In Home Style Tips

How to choose art for your home (according to my great-grandmother)

how to choose art for your home

When it comes to choosing art for your home, you have two choices: do what everybody else is doing or dare to be different.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Plus, how do you know that piece is The One?

This guide features the best tips from an unlikely expert in the field. Read below to discover who am I talking about…

Choosing art for your home is it one of the biggest decoration decisions you’ll make

how to choose art for your home

Eternal sales, irresistible offers, seasonal collections… The home decor industry is adopting the fast-paced consumerist nature of the fashion industry. This means good design is now more democratic and accessible than ever. The downside is the short lifespan of products due to quality and trend-focussed design.

As in fashion, however, some things are timeless — diamonds are forever. The interiors equivalent is art. You don’t change art with passing trends. It’s always part of your home. You can rearrange it, reframe it, but it always has a proud place to be displayed. That’s why it’s an important decision to make. And one that shouldn’t be taken in a rush.

Choosing art for your home is a whole different level above accessories or even large furniture items. Whatever your budget, there are several key points to consider. Today I’m sharing five tips to make it easier for you. First, we need to talk about how this blog post idea came about. I may have to create a new category called “Weird & Wonderful”.

How this blog post idea came about

My Google Docs folder is full of potential blog post ideas I’ve been accumulating for a while. A few make it to the blog and others become newsletter articles (exclusive to subscribers *awkward wink*). One of them is “choosing art for your home”, as requested by Susan from @lazysusanmakes. But I never got to cover it.

A severe lack of inspiration hit me recently. One night, I went to bed thinking about all the possible subjects to write about. It was bothering me. “Have I run out of ideas?” I wondered. Well, let’s just say that night I had a dream. It was strange, vivid and highly educational. I dreamt about my late great-grandmother. And she had a lot to say…

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Suddenly there I was, in her huge Madrid apartment. In real life, it’s a 50s block, but in my dream, it was Art déco for some reason. As a true Juan Sandiego dream, she even showed me the architect’s original plans to prove it. Anyway, I was admiring her art and antique collection when she turned around and approached me. She was wearing soft walking shoes — her mobility was impressive.

“Are you into art? Come, I’ll show you the best dealers in town.”

You bet! We visited several art dealers, and she shared a myriad of tips and advice. It was bizarre. There were inconsistencies, though. All the shops and galleries in Madrid had Georgian bow windows. And the streets looked too much like Diagon Alley…

We need to talk about my great-grandmother

boreal abode how to choose are for your home mamama

My great-grandmother’s name was Maria Luisa, but everybody called her Mamama. Argentinian-born, she lived to the grand age of one hundred and five. I always ask my family “What’s her secret for such a long life?” Apparently, it’s money and not having to work. She lived a good life indeed. Travelling all over the world, back in the day, before mass tourism.

And now, thanks to an unexpected dream visit, we can all learn from her experiences choosing art. Yes, all this knowledge may have been buried in my head already. But it was Mamama who unlocked it all. Besides, these tips definitely bring her unique personality infused via dream waves. Let’s have a look then.

How to choose art for your home (according to my great-grandmother)

Here are Mamama’s golden tips to pick the best art for your home. These guidelines will help you break the preconceptions of what you should or shouldn’t buy.

1.- Become a storyteller

how to choose art for your home

Mamama’s apartment was full of treasures. Travelling was one her passions and wherever she went she snapped her fingers and brought home a souvenir or two. I’m not talking about a tote bag and a fridge magnet, but old-school artisanal souvenirs. Paintings, furniture, accessories… Every piece is connected to a location and a moment in time — it’s a memory.

If an art piece catches your eye is for a reason. Maybe it reminds you of someone or somewhere. There’s a link to an experience. This link is essential. Although it doesn’t have to be in the past. Perhaps you’re curious about the piece itself or fascinated by an artist you’ve never heard of.

There is a story to be told if you feel a connection with art. Mamama said something like “If you can talk about it for ten minutes then buy it”. To be honest, she used to talk a lot about shopping and was good at it. So next time you’re browsing around for art think: is there a link? And if so, what story does the piece tell?

