5 Interior Design Ideas for Inexpensive Art
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5 Interior Design Ideas for Inexpensive Art

From wall rugs to framed memories, interior designers share their low-cost alternatives.

By Elizabeth Anne Hartman
Thu, Sep 2, 2021Grey Clock 3 min

TURNS OUT you can improve the way you feel by lazily staring at nicely decorated walls. “Incorporating art and colour into your home design will have a positive impact on your mood and overall health,” said Jessica Shaw of New York’s Turett Collaborative architecture and design firm, citing studies from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And the nerve-calming wall installation doesn’t have to be a 19th-century Arcadian masterpiece. It can be baskets, even an array of hats. “It’s authenticity that counts,” Ms. Shaw said. “What is that thing for you? What gives you a hit of dopamine or serotonin? If a collection of old Levi’s is a genuine reflection of you, go ahead and frame them.” Other substitutes for pricey artwork: a group of trip mementos, a public-domain photograph that reflects your obsession with katydids. Here, design pros offer their favourite low-cost alternatives to an Alice Neel original.

Frame a Freebie Photo

Put your tax dollars to work for your décor. You can get copyright-free or public-domain images from the wide-ranging collections of public and federally funded institutions such as the Library of Congress and NASA. For an amateur photographer’s Brooklyn townhouse, local designer Lauren Stern printed and framed this shot of the far side of the moon taken by Arizona State University’s telescope. “Really large and graphic pieces can be hard to find, but photographs can be enlarged to any size.” High resolution is a must, she warned. Find university image collections through the institution’s home page.

Don’t Let Carpets Lie Like Rugs

Scrolling through Etsy, Austin designer Sarah Stacey spotted this large, colourful Boucherouite rug for $400 that perfectly fit the upbeat atmosphere of a small home about to welcome a baby. The plush Moroccan rag rug played well with the punchy pinks and blues of the living room furniture. From geometric Mexican carpets to English needlepoint rugs, you can find a style to suit pretty much any room. Against a large-patterned wallpaper, try a small-patterned rug that will complement rather than compete. For a less-casual room, select a tighter weave. (For inexpensive Moroccan rugs, try the clearance tab on benisouk.com)

Bundle Baskets

“Multidimensional installations are a great way to customize a space,” said Andrea DeRosa, co-founder of Avenue Interior Design in Los Angeles. Try black and beige baskets against a beige wall, said Genna Margolis, owner of L.A.’s Shapeside design studio. “The black really pops.” Or “go with the overall aesthetic,” advised fellow Angeleno Christine Markatos Lowe. In a tropical home, she hung these finely woven Indonesian versions over an equally elegant and organic rattan bench. Ten Thousand Villages sells baskets handmade in developing countries.

Tack Up a Table Runner

Textiles on a wall not only stand in well for expensive art, they add coziness, noted Kathleen Rubin, owner of interior design studio Room Is Blue, in Austin, Texas. Recently she discovered these table runners designed by Tabria Willford, founder of local textile company Tawa Threads, and block-printed by hand by a family in India. “Tabria’s runners, with their bold patterns and colours, can make a big impact if you hang several of them—framed or unframed.” (approx. $80 each, tawathreads.com) Like rugs, table runners can be found in myriad styles, from antique Aubusson tapestries to geometric linen patchworks. For unusual finds, Ms. Rubin recommends trolling online artisanal retailers.

Repurpose a Memento

“Art that engages is the best kind of art,” said Los Angeles designer Amy Sklar. After stumbling upon a journal her husband had diligently kept at age 10, she singled out a particularly charming page, then had it enlarged, professionally photographed and framed—and gave it to him as an anniversary gift (shown). “My kids think it’s hysterical, and it’s become a conversation piece,” she said. And you needn’t only draw from your own history. In Philadelphia, Melinda Kelson O’Connor framed the original blueprints of a 1910s home. “If you don’t have blueprints from your own home, you can choose a vintage set to hang, selecting from a housing type or historic time period that interests you,” she said. For example, a high-resolution image of Gustave Eiffel’s plans for the iconic Paris tower, published in 1900, can be licensed from Getty Images for approx. $677.


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