Anyone who has been to my apartment knows that my dwelling is very humble in terms of space. I live in a “junior” studio, so this is basically like a studio but even smaller, in an apartment complex in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
I love where I live. It suits me perfectly. I have nice and normal neighbors. It’s affordable and clean. It’s in a safe, quiet, and convenient neighborhood. The management takes care of things when I need them to. And there is enough space for me with room to move, room to store things, and room to decorate and make it my own. I have lived here for six years and I definitely consider it my sacred sanctuary.
I have never been one to understand or claim to be good at knowing how to decorate a living space. My twin sister has always been so much better at that than I ever was. I remember when we were growing up, I would walk into her bedroom and she would be rearranging things and changing around the furniture, and every time, no matter what change she made, her room always had a transformational and very good vibe to it. Then I would walk back into my bedroom, which never changed because I didn’t even know where to start, and it just had a constricted and lifeless feeling to it. I feel like she understood how to manipulate space in a really efficient and magical way. And I think people either have that gift or they don’t. I am much better at 2-dimensional beauty. That is my gift. I’m a visual artist and 2-D flat surfaces make sense to me. I can create a world of wonder on a flat space. But add that third dimension and I’m really lost. So, living in my own space, I have had to learn how to make it beautiful. And what I have learned first and foremost, is that if there is little or no art hanging on the walls, it’s a dead space.
Every time a person comes into my apartment for the first time, they always have the same reaction. They stand in the entry way and stop. Then their eyes begin to move around the whole space, slowly scanning and taking it all in. They are always silent for a few moments and on occasion, I even notice a mouth agape. I’m not exactly sure why everyone has the same reaction, but I’ve been told that my place has very good energy, is very “me,” and looks cozy and inviting. And I agree. And I do believe it’s because I have literally covered almost every spare space of my walls with some 2-dimensional object of beauty, some work of art.
I think most people have figured out that hanging artwork makes a space look better. But I think it’s important to distinguish here, the difference between good and horrid artwork. And I’m not opening up a discussion about what is good art and what is bad art. That is a completely different topic. I’m just talking about what kind of art works in a space and what kind doesn’t. I believe there is a really clear distinction and I am speaking from (at least semi-) professional experience.
I understand not everyone has a background in art and not everyone knows what looks good and what doesn’t. And I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to know. You don’t need to be an art expert. You don’t even need to have good taste, honestly. But what you do need to pay attention to is what you like, and what is meaningful to you. The rest will take care of itself, I promise you.
I was once in someone’s living space and the bones were so good. The space was really beautiful and sophisticated. But the artwork hanging on the walls ruined the space completely for me. It was so obvious that the artwork was kind of an afterthought, something that they knew they had to do in order to make the space look lived in. But there was no thoughtful approach, and it felt so cold to me. The artwork was very corporate, very overproduced, and didn’t have any emotion or high energy to it. I get depressed thinking about it. All I’m saying is, it’s important to spend time on the artwork you choose for your space, rather than consider it something like a final touch. It’s not. If anything, it makes more sense to decorate your space according to a piece of art that inspires you. Either way, don’t dismiss this part of decorating. I believe it’s the key.
I was lucky enough to work in a gallery that did framing and artwork selection for high-end clients, and when I left this job, I took advantage of the discount framing they offered to their employees. But even if you don’t have this kind of gift, here is the simplest way to start, and this is absolutely essential. This is what the high-end interior designers that I used to work with did, and it’s what I have learned to do. Look for artwork that you love looking at, that is meaningful to you, and purchase it in poster form. First WARNING: It’s best to stay away from famous works of art, because anyone will know that it’s a reproduction, and that is distracting and a bit tacky (sorry). You can go to a simple site like Art.com and order a poster for anywhere from $15-$50.
The key to making your space look snazzy is all in the framing of the artwork, and that is where you should invest more of your time and money. These days, websites like the one I mentioned above, actually offer framing services and will ship you the final framed piece. This is fine to do, but you might save some money on shipping (glass and wooden frames are very heavy and shipping costs can add up fast) by ordering the poster first, and waiting until you get it to see if you like it. Then take it to your local frame shop and have it framed there. Michael’s or any other arts and crafts store will do just fine, nothing fancy.
