If you look closely at the rooms featured in chic interior design magazines, you’ll soon see what they all have in common: Art. Whether it’s hanging on the walls or displayed on the mantle, it’s there, providing instant class, style and sophistication to the space.

If you look closely at the rooms featured in chic interior design magazines, you’ll soon see what they all have in common: Art. Whether it’s hanging on the walls or displayed on the mantle, it’s there, providing instant class, style and sophistication to the space.

But isn’t the world of art really best left to museums and expensive interior decorators? No way. Selecting artwork for your home doesn’t have to be some wild goose-chase that ends with you writing a five-digit check. While wealthy, naturally art-loving folks arguably have an easier time navigating the art-buying process, if you’re not well-versed in all things art, you can still find something perfect (and affordable) for that blank space in the hallway.

John Paul, the owner of the Kenneth Paul Gallery in Des Moines, Iowa, has helped his customers find and customize artwork for their homes since 1986. According to Paul, the less-knowledgeable prospective art buyers need not fear the process.
“We first have [clients] browse through the gallery to see if they have an interest in any of the artists or style of art we have on display,” Paul says. “This gives us an idea of what they might like so we can show them other pieces by that artist or other artists with similar styles. Our goal is to find something that our customer will enjoy for years to come.”

And chances are good that if you spend way more than you thought you would on that cute painting of a fruit bowl, you might not love it quite as much as you thought you would initially. “We first determine the customer’s budget,” Paul says. “If the customer is interested in investing in a piece of fine art that can have some appreciative value in years to come, we show them originals or limited-edition pieces. If they’re not concerned about future appreciative value of the art then we show them open edition lithographs.” Paul notes that for people who don’t care if their art is an instant family heirloom, the reprint versions of originals are 100% acceptable.

The monetary side of the art buying process is usually the easiest part. What’s harder to assess for gallery owners is an individual’s taste – especially when the individual doesn’t have the first clue about what that taste actually is. Luckily, since art is so subjective, most people can see a series of paintings or sculptures and select one they like better than the rest, even if they can’t explain why. This gives both client and gallery owner the direction they need.

“I never set out to buy a piece of art,” says Michelle Fire, restaurateur, former gallery owner and avid art collector. “The art will pull me and I feel like I need to have it in my life – and I prioritize things so I can make that happen.” At both Big Chicks and Tweet, Fire’s bar and restaurant spaces on Chicago’s north side, dozens of photographs, paintings, collages, prints and sculptures fill the interiors. For Fire, having art around is like having water to drink or a roof over her head.

“I don't think it's possible to live without art,” she says. “Whether it's beautiful hand-painted adobe walls on people’s homes in West Africa, body tattoos in New Zealand, or fabrics woven in Central America, I feel the human expression is central to the life of human beings. It's a deep impulse that needs to be fulfilled.”
A good place to start fulfilling that impulse is to observe the world around you and the art that reflects your interests. For the often-entertaining foodie, a lush still life of a table overflowing with fruits and vegetables would probably look perfect in the dining room. For a tech geek, a postmodern sculpture would likely fit right in with stream-lined living room décor.

No matter what your style and preference, the art world has you covered. And while you obviously can’t frame a sculpture, an important tip to remember is that custom framing a painting or a photograph is another way to claim ownership of the art you select.

“People really do enjoy their art when they have taken the time to select the framing,” says Paul. “It’s great to see how pleased they are when they come in to pick up the completed piece.” Frames can be ornate, gold-leafed borders or made from simple wood. The style of frame you choose is just as personal as choosing the art itself, and can involve you in the ownership of your art on a deeper level.

“There's lots of work I would love to have around me but, alas, it’s too expensive or rare,” says Fire. That hasn’t kept her from filling the walls of her business and her home with images that speak to her – and it shouldn’t stop you, either.

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