The Design of Art

Sometimes there is a piece of art that speaks to you – perhaps it even embodies ideas and feelings that are important to you and your life – and you know you want it front and center in your home. But how best to accomplish this? And, just as importantly, how to have it work with the overall design of your room, your home?

Whether you are a do-it-yourselfer or you employ the expertise of an interior designer, there are a few guidelines and rules of thumb that can help make the most of that special piece of art, while helping your home emote the same engaging ambiance. Even if you don’t own a piece that holds such a place in your heart, there are ways to help art make a beautiful statement in your home. Interior designer, Patti Dixon, owner of Patti Dixon Design quickly picks up on a connection between owner and art through myriad of subtle clues it lends. Shown a beloved piece of artwork or a treasured collection, she can lay a roadmap for a home’s design around it.

“When I begin a design project, I always start with an inspiration, such as art or a nice rug,” Dixon explains. “Interior design is an organized trade, where one has to have all the objectives met, such as clients’ preferences and architecture to create a fabulous design. Art is so different, as it is totally freeing.”


An accomplished artist herself, Dixon focuses primarily on abstract art in her own work. Not so with her design work for clients. No matter what style of art a client possesses or is drawn to, that will set the tone for her design for the home. “Art is a personal expression, much like interior design, but more so,” notes Dixon.


Whether one has a special piece of art or leans toward a particular style of art, one should always begin with personal preferences, Dixon suggests. Owners may love beautiful mountain landscapes, wildlife studies or children playing on the beach, things that are important in their own lives. Perhaps they are drawn to bold strokes of color or just love certain colors art should resonate.

As Dixon begins a job, she first ponders the room for placement of the art, and then works the design within that room. A collection of peaceful art scenes may denote a craving for serene spaces, while bold and striking art alive with movement may lend itself well to room filled with activity or entertainment. She pulls out colors from the piece to echo in fabrics. The artwork may even suggest textures and lines that can be replicated in furnishings.

Art, states Dixon, can either be a layer to a room’s existing interior design, or the central focus of the room. “Either way, art adds depth,” she says. At times, points out Dixon, a client may have a substantial art collection, or perhaps just one piece that is particularly mesmerizing. In this case, her tactic is different. “One should never upstage the art, but take clues to complement this with the interior design,” she advises. The home, which is featured in this article, has a particularly bold and vibrantly colorful collection, making the décor the backdrop to the art. In fact, this owner is extremely art savvy and on the advisory board of the New York Academy of Art.

Using neutral tones, such as the steel in the fireplace and the black, textured rug, Dixon pulled the bright oranges, reds and turquoises out of the art to use as bold, complimentary splashes here and there in the furnishings. The result kept the vibrancy of the artwork moving throughout the room, without detracting from it. The off-white walls set off the striking art to perfection, while the large expanses of rich wood flooring pulled it all together. “You really have to think about the artwork and the furnishing in the room,” she muses.


There are times, points out Dixon, that you can’t take all the messaging from art. For instance, traditional or sedate furnishings can work very well with abstract art. She points to the Obamas’ preferences in the White House. The furnishings were traditional, but the couple added some of strikingly contemporary pieces of art. “The result was very fun,” observes Dixon. “Most importantly, it made the interior their own. If I would have started with the art, I might have missed the history of the traditional setting. It has to be an entire picture.” Better quality art, states Dixon, deserves the best lighting. In this case, an owner might want to involve a lighting designer to achieve the optimum effect.

However, keep in mind the right lighting will draw a person into a room. The same goes with a painting. A lit piece of art draws the viewer toward that piece and maximizes its effect. Dixon advises using the correct lighting balance, with the correct light bulb color temperature; 2700 on the Kelvin color scale is the closest to natural lighting.

If art is to be placed in a newly constructed home or remodel, Dixon envisions where it will be placed during the initial design of the space. “I will consider lighting for these potential areas, even though art has not been considered as yet,” she explains. And, there are some parameters when it comes to placing art. “Never cover all the walls with art,” cautions Dixon. “It will seem claustrophobic.Give walls some breathing space. One wall of art will be more predominant, if the adjacent wall is calm and clean. I try to allocate breathing space for art – especially for a new construction or a remodel project.”


If the featured art is a large piece, Dixon suggests that it float within the space of the wall. Above the entry to a room (pictured here) Dixon designed, hangs a bold, contemporary piece of art, one particularly large and vividly colored piece which is made all themore striking because of the wide expanse of wall left surrounding it. Ideally placed, it also lends a prelude to the colors echoed within the room. One perfect white niche left between walls in another space in the home creates a museum-like showcase for the sculpted pieces within.

On the other hand, if the artwork is small, it should be installed near something, such as a piece of furniture or wall casing – or even door trim, so the art remains connected with the room. If pieces of art are grouped, they need to connect, so the space in between is smaller than around the grouping. Two- to three-inches between each piece in a grouping works well; but this will depend on the size of the art. Sometimes more or less space is appropriate.

In most of her design assignments, Dixon pulls together art for a project after the rest of the design is finished. “Upon completion of a designed home where there is no art, I will contemplate the type of art needed to finish the residence,” she explains. “Should it be bold? Should it blend in? I consider my clients’ preferences once again and test the waters to see how far I can go to find the right pieces for them. When a home has powerful bold colors in art, the furnishings need to play harder and be more powerful.”


And Dixon has an innate feel astutely balancing art and furnishings. Currently, Dixon is working on another residence in Vail where the art needs to be the powerful impact. “I am using neutrals so the furnishings will take a backseat to the art,” she shares.

Whether your interior designer is helping with your purchases, or is choosing your art from one of Vail’s eclectic galleries or, perhaps, the Vail Valley Art Guild’s gallery space, finding art that moves you is what is important. Finding a home for your treasures is always exhilarating and brings so much joy.

“I love to put it all together to finish an amazing interior-designed home,” says Dixon. “It’s kind of like putting the whole outfit together; you don’t want to forget the belt.”