A very important tip on framing. Please listen to me here, and just do as I say. It looks more professional and more sophisticated if you have a mat with your frame. And the only kind of mat that ever looks good is white or cream. It doesn’t matter what color or shade the work of art is. A white mat looks better. Black mats or colored mats are not the way to go. There are some exceptions of course, but for starters, for now, please just trust me. If you want to get extra fancy, you can do something like a double-mat (you can choose a color mat if you must for the underlying mat, or you can add a metal fillet for some extra flare, but the cost adds up with these extra additions and they aren’t exactly necessary). The person at the frame shop will show you lots of options, but they don’t always know what looks good, trust me.
Here is an example of something really unique and sophisticated. Note the bright white mat and a simple frame.
This image is from Art.com. Unfortunately, this particular piece is only available in a giclée print, which gets really pricey as you go up in size (16” x 22” is $189). Giclée is basically a fancy word for high resolution printing, but don’t be intimidated. These days I think this process is mostly used to trick people into spending more money. A poster quality image will look just as good and you will save so much money. But if you love an image and they only have it available in giclée, go for it. It will look amazing. It just annoys me how outrageous the prices are. You can also always go to an old record store or a place where they still sell posters, and get something there. Imagine how bad ass Mick Jagger would look hanging in your bathroom!
This is from Art.com as well and it’s a poster, looking just as great as a giclée print. This is a larger format, 24” x 30” and only costs $229.99 for the whole thing, including framing. So, you get a larger finished piece, which looks more striking on your walls and covers more space, for less money. Fab!
This is a process that might take some time. Take your time choosing a poster and make sure it’s one that represents you, one that you love. Don’t worry about whether or not it goes with the space. Colors don’t need to match. It’s artwork and it’s supposed to stand out. And then take your time with the framing. Each piece of artwork that you frame could cost a few hundred dollars, so if you’re like me, it would be way too much to get multiple pieces framed all at once. It’s a process that takes some time, and you can continue to beautify your home piece by piece, in a meaningful way.
I also recommend doing things like getting your old family photos professionally framed. Or, if you are lucky enough to have a friend who is an artist, or if you are a creative person yourself, don’t be bashful about hanging your artwork on the wall, and most definitely don’t hesitate to hang your friend’s artwork on the wall. It means something and that is what is really important. That is what conjures that “good vibe” feeling in a space. It gives it that “je ne sais quoi” energy that is palpable. Some of my favorite pieces are works of art or objects that someone gave to me, that I could never again find in any store.
But again, make sure you put thought into the framing. This makes all the difference. The only time you can get away without using a frame, is if you have a canvas that is gallery wrapped. Second and final WARNING: This can start to look really cheesy, really fast, if the work of art is not original. So, don’t let anyone convince you to get a reproduction of a work of art, giclée printed on canvas, and gallery wrapped (This means that the canvas stretcher bars are thicker than normal (1 ½”) and the artwork extends around the edges so it looks finished and complete and can hold its own without any frame). That is the thing now that everyone does and it’s really horrid. Please trust me on this also. Just please don’t do it. Stick with investing the time in shopping for cheap artwork that you love, getting it framed simply and cleanly with a bright mat and proper glass, and go from there, one piece at a time.
As most goddesses know, our living space represents us. It’s the place we retire to after we have had a full and taxing day. We want to feel nurtured and loved and surrounded by beauty in our living space. It’s totally fine if it takes time to learn how to get it exactly as beautiful as you want it, without having to spend tons of money to do this. It’s worth taking the time. It’s worth surrounding ourselves with meaningful objects and beautiful things. It feeds our goddess souls and inspires us in so many ways. Good luck and let me know how it goes!
Here are some of my humble and meaningful pieces…
This “be” mirror is a beautiful object from my grandmother’s house that I remember loving as a child. Even though it’s not artwork, it is original and has meaning to me, and is probably my favorite piece of all. It hangs in my bathroom along with other framed old family photos.
The small item on the left is a porcelain little dish that I purchased at a gallery for $15. I thought it was beautiful and figured I could find some way to hang it. I just used unassuming nails to hold it in place. The large photograph around the corner is another meaningful piece, an image of my photography class, freshman year in college. My father was generous enough to get this professionally framed for me one year for Christmas. This does not have a mat but a large enough piece can get away without a mat if the frame is simple and bold and if the piece is large enough.
This is an example of a poster that I chose because I LOVED it (it’s an image of a chalk drawing of an elephant). Then I had it professionally framed with a kick ass thick frame, a plain white mat, and a little metal fillet on the inner lip, just to make it look extra snazzy. I hung it in my ridiculously tiny kitchen and it looks fantastic in there. He keeps me company when I’m washing dishes.