By Cindy Dampier, Chicago Tribune
October 1, 2013
David Staten can tell you what to hang over your sofa.
After all, it's a common question from customers who purchase furniture from Room & Board, where Staten is the Chicago visual manager, responsible for dressing stores in a way that invites people to feel at home — and want their own homes to look a little more like Staten's creation. But he's more likely to answer the ageless sofa/ art dilemma with a question of his own: What do you think you should hang over the sofa?
"You should never come into a store and just transfer that look to your home," he says. "You have to remember you need a unique feel. I often advise clients on how to put it all together, and I'm always reminding them that you want to be evoking a memory of some kind when you are in your home. Images can do that — if you've been on a vacation, traveled places, you can find things or images that remind you of those trips. Your home is you — pull things out, get them in frames and start playing with it."
In spite of his job in the retail world, Staten's design philosophy centers around personalization, much of it focused on what goes on the walls. The interplay between his own home (a classic, cozy Chicago apartment) and the stores he works in reveals how his skill at creating a sense of place translates to a collected, distinct interior. And, though he can't help you with a hard-and-fast rule about what to hang over the sofa, he does have plenty of advice to share on how to get that collected look at your house.
Use mulitples: "When we are looking for art for a showroom, we are looking for things that will produce a big impact or that we can hang in multiples," he says. Store designers achieve those big bold walls of nine or 12 framed images by sourcing from printed material — keeping to a limited budget. "We love art books," Staten says, "because there might be a series of useable images there. And calendars are the best. In fact, each year when a new crop of calendars comes out, we trade information among the designers about which ones have the best images. If you find a good calendar, you automatically get 12 useable images." If a book or other printed source can't be cut apart for framing, Staten will turn to an old standby: "Sometimes I have to go to photocopies. I was antiquing in Wisconsin and I found a whole collection of sketches from Art Institute students — I bought them all. But I loved them so much, I had to keep them. So I photocopied them to use in the store, but the originals are hanging in my hallway at home!"
Find some original art: Staten's caveat, once you've saved money by framing prints from art books: ""If you have some things that are prints or even from books or photocopies, be sure to hang some original pieces, too. They will elevate everything to give you that collected look."
Try a ledge: "Ledges create an instant art gallery," says Staten. "You can keep curating and creating an ever-changing mix.
Add faces: "I love to mix in people. Faces are important — they add life and movement. In my house, I love to walk by and see my mom and dad's wedding photo. It gives a personal feeling that you may not have otherwise." Which is not to encourage you to put up an unedited glut of framed family photos. Instead, explore how a few of those shots can be used in more interesting ways. "If you have photos of your parents wearing crazy fashion," Staten says, "try blowing them up or doing a crop that only shows a partial face —You don't have to live with a 4-by-6. You still know it's them, but instead of looking like a family photo, it holds its own as art."
Play with color: You can use art to add subtle color. If you're a neutrals person, it's ok to have the only color in the house be the artwork.
Remove the mat: Consider taking the mat off a framed piece and allowing the image to go all the way to the edges of the frame. "It can make the piece instantly more graphic," says Staten.
Include a sketch: "Use something with a less-than-perfect line to give you that organic feel, the feeling that you can see a human hand at work. Iconic design sketches or plans are a really fun way in to design, and lend themselves to framing. Phaidon has a series of design classics books that I've used again and again."
Go organic: "There's nothing wrong with a grid, but you don't need to buy all 8-by-10 verticals and create a strict arrangement," says Staten.."A change and a subtle contrast can be more engaging and warmer. Because you are composing the shape of the arrangement yourself, it can fill any wall space. Choose what you love and what evokes a feeling — there doesn't need to be a strict theme."
Reference your city or place: "Giving a nod to the place you're in, or the architecture of your home, grounds the design. It's also fun to reference the city or town you grew up in."
Blow it up: "I use FastSigns a lot to print really huge versions of images. It's instantly dramatic to hang one large piece. You need a variety of sizes to make any space work, but hanging one huge piece is a great way to get impact."
Use different frames: Once they're on the wall, frames become part of the piece of art. "Use them to evoke your own style," says Staten. "Mix modern with old , which keeps a house feeling younger and fresher. Rework your own things. One classic trick: mix an old school black and white image with a silver metal frame, it's instant design.
Explore your own stuff: "You probably have so much artwork in your house that you've never hung," Staten says. "You can do so much just at the drugstore these days, with photo printing in all kinds of sizes, and you can scan in images and crop them online. If you have old childrens' books, get on Amazon and find another book to add images from, and you have a collection of artwork. You could run your family photos through filters in a photo program and create your own Warhol." Bottom line? "Don't be afraid," he says. "At the end of the day, it's just a nail hole."
Staten looks for calendars at Calendars.com
Used bookstores are a great place to look – I go for 50s and 60s art books, books on fashion, rock n roll, architecture. You can't go wrong with any of those.
You may not want art from a book but don't forget other art resources: the Edgewater Antiques Mall in Chicago has great things, but any antique store or thrift store can be a place to find vintage art. And when you mix in those more ornate or vintage frames with the simple, modern ones it makes all the pieces seem more interesting.
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