2.- Do what they say you can’t

“Mamama, you can’t cross the road here. Use the zebra crossing further down.” Nope. Off she went, crossing the busy four-lane avenue slowly. “They’ll stop” she used to say. If you asked Mamama to do something she’d do the opposite. I’m certain she couldn’t care less if you didn’t like her art or antique purchases.

Black and white supermodel photography prints are hot right now. If I told Mamama about it she’d look at me with evil eyes and walk away dramatically — slowly, but dramatically. The temptation to do what everybody else is doing is considerable. We want to be part of something. We want to belong. Here, social media is both a blessing and a curse.

She was never one to follow trends. Her apartment was a mixture of old brown furniture with a couple of mid-century modern items and exotic decor. Today, she’d be the queen of eclectic maximalism — and Marie Kondo’s worst nightmare. With art, you want to follow your own rules (and Mamama’s). If it ticks all your boxes, it will last forever.

3.- Extremes are a good thing

Mamama was a woman of contrasts and that reflected in her home decor choices. One day she’d come back from her travels with a massive engraved room divider from China. And another day with a little framed landscape picture from Brazil. How she managed to travel with a room divider I’ll never know. But let’s not forget she was good at giving orders.

When it comes to finding the right art piece for your home you have to think outside the box. A picture on the wall is a classic choice. Don’t stop there though. Try different mediums and scales: from delicate table-top ceramic sculptures to oversized patterned tapestries. There are many ways in which you can enrich a room. And nowadays we have worldwide delivery.

STYLE TIP: “If you like a piece of art, don’t buy it. If you love it, don’t buy it. If you can talk about it for ten minutes, then buy it.” — Mamama

4.- “Safe” art is your enemy

how to choose art for your home

I took my family to Tate Modern a while back and my grandfather found it difficult to digest the permanent collection. In front of a Rothko painting, he exclaimed: “I can do that!” We all rolled our eyes in unison. It turns out your art preferences are linked to your lifestyle views. Does it mean we’re predisposed to like some things instead of others?

Art has to make you wonder, you don’t have to like it at first. See, we’re used to using opposites all the time. “Love it!” versus “Oh, I hate that!” When we look at art, we run the piece through our filters and come out with a conclusion based on good/bad or love/hate options. If you rely on this, you’ll end up with safe and predictable choices.

Instead, avoid using such tags when you’re choosing art. Observe it. How does it make you feel? That’s what you’re looking for, the feeling. Try to translate that feeling into your room. It doesn’t have to be a happy sunny vibe all time. Think about those films that make you sad. Just because they make you feel down doesn’t mean you don’t love those films.

5.- Put quality over quantity

One of my most precious possessions is a translucent glass Art déco ashtray depicting an Amazon. Possibly French but, really, I have no idea. It was Mamama’s and somehow it ended up in my hands. The glass is beautifully carved and catches the light creating an iridescent pattern — hypnotising. And I’m talking about an ashtray! Quality was one of Mamama’s top priorities.

“Can you sell it in ten years?” Here’s another Mamama gem. This point stresses her focus on quality over quantity. We all agree those prints downloaded from Google Images are not the pinnacle of art. Always invest in something you’ll be proud of for life — not a season. Whether you’re looking to spend thousands or fifty pounds, there is something out there for you.

STYLE TIP: No budget for art? Then do it yourself! There is no right or wrong. Source the materials and get experimenting today.

What’s your best tip to choose art for your home?

Hope you found Mamama’s expert tips useful. As you can see, there is no specific advice to be given for choosing art. Now you know the guidelines that will help you open to new ideas. The actual pieces you pick depend on you. And if in doubt, think: what would Mamama do?

