Art styles for apartment décor: Lessons from The Block

There was a lot to look at in the first room reveal of  The Block: Fans v Faves. The teams’ guest bedrooms threw weird lamps, a transformer bed, stairs that went to (almost) nowhere and a barn door at the judges and viewers. But what stood out to the team at Property Observer was each team’s differing use of art to add (or, unfortunately, subtract) from their room’s décor.

As we said in our recap of The Block’s Manhattan loft challenge, art is everything. So here are four lessons to take away from The Block’s guest rooms.

Shape up

It’s best to get this out of the way up top: Brad and Dale had the best use of art of any team in the first room reveal, by a clear margin. Their circular abstract aerial piece by Barwon Heads artist Megan Weston (pictured below) was a terrific choice, for many reasons. The first of which was its shape.

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Photo courtesy of Channel 9

It is a painful truth learned quickly in property styling that when choosing art for a home, a painting or photograph is simply more economical, both fiscally and with regards to space, than a sculpture or installation.

If you have the room or the money for an interesting, impactful sculpture in your home, like adman Nick Condon's oversized hand sculpture (pictured below), go for it. But if a wall-hanging piece is what you have to work with, don’t neglect the shape.

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Rooms all over Australia are filled with squares and rectangles – room corners, bricks, windows, and beds. Why add to the monotony with your art? Brad and Dale’s room was no exception to the square trend, which was particularly evident with their minimalist styling.

But the “blokes” were smart enough to choose a circular art work that softened the room without sacrificing its clean aesthetic. The circles were mimicked throughout the room with woollen throw pillows and Billy Buttons (which, while we’re at it, both added some textural intrigue), the circular bedside tables and the team’s loopy lamps.

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Colour coding (don’t do it)

While the amorphous shapes in Kyal and Kara’s Christopher Cayetano framed prints (pictured below) were attractive, we at Property Observer cringed at the team’s clumsy colour matching.

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Photo courtesy of Channel 9

The dove grey of the room’s walls was a dead ringer for the art, while matching off-white and muted sea foam throw pillows picked up the prints’ accent colours to seal the deal. Unsubtle colour matching deadens the impact of artwork, reducing it to a decoration. Kyal and Kara should have just sprayed some cookie-flavoured air freshener if they wanted to push the lifeless display home angle.

Alisa and Lysandra did the same thing, matching their dreary deer artwork to the drapes. To their credit, at least the curtains were sheer, allowing some variation in light and texture to the matte canvas.

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Photo courtesy of Channel 9

Chantelle and Steve were guilty of over-zealous colour matching as well, with the brown cow-hide rug, red decorative canisters and army-green books (of which there were far too many) all mimicking tones in their vintage “Melbourne” print.

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Photo courtesy of Channel 9

In the room reveal episode, Brad and Dale lamented that the judges hadn’t noticed that their throw pillow picked up colours in the art work. But to our mind, that’s a good thing – rather than choosing obvious violet or turquoise furnishings, they picked a single, small item to echo a secondary colour in the artwork. Erring on the side of subtlety allowed the soft furnishings to lend the room a sense of cohesion, without seeming ham-fisted. Remember, a whisper, not a shout.

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Places, please

As in all things, when positioning your artwork, try to avoid the obvious. A medium sized square print, inoffensive in both content and colour, centred over the bed? That’s exactly what Alisa and Lysandra chose to do, and the results were as boring as you might expect. The twins may have won the challenge thanks to their innovative use of space, but their use of art was wholly unremarkable. With such great variety in the textures room’s textures – the oak feature wall and door, the drapes and the exposed brick – it was a shame that the art was such a letdown.

Alisa and Lysandra’s placement of their artwork against the exposed brick wall was one of their major problems. The team described the art as a central feature of their room, with Alisa saying that "Without it, we couldn’t have been able to pull that room off... It was affordable and perfect for the loft feel we were going for. The rest just fell into place around it."

But to Property Observer, the artwork’s dark colour and size meant that it became an uninteresting interruption to the wall’s texture, rather than a focal point of the room. The twins would have been better off with a hanging plant in the place of the art to juxtapose with the wall’s industrial feel and tie into the room’s other organic elements.

Consider too how inhabitants and guests are going to interact with the space in your home. Take a look at the way art is displayed in the home of art collectors Sandra Powell and Andrew King (pictured below), otherwise known as the Saatchis of street art.

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The position of the large black and white photograph of two women bathing over the home's staircase allows viewers to see the entire piece when standing back in the upper-level's walkway, or to view it up close while travelling along its length as they walk up or down the stairs. Though you might get an immediate impact when you walk in the door, if an art work is placed in the obvious spot over the bed-head, there are often few other perspectives from which to enjoy the work.

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Light and dark

The vintage “Melbourne” poster from Printism used by Chantelle and Steve was a nice choice, even if it did veer dangerously close to kitsch in the art-deco building, and displayed as a blind felt a touch self-conscious when paired with their other transformer feature, the convertible shelf/bed. We especially appreciate the print’s scale – Chantelle and Steve were the only team to make a statement with the size of their art.

But such a large piece deserves to be featured in a space where it won’t blend in. By positioning an artwork with such warm tones, hard lines and dense detailing, it offers no relief for the eye set against the room’s exposed brick. The poster would have done better in a bright and airy space, contrasted against a light coloured wall.

Another alternative would have been to use Printism’s much brighter “Sydney” poster, which would offer considerably more contrast against the exposed brick and open up the room. But we at Property Observer understand that when it comes to city loyalty, sometimes one’s hands are tied.

Incorporating art into your living spaces offers the opportunity to elevate a room from functional to emotional. Eschew the obvious, aim for intrigue over ornamentation, and go boldly.

jrichardson@propertyobserver.com.au

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