommends starting with photography, which can be more affordable than original paintings. She also suggests finding emerging artists through local art guilds or at festivals. For those who have dedicated larger sums to home design, the key is locating reputable galleries or auction houses and doing your research. Headrick considers herself a steward of her clients’ funds and will recommend where to save in another area in order to purchase a special piece of art.

Ultimately, Headrick recommends buying a piece of art for the personal connection. “[It] should be an heirloom, not a trophy,” she says. “The value should be in how it speaks to you, not the artist’s name.” Above her fireplace, Headrick has hung a beautiful painted glass bowl that was a 25th wedding anniversary gift to her grandparents from a neighbor. It is an exquisite piece from a renowned artist, but more importantly, it’s a family treasure.

The Munson Gallery, 1455 Main St., Chatham, which operates out of Bohman Thayer Real Estate, 508 237-5038

Addison Art Gallery, 43 South Orleans Rd. (Route 28) Orleans, 508-255-6200

Chatham Interiors, Inc., 1579 Main St., Chatham, 508-348-1450

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