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16 Comments

  1. Jumi Awomosu- The School of Artful Living
    3 weeks ago

    Sometimes I wonder if you and I are the same person! It’s like you are writing exactly what I am thinking about at the time! Your thoughts and the way you write are so in tune with my own! It’s interesting too because as you know I have started creating and experimenting with my own art… and there is a sense that often abstract art is deemed to be less than… by some who may not entirely understand it. When I think about the likes of Picasso, Basquiat and those types of artists.. the ones who can draw very well but choose to paint in an abstract manner I can truly identify with this… so much opportunity to express emotion through colour marks and symbolism within the work! Juan! Another great read and love your warm and engaging style of writing! xxx

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 weeks ago

      Thank you for your comment, Jumi! I thought about you when I was writing this blog post. And you’re absolutely right! Not many people know Picasso was classically trained. But he followed his passion to do something unique. So glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply
  2. Jumi Awomosu
    3 weeks ago

    Love that you thought of me whilst writing this! Now I feel special 🙂

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 weeks ago

      I’m a follower of your journey, Jumi 🙂

      Reply
  3. Mary Middleton | Hellopeagreen.com
    3 weeks ago

    oh, Juan, this is a subject I’m onboard with. I’m a firm believer with art that you should love it, and if you do, you’ll find a lovely place for it in your home. It shouldn’t be about fashion or having lots of things on your walls because a magazine said you should. I now try and save up for original art where I can, I find the Brighton Open artist trail and the Saatchi Other Art Fair a really good source. As is travelling, I have a beautiful painting of a tree tunnel I picked up in Cornwall and a linocut from Berlin. Love love love this post

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 weeks ago

      Thank you for your comment, Mary! And thanks for sharing your tips of where to find art. That tree tunnel painting sounds dreamy! I’m so happy you like the blog post.

      Reply
  4. Victoria - The Bold Place
    3 weeks ago

    Juan, your great grandmother sounds fabulous. And how wonderful she’s giving you blog inspiration in your dreams! Buying art can be so scary – the pressure to get it right. Thank you for these great tips!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 weeks ago

      Thank you for your comment, Victoria! I look forward to updating the blog post with a few photos of Mamama when I visit Madrid soon. Glad you liked the blog post!

      Reply
  5. Sue Rowe
    3 weeks ago

    Thanks for this Juan. Your Mamama sounds like quite a character! Lots of good ideas here.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 weeks ago

      Thank you for your comment, Sue! I’m glad you found it useful. General tips are more valuable as we all have different tastes.

      Reply
  6. Lynn
    3 weeks ago

    Great tips from Mamama, can you sell it in 10 years is my favourite and probably applies to furniture as well.
    Marie Kando!!! Never heard of her until this post, she makes Anthea Turner (bring back Perfect Housewife) look absolutely slovenly!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 weeks ago

      Thank you for your comment, Lynn! Glad you like Mamama’s tips. Don’t get too obsessed with Marie Kondo or you’ll end up with no stuff, hehe.

      Reply
  7. Irene
    3 weeks ago

    Me ha encantado el post! No tenía ni idea de que mamama dijera ese pequeño tip de arte. Ya sabes que en mi casa tengo un montón de sus recuerdos.¡ Qué gran mujer! Enhorabuena por el blog!!! Un abrazo muy fuerte

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 weeks ago

      ¡Gracias, Irene! Di tu que las frases son las que dijo Mamama en mis sueño. Pero son muy Mamama.

      Reply
  8. Meera
    3 weeks ago

    I would’ve loved your Mamama if I’d known her, she sounds like my kind of lady! Fiesty and knew her mind, and I love what you said about the secret to her long life being money and not having to work, haha! I couldn’t agree more with all this advice about buying art. I tend to stay well away from popular, trendy art… when everyone and their mother owns the same thing, it totally loses its charm for me. I am anti-trend, and believe in art that makes me feel something. Unfortunately for me though, art like this is also priced too heftily for my pocket. I recently enquired about a Harland Miller piece that speaks volumes to me – $58,000!! 😵

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 weeks ago

      Thank you for your comment, Meera! Glad you like Mamama’s view on art. You’re right, art now has been split into actual art and “trendy” art that comes and goes with the seasons. And I hear you regarding the Miller piece. My dreams of owning an original Frank Stella May not happen in this life, haha.

      Reply

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