By the time a room starts to come together, a lot of decisions have already been made. There’s the back-and-forth of what paint color to choose, whether or not the floors need some attention, and how you’re handling window treatments. A discussion that decides whether a sectional is best is a given, as well as what texture the rug should be. And when all of the big-ticket items are finally in place, there’s the rearranging of furniture here and there (and back again), to ensure that the room has an ideal flow. So it’s no wonder that when artwork is considered as the exclamation points of a design, blank walls are usually met with question marks.
Art has a reputation for being expensive and subjective, which makes the idea of finding the right pieces overwhelming. But the truth is, it’s possible to find quality artwork without spending a ton of money, and no one else has to like it but you (unless your home is also a museum). “My goal is to find artwork that speaks to my clients,” designer Gina Gutierrez says. “When it comes to fitting in the space, I like to make sure that the piece harmonizes with our color story and meets the energy of the room: vibrant, moody, soft, or even natural.”
To help you find artwork that supports your space and personality, four designers—Gutierrez, Emily Henderson, Brian Smith, and Jesse DeSanti—share their secrets for doing so on a budget from start to finish. When your room is ready for art, these are the details that will truly tie everything together.
Have a Location in Mind
Prior to choosing artworks for a space, DeSanti collaborates with her clients to figure out which walls actually need them and which sizes are best. “Spend more in places with a larger footprint,” she says. “Even if it’s on a budget, those areas should have an impact. For me, that’s often accomplished by using texture, because it makes the space feel really customized.” As you search, it’s also important to hone in on shades and materials that will blend in with the rest of the room’s palette.
Don’t Buy Something Just to Buy It
While it’s true that this process can be daunting, do your best not to cut the search short due to impatience. Take a deep breath, and keep the wisdom of Henderson in mind. “When I am considering purchasing a piece, there has to be at least one very compelling reason for me to buy it,” she says. “One, it’s a steal and I really love it. Two, I need it and know I have a place for it. Or three, it’s a really cool conversation starter. If it’s moderately priced but you don’t really need it, or it’s cool but not soul-explodingly wonderful, then skip it.” Taking your time to find an item may draw out your project, but it will be worth it—after all, you’ll likely see this art every day.
Like a Piece for What it Says to You, Not Your Neighbor
It can be tempting to gravitate toward works that you know are popular or will get a reaction from passersby. But if you don’t personally like them, then don’t feel pressured to follow the crowd. “Art should evoke emotion for you, not everyone else,” Gutierrez says. It is a personal call, but to help fine-tune your emotional response to a piece, Gutierrez suggests asking yourself these questions as you shop: “What story does this artwork tell, or what emotion does this artwork evoke for me?” she asks. If you love the feeling it gives you and the piece is within budget, then don’t second-guess bringing it home.
Don’t Plan to Go Shopping Just Once
Smith’s home is layered with artwork he’s accumulated overtime, and it complements other family heirlooms and personal trinkets from his travels. Given this, he advises shoppers not to think that an art collection can be accomplished in one go. “Unless I have a particular idea for arranging furniture around a piece of artwork, I like to hold off on hanging art until I’ve had a chance to live in the space,” he says. “Let it evolve as you do. If you just moved into a new place, it’s okay for the walls to sit bare as you acclimate.” And when you come across a piece you like and keep circling back to, Smith has one important tidbit: Listen to your gut.
Gutierrez and Henderson both mention Minted as a gold mine of options from independent artists. It offers a variety of art, such as prints, drawings, photography, and canvas work, but “the finishing touch is really the framing,” Guiterrez says. “When you select your art in the size that’s best for your space, you can also choose a frame for an additional fee. This makes the selection process efficient and easy.”
For those who’d like an original or vintage print hanging in their home, Henderson recommends Chairish. “The best part is that you can make a bid lower than the asking price—of course you should only make a reasonable offer—which means you could potentially get a really awesome deal,” she says. “Plus, making offers is extremely fun.”
If you’d like to support an emerging artist from anywhere in the world, then Guitierrez suggests spending time looking through Spacey Studios’s selection. “With each artist, they produce limited-edition rounds of 25 pieces,” she says. “The prints match the artist's medium, such as mixed media, illustrations, painting, digital, and photography.” The company also uses completely acid-free materials, and thoughtfully wraps each piece for a safe journey.
This outpost of independent creatives was name-dropped by all three designers as a site every artwork shopper must visit—but, be warned, it does require plenty of scrolling. “Once you perfect the search, you can find beautiful black-and-white photography, commissioned oil paintings, and even downloadable prints,” Guiterrez says. “I have downloaded prints and used brass frames from Target to keep things affordable, and I’ve also found vintage maps that we had framed.”
Speaking of scrolling, DeSanti notes that Instagram is a go-to resource for finding lesser-known artists and their artwork. She simply searches through handles promoting eye-catching pieces, and sends direct messages to the ones she likes. “There's so much variety,” she says. “You can do prints as a budget-friendly option, or you can order one-of-a-kind pieces from artists who are either starting out or doing it on the side. I’ve found some of my favorite artists this way.” Smith has also used Instagram to commission an original piece from an artist, and then used a frame kit to finish it off. Another plus of Instagram? It’s easy to spot the many online-focused shops selling their poster collections, like PSTR Studio, Society6, Empty Wall, and The Poster Club.
6. Flea Markets and Art Fairs
For an in-person experience, DeSanti and Smith note how flea markets and art fairs can lead to the same results, except scrolling is replaced with strolling. “I found a particular piece at a flea market with so much intention behind its assembly that the frame became a work of art in itself,” Smith says. “When I saw the price tag of $18, I didn’t think twice about buying it or where it would go, I just knew that for that price I had to have it.”
Henderson likes Juniper Print Shop for its designer-curated prints and sizes, which range from large-scale canvases that can command a room to more minimalist creations that can punctuate it. And as for sizes, she has one more suggestion. “Skip those 8x10 prints because they are just too small to make an impact anywhere and can look a bit generic,” Henderson says. “For framing, if it is a standard size, then make sure that you can’t find a much less expensive frame from a box store or local frame shop before you spend $800 on a 9x12 frame. And lastly, if you can, buy original art. I have a ton of prints, too, but if you have only prints, then the collection doesn’t feel rounded out or mature.”