Did you ever say something to someone, offhandedly and unfiltered, where you immediately wanted to sink into the ground? My worst experience like that happened when I was too young to know better, visiting close friends who asked me how I thought they might improve the decoration in their home.
Before I disclose what I said, I should tell you that they had always been the most conservative people when it came to spending money, unlike me, and they were always saving, investing wisely, and moving frequently, with the intention of upgrading and making a good return on each home sold.
But the tradeoff was that they were not big on decorating or collecting, and the artwork in their upscale home was minimal. In fact, the one painting in their living room, centered on a big otherwise unadorned wall, was a paint-by-the numbers project done by one of their children.
They did admire the way my house looked, however, and one day when my wife and I were visiting them, the husband asked me, “Bill, what do you think we could do to make our place look better?” My curt answer was simply. “A LOT!”
Immediately I saw the couples’ faces fall in unison, and that’s when my wife mercifully changed the subject to get me out of the pickle. It really wasn’t my intention to be so flippant.
I thought of that embarrassing moment recently when I visited Dia: Beacon, the contemporary art museum which displays art in big, big spaces. Some of those giant rooms in a former factory building had tiny works of art displayed in massive space, plain white walls that projected a very welcome calm. One of those small pieces looked much like paint-by-the-numbers, and I thought, maybe my good friends were on to something with all that empty wall space.
But, why do we need any art in our homes at all? You might think I’d know, having been an Art History major, but I don’t. I just know that since the discovery of the Palaeolithic cave paintings of bison in France, to the frescoes uncovered at Pompeii and the post-modern art of today, we know that mankind seems to have a primal need to look at pictures on a wall.
When I was a freshman in college, I was exposed to the world of art for the home when a group of us was invited to a college professor’s residence for a discussion. I was amazed to find that original art — oils, drawings and prints — covered all the walls from floor to ceiling. Who would ever think of placing art above or below eye level, I thought? I was totally engaged in one emotion after another as my eyes wandered from frame to frame. It was a revelation.
Today in my home, it is much the same way. But, is that really what art is all about, total engagement? Why can’t it be total detachment with minimalism? I’ve been thinking about that since I visited the Dia.
Perhaps art in the home would better create an otherworldliness that results in a calm environment rather a series of unrelated experiences surrounded by frames. I encountered that possibility recently with a listing by my colleague Andi DePalma. She had announced in a meeting that a home she had listed in Brewster had artwork incorporated into the house itself. I asked if I could call the owner, Carole Bonicelli , who with her husband Giorgio, is an artist who has lent her skills to the decoration of her home with wall art that will go along with the sale of her home.
She has created a greenhouse in her great room by painting a ceiling of the sky, with vines intertwining white mullions. Her bedroom features wisteria on a trellis which echoes live wisteria climbing up a pergola just outside her window. Her kitchen backsplash is hand painted tiles featuring flowers and birds found in this region.
Do you think this will be considered too taste specific for the buyer, I asked her? “In my last home, I painted the kitchen cabinets with flowers featured in the wallpaper,” she said, “and the buyers changed everything else in the house, but kept the kitchen exactly the same.”
Whether we like big art, minimal art, or environmental art, it would seem that pretty pictures are here to stay, perhaps as a natural instinct to express who we are. And “pretty” really depends on our definition of the word. As a realtor who sees many expressions in home art, I have even come to enjoy an entire collection of paint-by-the-numbers oils and another collection of paintings on black velvet.
Yes, it’s all a highly personal thing, and today I totally honor every taste. If anyone were to ask me again what I think they can do to improve the art displayed in their homes, I would answer that, to me, everything looks great exactly as it is.