Like furniture and objects, works of art can give a home a unique personality and say something about their owners’ lives and passions. Getting these elements to work together in harmony, however, isn’t always easy.
We asked four acclaimed interior designers about how they have made art an integral part of the design of their spaces…
Having studied at The Courtauld and then worked as a curator, Chudley places art at the heart of every interior she designs. For one Highgate villa, she played matchmaker between her clients and artist Joseph Goody
Art is one of the most integral elements of our projects. Our studio is made up of artists as well as designers so it’s embedded in our work ethic. [Studying at The Courtauld Institute of Art] was a formative experience; being encouraged to look at paintings in a certain way has definitely governed how I look at a room.
Sometimes clients have their own art collections, so we work with what they have, but it works best when we include London’s Cob Gallery, which is where I did my first curating. With the Highbury Hill project we took the clients to Cob to look at Joseph Goody’s work. We chose the painting – Line, 2015, an oil on canvas– and then appropriated the whole dining room around it.
All the elements in the space, from the antique Irish farmhouse table, the reupholstered Eero Saarinen dining chairs and the art deco armchair, down to the vintage 1960s light fixtures and even the bespoke concrete flooring, is in conversation with that painting.
The really difficult part is choosing the paint colours; you don’t want to ape the painter’s work on the walls. I used bespoke paint by Donald Kaufman in slightly candyish, toned-down variants of the painting, so they’re not fighting with it – they’re lifting it up and communicating with it.
When it comes to developing the space in terms of how you’re going to use it, think about the harmony of colours, the contrast of materials and how those can work together. Ask yourself: what are the qualities of the room that you love, what are the qualities of the art that you love and how can they complement each other? Tear out images from magazines and catalogues of what you think is going to go into that room and put them around the artwork so you have a visual of how it’s going to look.
If you’re wondering what you like, and don’t want to make a mistake financially, go to end of year shows at the good art schools and support young artists. It leaves you freer to take a few more risks and go with your gut. If you love something and if you’re buying from somebody who’s at art school, you will give them the confidence to have a great career. rachelchudley.com
For the antiques dealer, interior designer and furniture maker, a house is an art work in itself. He finds inspiration in classical paintings when restoring period homes
When I first started, there was a book by Charles Saumarez Smith called Eighteenth-Century Decoration, which featured paintings of people in their interiors. I was looking at the colours on the walls, but actually what I found myself looking at was the composition, the balance of colour and tone. For me, that was really poignant.
There’s so much to be learned from those master pieces. It’s the nuance that can be given by a splash of yellow or red. I love the simplicity those pictures have, there’s less ornament, less clutter. That clear, clean late-17th century or early Georgian look is very elegant.
On this project, the architecture and flooring of the dining room and the period of the house gave a feeling of age and airiness that reminded me of Vermeer’s interiors. Although the budget didn’t stretch to hanging an Old Master on the wall, I took inspiration from the colours and textures apparent in Vermeer’s The Music Lesson.
The painting is echoed in the simplicity of the space, which is highlighted by richly coloured fabrics, the patina and depth of colour from the polished antique furniture – Irish Chippendale chairs and a George II marble-topped table – and the light falling from the window, which catches in the glass of an antique Second Empire gasolier. It’s about transposing the artwork into something else; the texture of the cloth on the table in the painting has gone into the curtains – Le Manach’s ‘Murillo’ Toiles de Tour, supplied by Pierre Frey.
The yellow chair is covered in an antique French linen that we dyed. The walls are painted in ‘Borrowed Light’ by Farrow & Ball – the room wasn’t working until we stuck that up and then it was just ‘wow’. I made the table using 19th-century timber and we sanded the floorboards back and scrubbed them until they had that bleached look.
When it comes to taking inspiration from a painting, you’re just seeing what you can learn from it and what you enjoy about it. It’s trying to articulate that and then you can abstract it – once you’ve understood the joy of it. maxrollitt.com
For her own home in the Cotswolds, the designer chose a playful picture that would happily coexist with the colourful chaos of family life. Letting spaces evolve naturally and embracing the mood are key factors for her
I approach design as a homemaker rather than a very cerebral designer. The lady we bought the house from was in her late 70s and had lived there forever – she left all the crazy curtains. We moved the floor and fireplace from other parts of the house, weaving bits together in a way that didn’t feel too serious. For me, it’s instinctive, channelling your inner granny by working with elements you already have. I like it when spaces feel like they’ve evolved organically rather than being overworked and I guess this artwork feels like that as well – a bit haphazard.
The painting in this room, above the console table, is by a Liverpool artist called Jason Thompson. He uses joyful, slightly clashy colours and a good degree of contrast. The colours played a part in us choosing it, but also the attitude – it doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s a bit irreverent. There’s a fun energy about it, which was the mood I wanted to have in my family home.
I’ve worked with clients who have quite serious pieces and we’ve gone for knocked-back muted colours so the art feels really electric in the space. In this case, it’s more of a riotous candy box, like someone’s had a go at the pick ’n’ mix stall at the cinema. The walls are painted in ‘Old Rose’ by Pure & Original and the sofas are upholstered in pistachio green corduroy. The rug is the ‘Cordoba’ – one of my own designs for Vanderhurd.
I have a lot of fun with prints; it’s easier to put something like that above the fireplace – you want something of scale and it can be expensive to get a serious piece of art that big. Invest in something beautiful to put in a spot that you’re going to see more often, like the end of a corridor or in the kitchen.
In colourful spaces, going for an artwork with a monochrome palette can work well and avoid sensory overload. If you’re doing a gallery wall, then reducing the colour palette helps it hang together. Don’t be afraid to move things around; you can get tired of seeing the same thing in the same spot, but seeing it against a different wall colour in a different room can radically change the way something feels. nicolaharding.com
A collection of early 20th-century paintings from the St Ives School inspired the designer to turn a Mayfair penthouse into a celebration of British creativity
The clients are serious collectors and we were able to use their Ivon Hitchens paintings and a Peter Lanyon. They formed the entire scheme for the apartment in terms of colours, palette and materials. The ‘Britishness’ was very important to me; having these paintings as the starting point meant that every material, antique and piece of furniture that we bought was British. It’s speaking the same language, physically coming from the same place. I commissioned Tobias Harvey to do a beautiful landscape triptych and Max Lamb contributed pieces. It’s interesting to work with your peers and with some of my favourite antique dealers from Pimlico Road. All the colours were hand mixed to work with those paintings, as well.
It’s always a challenge not to take something too literally. Appeal to the senses on every level that you possibly can – texture, material, colours, fragrance, fabrics – to work with that piece of art. For this project, we created a scent for the apartment; it helps build on the senses. Rough stone was used for the fireplace and I covered the kitchen fronts in slate so the whole kitchen became like a craggy cliff face.
I’m always trying to find tensions in my work: masculine and feminine; precious and raw; high art and low art. In the space with Lanyon’s Cross Country, it was the way our ‘Lake Aqua’ resin console table spoke to the antique centre table and our ‘Roly-Poly’ chairs.
Think about the work of art and how it makes you feel. If you’ve chosen a drawing over a painting, that suggests you’re looking for something much calmer. The most important thing is not to be intimidated by art; some of my own pieces are at home and my children climb all over them and put crayon on them. Understanding that you’re living with it, as opposed to it being a showcase, is what makes it magical. t-o-o-g-o-o-d.com