The most dynamic and livable interiors include artworks and collections. They are not confined to furnishings of any singular look or period combining personal pieces and art works that vary in period, shape, form, color or culture and arranging them harmoniously creates interest, timelessness and in some cases a bit of whimsy. Interiors are deeply personal and by layering artwork and collections tell the stories of the people who inhabit them. J. Banks Design Founder and President, Joni Vanderslice , includes the following chapter in her monograph, Southern Coastal Living.
“Paintings, photographs, and objects – our artworks and collections – are the final touches of any home. I believe that all these pieces should have meaning to the homeowner rather than including them just because the colors are right. When these pieces express where we come from, where we’ve been, how we think and what we enjoy, they tell our story. Some may be serious and significant works, while others are likely to be more casual and informal—those mementos and items of whimsy that we love because they make us smile. I like to pair them together, often side by side, or show them as a curated collection. This not only creates visual interest and gives the eye relief but also helps to tell a personal tale.
Purely from a design standpoint, it is critical to place works of art and collections strategically. If the decision is to stack the artworks, then stack them. Grouping like objects together can draw the eye and heighten their impact. Random arrangements do little for the individual pieces and even less for the overall room. My rule for placement is straightforward: the eye naturally moves across the room within a definite range of heights. That comfort zone remains fairly constant whether we’re standing or sitting, so I try to place all the major elements and art pieces within it. Finding that level is key. If the heights are too widely varied—if there is too much up and down—the eye has to work too hard and registers only clutter and confusion.
In my home, all the artworks and collections have meaning. My collections of blue-and-white porcelain and tartan ware are a part of who I am, where I come from, and where I have traveled. My Herend figurines speak directly to my love of animals. I find them charming and delicate, and I always display them as a group for greater impact. I occasionally select several to include as part of the table décor for dinner parties because they invariably make my guests smile, and me as well. My trove of antique children’s chairs, gathered on buying trips abroad, gives me great delight: they remind me of my daughters’ childhoods and are uniquely beautiful in themselves, yet still function as intended, which my godchildren and my nieces’ children have proved happily over the years. Then there are the wonderful Kente cloths and other objects found on our visits to Africa for our beloved Valentine Project mission work.
There is one painting in particular, by Texas-based artist Donna Howell-Sickles, which I feel illustrates my point perfectly. When I first saw Donna’s work at a gallery in Aspen, we were working on the One Steamboat Place project. The painting, quite simply, just made me happy. As I looked harder at her pieces, I realized that she was the first artist I had seen who painted women not as pretty objects to be admired but smiling and in control of something. Her central figure, always a woman, might have a bull by the horns, for example. In ours, she holds the reins of a horse. And she wears cowboy boots. There is a dog that represents her guardian angel; a red moon, which indicates fertility; and a river. In other words, the painting is full of symbolism that feels deeply personal to me. The way my woman holds the reins is very much in my mind how my father saw me. He always told me that I could do anything I wanted to do, and that I could run any business. “Just grow, grab it and go,” he would say. He rode horses and wore cowboy boots for every occasion. And, of course, we love dogs, and we live on the water. So, I fell in love with Donna’s work. My husband bought this painting for me for when we moved into this house (during the design phase, we had created a special spot for it to hang proudly.) Later, Donna and I met, and we are still in touch”.