While we lavish the walls of our living rooms, dining areas, and bedrooms in decor we adore, our kitchens are less likely to feel the love. The very utilitarian existence of the kitchen doesn’t beg for decoration the way other rooms meant for entertaining or relaxing do, and considering it’s the room where things can get a little messy, it sometimes seems like any adornment is a futile effort.
When you think of how much time you spend in your kitchen or how often it ends up being the life of the party when you have guests, though, it’s clear that the kitchen is just as important when it comes to expressing yourself and your style at home. With a few tips and a little thought about material and placement, you can spruce up your kitchen without stressing about cleaning.
One of the easiest, quickest, and most affordable ways to really bring your kitchen to life is artwork. There are infinite choices when it comes to style, era, color, and how to display it, meaning that artwork has the ability to make your kitchen country-classic, urban-modern, or anything in between.
“Art in the kitchen adds a new layer to the room,” says Brooklyn-based interior designer Megan Pflug. “Plus, it’s versatile; you can change it up. Art is especially cool because kitchens are expensive to renovate, so renovating your kitchen to change up its look might not be a top priority for everyone. Paintings and photos can bring a lot of color and style without that big cost.”
Because not everyone thinks to put the attention to decor into their kitchens as much as they might with other rooms, and because the kitchen has such a singular and definitive raison d’être (food!), it’s not uncommon to see people incorporate themes that are a little on the nose. You know the kind: culinary words or puns (i.e., “What the [picture of a fork] is for dinner?”), photographs and paintings of food, and, for some reason, farm animals.
“Remember, you don’t have to stick to chicken or cow prints that tend to be overused,” Pflug says. “Go for something you want to see in this room you’re in so much. This goes for every room, but think outside the box. You could do beautiful maps you find, or, my personal favorite, hang a mirror. Mirrors have the added benefit of reflecting light and opening up the space.”
That means that if you love pop art, hang pop art. If you love Renaissance art, hang Renaissance art. If you love the snaps your niece has been taking in her photography class, hang those. If you love tapestries, well, choose another room. Consideration for cleaning is your only constraint when it comes to choosing your art. You want to avoid canvases and anything fabric, so if last night’s dinner or your daughter’s science project splashes its way to the wall, you can clean whatever’s hanging with a swipe of a rag and some glass cleaner, or soap and water.
Pflug shares more helpful tips to keep in mind:
- Get creative. Treat your kitchen like you would your living room. Embrace a look you love and make the room your own. A little bit of personality can achieve wow factor, making a space stand out with what’s still refreshing and a little unconventional for the kitchen.
- Think about scale: Once you’ve chosen what kind of art you want to hang, think about how you’re going to hang it. The difference between a solo piece and a cluster is another way to set a certain tone. “One small oil painting alone looks really pretty in this sort of classic, historic way," Pflug explains. "A bigger, bolder piece has a more contemporary look. It’s also nice to hang a series, like black and white prints you’ve collected. A grouping of those on a wall could be so impactful and cool.”
- Consider your placement: Keep your art away from the stove or the reach of cooking grease. Stick to areas above the sink or table.
- Art also looks great on open shelving, which is a big trend right now.
- Other than protecting your paintings or photos from heat and oil, decorate with a freedom from rules. Don’t avoid classic portraits if your kitchen feels too minimalist or contemporary; don’t give up on modern art if your kitchen has a country vibe. The beauty lies in the contrast.
- Think about your style in terms of different textures. "Let’s say you have a stainless-steel-everything kitchen. Add some wood tones in your cutting boards and wooden spoons and canisters on your countertops, then that beautiful oil painting would be the perfect add. The contrast between old and new is really sophisticated. Going too strictly on a theme like modern can end up looking like a theme park. Give your home layers; make it about the people who live there.”
With these general tips in mind, we rounded up some of the most stylish and interesting uses of art in the kitchen, so get ready to be inspired.
There’s a rustic kind of loveliness achieved by simply placing paintings on, as Pflug loves, open shelving, especially when those paintings are from a long-gone era. It looks unplanned and effortless in the best way. This is the only time you might choose unframed canvases for aesthetic’s sake, but the shelves will help keep them protected (as long as they’re far from the stove!).
Modern and Muted
Walk the line between minimalism and cozy charm by hanging a themed or correlating series of prints in an even and symmetric array. Keeping things clean and colors muted or monochrome has a refined effect.
Artwork isn’t limited to oil paintings or black and white photos. Hanging a vintage movie poster instantly adds bright color to your kitchen and sets a retro-chic tone, while perfectly personalizing the space.
This one is somewhere between country elegance and modern and muted. By thoughtfully arranging a group of pieces that aren’t all matching in color and subject matter but are all nods to older schools of painting, you create a charming little museum-like wall.
A slight tweak will take your kitchen wall from classic museum to cool gallery, and that tweak is how you hang your art. Instead of a symmetrical approach, choose a mix of shapes and sizes (extra credit for a mix of subject matter, too) and hang creatively.
Mod and Matching
Go for both clean and colorful by choosing one large painting that’s especially vibrant, and then coordinating other accessories and decorations with that palette. The result is a little mod chic; it’s cheerful yet tempered and polished.
Simply choosing a large piece that’s monochrome and neutral instead of vivid and vibrant will take your kitchen in a sleeker direction. Indulge in modern-art influence by coordinating your piece with your countertops and furniture. The added bonus of a single game-changing piece? It makes an impact, but keeps your cleaning down to one item.
Nail the mix of eras that Pflug loves: You can bring a bit of garden-party romance to a pristine white and/or marble-surfaced kitchen with a row of flora, fauna, and animal pictures. It works especially well if you’re a fan of greenery in the kitchen, and when you keep it understated and aligned, it strikes the perfect balance between whimsical and sophisticated.
The Statement Piece
Think big. An oversized piece, especially one that’s abstract and boldly hued, can do the work of a whole wall of decor. Make it the room’s focal point and tie just a couple of accent pieces into its scheme.
For the antique lovers, collectors, travelers — clustering paintings, prints, pressed flowers, plates, and whatever else you love personalizes your kitchen and fills the room with old-world charm. It’s cozy yet stylish, and keeps your treasures on full display.
What to Cook in Your Art-Filled Kitchen
Do you have art in your kitchen? Tell us how you considered the high-traffic space when it comes to design choices below.