Real Estate

Enhancing the value of a house with art

Whether selling or staying, art on display ‘provides accents, invokes emotion and adds clarity.’

The living room of Chris and Beverly With, who have filled their D.C. home with original art over a lifetime of collecting. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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Art helps make a sale.

Everyone has an opinion about what clinched the deal.

For Christine Neptune, a collector and co-owner of Gallery Neptune & Brown, “it was the art that sold the apartment. Other than that my tiny New York studio was a small white box. The interior came alive because of the art.”

“Art creates the impression of a more valuable home. If you think about a beautifully designed home with strong architecture, you can appreciate it for what it is, but without art it’s not finished. It’s missing an important component. Art rounds out the impression of living there,” said Theo Adamstein, a sales associate with TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.

Art can enhance the value of the house but a real estate agent can’t pinpoint a number or percentage.

“It doesn’t work like that,” Adamstein said. “You can’t say by how much because that implies there’s a formula and if you spend a certain amount then the house goes up a certain amount. Art embellishes a home, it adds to a home’s character, it adds color and rhythm and makes it more interesting than it may otherwise be, and that absolutely adds value.”


Chris and Beverly With have packed their Logan Circle condominium with works on paper. “No space goes untouched," Beverly With said. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Art in homes

Chris and Beverly With live in a two-floor Logan Circle condominium packed with works on paper. Hundreds of framed pictures plus sculptures cover every square inch of wall space.

“No space goes untouched. The guest bathroom is our photography gallery,” Beverly With said. A print hangs on the small area below the wall cutout between the kitchen and dining room inches above the dining room floor. The walls lining two staircases — one from the entry door to the main living area and a second from the living room up to the bedrooms — are covered chock-a-block.

“We don’t want empty space so there’s no place we don’t put art. If you want to find a spot, you will. In the kitchen or bathroom or wherever. Nature abhors a vacuum,” Chris With said.

Paula Amt, owner of Framesmith DC and a collector, lives in a 400-square-foot space. “My art is hung floor to ceiling. I minimize the space between works to fit in another piece because I want to see what I can see,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter if your home is large or small, if you rent or own. Don’t stop collecting because you think you don’t have any more room. Just make the spaces between the pieces smaller,” she said.

Anthony Gyepi-Garbrah and Desirée Venn Frederic’s home in Northeast Washington’s Trinidad neighborhood is distinguished by dozens of paintings and prints hanging salon-style on the walls and doors, sculptures lining the floors, and antique furnishings all around.

The Withs' dining room. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
A clock in an office in the Withs' home. Chris With said they don't want any empty space. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
Their collection also includes this ceramic bowl. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
TOP: The Withs' dining room. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post) BOTTOM LEFT: A clock in an office in the Withs' home. Chris With said they don't want any empty space. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post) BOTTOM RIGHT: Their collection also includes this ceramic bowl. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

“Art in our home makes a place for us and provides benefits. It enhances our design perspective, it helps bring our attention to certain parts of the apartment, it provides accents, invokes emotion and adds clarity,” Gyepi-Garbrah said.

Timothy Johnson is a local artist with a show, “Fables of Decapitation: I knew I would die long ago,” at Touchstone Gallery through Oct. 27. His home and art studio are one and they’re small. Paintings adorn the apartment walls and a nine-foot-long ledge on the wall next to his easel is dedicated to his work in progress. “I prop up the paintings I’m working on so I can see them better and make changes,” he said.


The family cat relaxes in the Withs' bedroom. Nature abhors a vacuum,” Chris With said. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Art should challenge you

Robert Brown, the other co-owner of Gallery Neptune & Brown and a collector, recommends collecting for joy, not investment. “Buy pieces you can’t live without. Something that gives you pleasure and a thrill every time you look at it,” he said.

You and your partner’s tastes may differ but that shouldn’t create tension, he said. Instead celebrate and broaden your assemblage with works that appeal to both of you. “Buying art isn’t a competition,” he added.

“When you start buying, accept that your taste will evolve and you may not like a piece in 10 years. When that time comes, sell or give it away,” Chris With said.

“Buy what you love. That’s the most important thing. Then the art will move around all your real estate,” Neptune said.

Go to galleries and museums around town.

Ask questions and ask to see work not in view. Galleries have rooms in the back with files holding many pieces. Owners will work with your budget and show you art in a range of prices. You can buy on credit and often on installment. Sometimes you can take a piece home “on approval” to see how you like it.

“Don’t be embarrassed or shy. That’s why we’re here,” Brown said. “It’s our job to talk about art in a way that makes you feel comfortable and teaches you.”

“Some people approach art as decoration as opposed to collecting. That’s a short-term solution. Collecting art is long term. It doesn’t make sense to waste your money on the short term. Take a little longer to decide what you love and to save money to buy it,” he said.

“People will come in and tell us they have a spot in mind. ‘I have a spot behind my couch,’ they say. A year later, they move or get a new couch. Especially in Washington because moving is common. Instead think about what you love so that when you move you want to take it along,” Neptune said.

“Many people fill their living spaces with sentimental mementos rather than fine art,” Larry Kirkland, an artist and collector, said. Sentimental can be fine, but it can also mean insipid prints, anodyne landscapes, calendar still lifes and pastoral photos.

“If you really are an art collector some of your art may bring up a memory but you buy a piece because it challenges you emotionally and intellectually,” he said.

Even a living room table holds a small collection of sculptural art pieces owned by the Withs. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
Fanciful insects adorn a wall. Chris With emphasized that "placement has to be attractive." (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
LEFT: Even a living room table holds a small collection of sculptural art pieces owned by the Withs. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post) RIGHT: Fanciful insects adorn a wall. Chris With emphasized that "placement has to be attractive." (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Don’t be afraid to hang

No room should be omitted from your art display, but there’s no map to show where to hang. It’s intuitive and what looks right to your eye.

“Yet placement has to be attractive. It has to have a sense of proportion. You can’t put it up higgledy-piggledy,” Chris With said.

Wall color shouldn’t fade into the art. “You want the art work to stand out, not blend into the background,” Brown said.

If it doesn’t look good, move it. “We know people who agonize. They say, ‘I could never hang art myself.' They worry about putting a hole in the wall. It’s not a big deal to hammer a picture-hook hanger in the wall. Holes are easy to repair or you can hire a handyman,” Chris With said.

“People are especially worried about making that first hole. Get over it. Hang the piece up. It’s just a wall,” Amt said. “If you’re truly not allowed to make holes in the wall, there are ways to get around that with hanging systems that lay against the wall.”

Art is personal. “For me, it’s not just an investment in the artist or my collection. It is me being a custodian to a part of history. If everything goes well, that artifact will outlive me in perpetuity,” Gyepi-Garbrah said.

Adamstein said: “Hanging art on your walls is the most direct route to transforming a house into a home. It offers prospective buyers an immediate sense of homeyness.”

Photos by Bill O’Leary. Photo editing by Bronwen Latimer.


The staircase provides room to display more art. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
Credits: Audrey Hoffer

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