How to Buy and Hang Art Like a Pro

Sonoma County gallery owner Lori Austin shares 6 tips on how to buy and hang art.

You fall in love with a piece of art hanging in a gallery. You decide to take the plunge and invest in this thing of beauty. But is it compatible with your lifestyle, your wall color and your couch?

Buying and hanging art can sometimes be a challenge. We spoke with veteran art gallerist Lori Austin of Lori Austin Gallery in Healdsburg, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa. Here are her tips.

Buy with your budget in mind

Being upfront about what you can afford when you visit a gallery helps with the search. But “if you fall in love with an artwork above your price range, don’t be discouraged,” advises Austin. “Work with the gallery and ask about options, including layaway and financing.”

Another option is to direct your search toward local, emerging artists. Works by emerging artists tend to be less expensive than those of more established artists. You can find works by emerging artists in some galleries, at art festivals and even in restaurants and cafes, says Austin. (Santa Rosa restaurants The Spinster Sisters and Brew, for example, display works by local artists).

The Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa organizes an annual competition and show, “Discovered: Emerging Artists of Sonoma County.” This, and other art shows that highlight emerging and local artists, can be a good venue to discover new artists. The Arts Guild of Sonoma organizes a July exhibition, “Celebrating New Artists,” which opens with a reception on Saturday, July 10, 5 – 7 p.m. Sonoma County Art Trails, an annual open studio event, is another place to get to know local artists.

Try before you buy

Some galleries allow you to take an art piece home “on approval,” while others can photoshop the artwork into your space, or provide in-home consultations to find just the right artwork and just the right place for that artwork in your home. “I’ve walked through an entire house with a client, helping with placement and ideas,” says Austin. “Galleries are more service-oriented these days.”

Trust your taste

While it’s important to carefully consider and choose artwork for your home, it’s also good to be able to tune into your gut feeling: if a piece of art resonates with you on a deeper level, it is likely the right piece for you. Austin encourages people to trust their taste.

You don’t need an art education to choose art for your home. But if you’re looking to narrow your search, Austin recommends researching different art styles — abstract, modern, contemporary, representational landscape art and so on — to see which styles you prefer. But “stay open,” recommends Austin, “you’ll discover many incredible artists and artworks if you stay open to suggestions.”

Consider the impact

“People are looking for the room to be more of a place that they can retreat to, especially after a year of being in our homes,” says Austin. While some people prefer bold art that makes a statement, others might want a piece that blends in with the surroundings. Lately, Austin has observed that many people want pieces that bring them joy and many choose artwork with lots of color. “They definitely want that element of lightness,” she adds.

Grouping art is an art

Grouping art requires a skilled eye and some trial and error, says Austin. Some people prefer grouped art to have a common theme, or color palette, while others prefer an eclectic look. To create a gallery wall (also called a “salon wall”) using several pieces of art, Austin recommends mapping out the layout with blue painter’s tape. She also recommends placing larger pieces up high so they will be more visible from further away. Smaller images with detail should be closer to the vantage point. Galleries normally hang art with the center of each piece at 57 inches above the floor, but this can be adjusted at home. Sometimes, “the space will dictate what is possible,” says Austin.

Consider overlooked areas

You can hang art anywhere in your home, including the kitchen, says Austin. (And we’d like to add that it doesn’t need to be a food still life—as much as we adore those). Austin once hung a painting in a hallway, where the collector wanted to hide a control panel.