Art isn’t just this thing that gets hung up on walls. Sometimes it defines the wall and turns it into a space that’s beyond a mere boundary. Or sometimes the wall itself is art. Whatever the scenario, what’s clear is that art occupies an important space in a person’s home and can be as integral to its interior design as the furniture, colours and textiles.
To artist and Mr. Sign founder, Dave Arnold, art can too often occupy too much presence in a home.
“My feeling is that it shouldn’t distract from the space, it should enhance the space,” he said. “If you walk into a room and the art really dominates, in my opinion, it’s because the rest of the room has not really been addressed. Not much thought has gone into colours, furniture, paints and rugs.”
Perhaps best known for having created the logo for Grumman ‘78, the famed Montreal-based taco truck empire, Arnold’s day job often has him contemplating exteriors, where much of his signage has its impact. But not surprisingly, the core is still down to the business’s insides.
“I spend a lot of time trying to understand the style of the client,” he said. “Usually it comes from the interiors, then I try to reflect that on the exterior of a building with limited imagery and lettering, to communicate the feeling you’ll get when you go inside.”
It’s why the nature of the space the art will live in matters. You might not want aggressive and brazen colours for a space that’s meant to feel cozy and familiar, but those very things might be suitable for a club or venue that wants shocking, surprising visuals to be part of the experience.
“What’s the function of the room?” Arnold asks. “Does it make people feel comfortable, energized? You can create those emotions by having different types of artwork.”
Artist André Monet believes these choices start from the heart. Known for his celebrity portraiture that combines mosaics, collages and painting — he was notably commissioned by London’s Opera Gallery to make a portrait of Will and Kate for their royal wedding — Monet wants to get in the head of the collector before getting into their home.
“If I’m creating a portrait of John Lennon, I try to get in the mind of a Beatles fan,” he said.
He also knows that many collectors will take a work of his and build their room around it once they take it home.
“For most people who buy my work, it’s love at first sight. In other cases, it’s driven by interior design,” he explained. “I prefer love because I also surround myself with objects I have an emotional connection with.”
In his home, Monet hangs some of his own works and a few treasures he has acquired from his circle of artistic friends. He admits his home isn’t designed around art because he and his wife have children, and that’s the primary focus of their home’s function. Just the same, the art that’s there plays an important role in the kids’ lives.
“When one of my children was a little over a year old, he became fascinated with a particular work,” Monet said. “Now, when they see more works, they’re always impressed. I love seeing their interest in it.”
The founder, director, publisher and curator of Mile End’s Galerie Youn, Juno Youn shares Monet’s thoughts on how to build your home around art.
“Art should never be treated as an object to meet a design need,” he said. “It has to speak to your soul and connect with you in some kind of genuine way… (some people) think art should match their furniture or shapes, but that is a totally wrong way to start. I would suggest to pick your favourite art first, and build your décor from there.”
As a result, Youn sometimes has to turn away interior designers or condo buyers looking to collect art for homes.
“They’re not looking for unique pieces, but rather commercial multiples and purely decorative works,” he said. “That’s not why I do what I do.”
Focusing instead on originals, Youn loves adding joy to someone’s life. So when some of his patrons send him photos post-purchase of the art in their home, it warms his heart.
But what if a home was entirely decorated with art? Youn thinks that would be beautiful. Imagine a table made of conceptual art, or pieces created by artists who collaborate with furniture designers.
As it happens, the Montreal-based Claste collective manages to combine art and furniture design in a way that’s entirely unique. Consisting of a trio that includes Quinlan Osborne, Martin Poitras and Philip Hazan, Claste’s furnishings are bold statement pieces.
Sleek barely begins to cover it. Many of the pieces in Claste’s collection are made of marble and glass, which can sometimes give off a kind of floating effect that’s immediately offset by the hard, firm stone.
This paradox is part of what Osborne refers to as the inherent “tension” in the body of Claste’s work. It’s also meant to shift your perspective on the furnishing, depending on where it’s positioned, or what angle you’re looking at it from.
“How the perception of fragility or stability affects someone’s experience of the normally mundane act of sitting, or how an object’s solidity dissolves as it is viewed from different vantages are all part of the intimacy elicited by tension, in a similar way to the role of the cantilever in architecture or a walk across a glass bridge,” Osborne explained. “The result is the addition of an emotion that both enhances and transforms the experience of the everyday into something just a little more interesting.”
The use of marble and glass is also part of that experience, in that the former evokes something regal and noble from the past, while glass’s transparency speaks more closely to contemporary design. Modernity also influences Claste’s form, since they’re often designing with the new home in mind.
“People have decidedly left the traditional country manor behind and are now firmly rooted in their luxury condos, and in doing so, space has replaced excess as the new symbol of opulence and success,” Osborne said. “As a result, private collections are becoming more curated and selective, where every element within a space is exposed and required to be as much an expression of the expanse around it as it is about the nature of the object itself.”
At the same time, newer spaces like luxury condo units are often smaller, which makes it easy to favour a minimalist style. Because there’s less space for traditionally hung art, what Osborne calls “collectible design” can step in and become a reflection of a dweller’s curative process.
“What collectible design has done is created a genre that is often perceived as very expensive furnishings, but I believe is better understood if seen as affordable art,” Osborne explained. “These pieces are often very large in scale compared to similarly-priced sculpture and paintings, and therefore will have a big impact on the look and feel of a home.”
And that look and feel isn’t something merely thrown together anymore. Each choice is deliberate, the result of much care and thought, granting homeowners a larger stake in their space, while conveying to their lucky guests, “come in, this is me …”