The entry hall into Dale Mott and his partner’s seventh-floor apartment in the District’s Mount Vernon neighborhood bursts with light even though there’s nary a window in sight.
Instead, three large art pieces on the walls surrounding the elevator that opens into the home confer the radiance — a bright yellow aerosol and acrylic canvas; a black-and-white silk-screen print with sparkling Mylar; and an aerial photograph of a beach scene. “The crowd welcomes and draws you into our home,” said Mott, pointing to the photo of the beach opposite the entry.
Art makes a home intimate and calm. And designing a home to showcase art enhances its beauty.
Some people hang pictures themselves and place elegant objects where it suits their visual aesthetic. Others hire a professional to take the curatorial reins.
Tony Podesta turned to Olvia Demetriou, architect and co-founder of HapstakDemetriou+ to design the space for his art collection.
When she walked into his house, it was clear it didn’t need repair, she said, so much as reinvention.
Once the walls were removed it became apparent that the floors sloped three inches from one end of the house to the other, which is unacceptable for hanging art.
He showed her the collection and she created “art blocking plans” to delineate each piece and where it would hang. This enabled her to define where plywood blocking behind walls would be needed to give Podesta, founder and chairman of the Podesta Group, the maximum flexibility in hanging heavy pieces.
She installed a minimalist reveal along the ceiling — a discreet hanging rail — where art could be hung by wire instead of the traditional picture rail. She built custom niches within the walls allowing for the flush installation of video art.
And she designed a curved stair in the center of the house, which is the most dramatic design element and offers a focal point around which all the spaces unfold. “It is, in itself, a sculptural piece — stainless steel and frameless glass spiraling upward the two stories,” allowing for the display of large paintings, she said.
“My design vision for the house was to create architectural spaces that inspire but that also provide a neutral background that didn’t compete for attention,” Demetriou said. “I had to let the art shine.”
Mott also went the professional route, hiring decorator Nicole Lanteri when he moved from a small Adams Morgan condominium to the Mount Vernon apartment. The previous place was so small they didn’t have room to display their art.
“My instructions were, ‘We have all this art. Please make it work,’ ” Lanteri said.
“We sent Nicole thumbnails [of our art], told her what furniture we wanted to keep, what we needed to buy, and she went from there,” said Mott, director of strategic advancement for Arena Stage.
“The trick with a loft-like space is to make it feel like a home rather than a gallery and ensure the art isn’t overshadowed by design elements,” said Lanteri, echoing the same sentiment as Demetriou.
Lanteri embraced the white walls and didn’t feel compelled to cover them all. “Negative wall space is good because it gives other pieces in the room space to breathe.” She also knew their collection would keep growing.
One constraint was the dozen or so audio speakers pre-wired and installed on walls when the home was purchased. But instead of ignoring or pulling them out she treated them as sculptures and arranged artwork to hang alongside.
For example, on the wall opposite the kitchen, she incorporated white square speakers in a composition of photos, sculptures, prints and paintings, many in white frames. She created a figurative art wall, a sea of faces on a white wall.
To ensure that the art wouldn’t appear to be floating, she added a pale narrow curved walnut wood ledge beneath them. That ledge connected visually to the kitchen cabinets on the opposite side of the room and balanced the space.
Three white acoustic speakers and black-framed TV screen were hanging above the fireplace on a living-room wall. “Our thought was to flush-mount the speakers so they’d disappear,” Mott said, “but Nicole did the opposite.” She removed the speaker covers and created a sculptural wall with the speakers and TV.
“Without covers they looked a little more industrial, like sculptures themselves,” Lanteri said. And they conformed to the style of the exposed ducts on the ceiling.
To finish the fireplace wall and make the TV less pronounced, she covered the wall in a dark graphite-hued grass cloth. “When you look at the wall in the light” — a street-facing glass wall is adjacent — “it turns from gray to green to blue to black. So the black TV frame blends in,” Mott said.
Mott wanted to lay a contemporary design rug from Turkey on the living room floor, but it was too small.
Lanteri anchored it over a neutral-toned sisal that bridged the caramel, russet, orange and red of the rug and the pale maple wood floor.
“She created a balance of color and texture with our art, furnishings and space that we wouldn’t have known to do,” Mott said.
Lanteri chose the Kartell Masters chair for the dining room table. Overlapping branchlike arms and seat back make the chairs look like sculptures. “The dining table sits in a glass corner of the apartment, which is always bright,” Mott said. “The fluidity of the chairs and the light fixture above are a perfect match.”
Nevertheless, electric lights in addition to natural light are critical in any design project.
For Podesta’s collection, Demetriou consulted with the Hirshhorn Museum’s lighting designer to develop different lighting strategies.
Lanteri installed translucent light fixtures throughout the Mott home so that the fixtures themselves wouldn’t obstruct views of the surrounding space. She chose the Hope suspension light to hang over the dining table “because it catches the whimsy of the chairs and riffs off the elegant Liz pendants over the kitchen island,” she said.
“All the lighting was purposefully selected so as not to take away from the art. I chose acrylic or glass fixtures so they’d be more or less translucent when the light is off, and when the light is on you can appreciate its subtle effect in a way that doesn’t upstage the art,” she said.
Renato Miracco, cultural attache at the Italian Embassy, organizes his diverse worldwide art collection by theme.
One wall in his Northwest Washington home is dedicated to Albanian artists; another to 18th- and 19th-century landscapes of Naples. On one wall hangs contemporary Italian photography and on another ex-voto pieces.
A single shelf is decorated with female divine figures Mother Earth and Guanyin (a Buddhist symbol of compassion and mercy). Italian sculptures from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries decorate other shelves.
And the bedroom is filled with photographs and oil paintings depicting dreams “because they really relax me,” he said.
The only problem with an art collection is moving. “Moving is a big experience for me,” said Miracco, who has lived in many countries. “It takes me four months. I need to look not only for a new house but new space to show all my [art] themes.”
Art is personal and there’s no right or wrong in taste or visual appearance. Organize your art — original, posters, photos, reproductions or even magazine tear sheets — so that it’s pleasing to your eye. Here are pointers to enhance your collection:
●Take your time. Consider hanging a major job, and do it carefully and deliberately. Lay out an arrangement on the table or floor in advance and move the pictures around until they look best as a group.
●Create groupings like three square frames in a horizontal row or three rectangular frames in a vertical line on a narrow wall alongside a doorframe.
●Match the size of painting to the wall space. Hang large or oversize works on the most expansive wall and give it room to breathe — for example, don’t put little pieces around or near it.
●Hang similar themed work — landscapes, still lifes, pets, family portraits — in clusters.
●Mark the wall with pencil to delineate places for each. Use a ruler or tape measure to get the space between works balanced.
●Place the center of a picture at eye level.
●Use high-quality chrome picture hooks instead of plain nails. Hooks are angled and ensure the frame lays flush against the wall.
●Use a level to ensure the pictures are straight.
●Step back and look at the arrangement from the other side of the room to be sure it looks good.