How to Pair Fine Art and Furniture

Four tips for creating inspired interiors
By Eric Smith
Eric Smith
Eric Smith
April 11, 2013 Updated: December 6, 2015

Have you ever walked into a room and been completely revived and inspired by the décor? I’m sure you have—this is New York City after all, the art and design capital of the country.

For me, when a room really pops, it features fine art and furniture that works together in counterpoint, like separate instruments in a symphony. If you’re looking to create a more compelling relationship between art and décor in your own home, here are a few helpful questions to ask yourself.

1. What’s My Style?

This might seem like an obvious question, but it’s surprising how many people decorate based on what’s “in” rather than what they really like. Forget what’s trendy.

When you walk through The Met, do you find yourself lingering in front of traditional landscapes, or do you make a beeline for the contemporary art? When it comes to furniture, do you like bold, modern lines or scrolled, classical forms?

Obviously, there can be some crossover, but it’s important to establish a baseline for your genuine preferences before you go out and buy. When I’m considering purchasing a work of art, I always take a moment to ask myself, “How does this piece makes me feel?” If the feeling is positive, that’s the impact it’s going to have on my environment every day.

2. What Role Does Art Play in My Home?

Some people really like art to be center stage in their homes. They gravitate toward bright, bold conversation pieces—the bigger, the better. Others prefer to have art play more of a supporting role.

Ultimately, it comes back to being true to yourself. Would you be happiest with that larger-than-life nude on your living room wall, or a smaller mixed media piece? It can help to browse interior design magazines websites for inspiration.

Better yet, explore fairs such as The Architectural Digest Home Design Show and Artexpo. Both shows come to New York in each spring, and offer seminars on art, design and décor, which can help you to refine your aesthetic.

3. Does This Piece Resonate with My Collection?

The world of visual art has always had a strong influence on the world of design, and vice versa. Consider the Art Deco movement, which started on the canvas and ended up on the spire of the Chrysler Building. Think of Keith Harin’s graffiti-inspired urban art, which spawned legions of chairs, cushion covers and bookshelves.

Every piece of furniture has general principles behind its aesthetic. Are the lines sharp and angular, or are they scrolled and classical? Now, ask yourself the same question about the work of art you are considering purchasing. Structurally, thematically and in terms of color, does it have resonance with your current décor? If not, you might consider another option. That’s not to say you can’t have an eclectic collection; but you do want the pieces to harmonize.

4. Does This Piece “Match” My Collection?

Technically speaking, you don’t necessarily want your art to match your furnishings; you want it to compliment them. Let’s say you have a red sofa. You probably don’t want to pair it with a room full of exclusively red-themed art (unless you want to scorch your guests’ retinas), but you might want to find pieces that mirror that warmth and hue.

Or say your chairs have steel legs. You can play that up with art that features metallic hues or metal frames. It can be effective to play with contrasts, too. If your color scheme is trending toward monochromatic, introduce a few pops of color—perhaps some vibrant glassworks or bright cushions—you get the idea.

When it comes to art and furnishings, the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. So be sure to find works that deeply speak to you and resonate with your existing décor.

And a word to the wise: when you’re browsing galleries or fairs, be sure to bring along photos of your home. When you can see your furnishings, it’s a lot easier to find that work of art—or collection—that will pull things together and complete your space.

Eric Smith is CEO with Artexpo International, the organizer of the annual ArtExpo in New York City.

Eric Smith