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Wall art: Accessorize rooms by thinking outside the frame

Annette Jaffe, designer and owner of MSM Property

Annette Jaffe, designer and owner of MSM Property Development in Port Washington, found a collection of license plates from 50 states and used them, in the order of the states' acceptance into the union, as wall art for a home in Sands Point. (Nov. 22, 2013) Credit: Jeremy Bales

When Holly Xerri redecorated her Oceanside ranch after superstorm Sandy, she realized that several large oil paintings she owned didn't reflect her now more Bohemian tastes. So she took one of her unframed oil paintings, bought a 1950s Pakistani Suzani tapestry and stapled it on top. "I had this image in my mind of what I wanted the tapestry to look like," says Xerri, 57, creator of Camibands, a wardrobe extender.

The online vendor who sold her the piece secured muslin to its back for easier mounting -- all for under $100. She even had enough material left over for pillows. "It pulled the whole room together," she says. "It came out exactly as I pictured it."

Just as throw pillows add a splash of brightness and texture to a neutral sofa, what you place on your wall accessorizes your room. The key lies in complementing the space, not competing with it. "Have a main focal point and then bring the eye around the room ... too many focal points and people don't know where to look," says Marilyn Rose from Marilyn H. Rose Interiors Ltd., whose offices include a Locust Valley location.


When selecting something to dress your walls, consider the amount of space you have and how you can best use it. Patti Johnston of Patti Johnston Designs in Centerport recently decorated a narrow dressing room with a wall of closets by hanging an assortment of empty antique frames that had been sprayed glossy white. "If I had installed framed art, you would not be able to stand back and appreciate it because of the width of the dressing room," she says.

Keeping the frames the same color makes them look less busy, too. Using empty frames as a decorative device is popular on shelter blogs and Pinterest, says Johnston, and can showcase collectibles by using a bracket, nail or hook within them to hold items such as necklaces or antique handbags. Such personal collections often work well as wall art -- interior designer Kim Hendrickson-Radovich, of Kim E. Courtney Interiors & Design in Huntington Bay, once hung a shadow box filled with spoons in a kitchen. She's also used vintage McCall's lingerie advertisements for a lady's dressing room.

Steve Gravano, a Southampton-based freelance photographer, likes to turn his own photos into artwork that seems to float on the wall by mounting them to acrylic. This seals the photos and "allows them to be displayed in areas of high humidity -- beach houses, bathrooms -- without damage to the art," he says. Landscapes and close-ups containing a background with depth, he finds, work best.

Johnston likes to match frames and mats to unify the grouping. She also suggests that groups of plates and vases on little shelves make good accents, especially when all contain the same underlying color, theme or style -- otherwise the pieces seem hodgepodge. She recommends that, when hanging art, keep in mind that the middle of the piece should be about 5 feet high.

But less precision when arranging art can sometimes work, depending on your material. "Mix it up," says Hendrickson-Radovich, "Don't be afraid to use different frames together in a collection. On the other hand, sometimes keeping a collection together can have a huge impact -- for example, black and white portraits or a collection of sepia prints ... with the same frame."


Be brave and experiment with art, advises Annette Jaffe, a designer and owner of MSM Property Development in Port Washington. "As we are exposed to more and more information, we look more and more the same," she says of a culture that relies too much on mass-produced design products from places like Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel. Instead, she urges her clients to create a space of their own where the art connects personally to the individual.

Creativity is important, too. While shopping with a client in Connecticut, she found a box labeled "instant collection" containing license plates from all 50 states, which her client purchased despite not knowing exactly what to do with it. On the car ride home, a design plan formulated and now the plates hang in the client's Sands Point home in the order that the 50 states joined the Union.

So take chances, but be practical -- you always should match your decorating with your lifestyle. Don't drape your walls in fabric if you have young children, for instance. "If you get peanut butter and jelly fingers on it, that's the end of it," says Rose. However, if you need to muffle sound, upholstered walls do the trick.

Children's art offers a bit of playful decorating. "When my daughter was 5, I gave her a huge piece of watercolor rag and a paintbrush to keep her busy," says Hendrickson-Radovich. "She painted 'The Flying Bunny Mommy' -- a portrait of me. ... I had it double-matted and framed, and it hung in my living room for a decade. ... People always comment on its graphic impact and often ask whose work it is."

Those who are merely kids at heart can use chalkboard paint to express themselves. You can cover an entire wall or part of a refrigerator. "It is often used in kitchens, and menus are written on it in a very artistic way, much the same as restaurants do on their daily special board," says Johnston. "Chalkboard paint comes in many colors, so you can be very creative with it."

Those with artistic flair can paint designs directly on their own walls. Two years ago, Woodmere resident Samantha Lish, 17, a senior at Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns & Rockaway, started painting murals in her bedroom. Using pint-size sample paints from Benjamin Moore, she started with her door, creating a gray brick road that led to distant hills and valleys. Over a few months, she added other scenes to her walls and closet, including a tiger and a Times Square-Broadway homage. She says she is proud of the work, although she acknowledges it's not perfect.

"I still look over all the details. ... It represents growth because I probably would have never thought of doing this when I was younger," she says. "Now that I have accomplished this, I feel I can move on to other big projects, and I am capable of really doing whatever I want."



DNA 11: It's all about you, isn't it? With DNA 11 (, you can decorate with artwork using your own genetic code, captured via a cheek swabbing (DNA Portrait) or an imprint of your fingertip or lips (Fingerprint Portrait and Kiss Print). Products are available in a range of sizes and colors. Prices begin at $175 for a 12-by-12-inch Kiss or Fingerprint Portrait, $199 for a 12-by-16-inch DNA portrait and go up to $1,129 for four people on a 36-by-54-inch canvas. Every piece has a certificate of authenticity and a money-back guarantee.

CANVASPOP: Any photo you own can become canvas art. At CanvasPop (, you can use just one photo or combine up to 200 onto a mosaic print. Lots of variety is possible, since the company offers photo features and effects. A professional designer works one-on-one with customers to ensure satisfaction. Pricing starts at $37, and ranges up to $444 for a 36-by-54-inch print with a reclaimed wood frame. Custom sizes are also available.

PRINTEDART: A full array of display products -- including acrylic and aluminum sandwich mounts, canvas stretch frames and framed artwork -- elevates your digital photography to art at PrintedArt ( The site's most popular item is the acrylic invisible mount, which showcases photography without the glare or discoloration of glass frames. Prices depend on size and material. Common sizes are somewhere between 24-by-18 inches and 48-by-32 inches, with prices from $205 for the smaller acrylic canvas to $627 for the larger display.

THE HOME DEPOT: Find your inner child by creating a chalkboard on your walls -- with Rust-Oleum Specialty Chalkboard Paint, available in 12 colors. At The Home Depot (, prices range from $3.96 for an 11-ounce can of chalkboard spray paint to $9.67 for about 30 ounces of either black or tintable paint. Hint: The spray allows you to "chalkboard up" unconventional surfaces as well as your walls.

REDENVELOPE: Choose from more than 50 customizable canvas and graphic wall pieces, from personalized family trees to pet silhouettes to birth announcements, at Red Envelope ( Prices start at $79.95.

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