Design Dilemma: Does Art Need White Walls? | Home Design Find

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Design Dilemma: Does Art Need White Walls?

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There’s a myth in the art and design world, that art collectors should paint their walls a stark white to do justice to their artwork.

We disagree. In fact, we’ve actually noticed that walls that are decidedly NOT white often enhance artwork more than the usual white gallery walls.

Why? Sometimes a color can unify a collection while also allowing the artwork to “pop.” You notice the art itself rather than the sterile white walls surrounding the art. This is so much the case, that many art museums have begun painting their walls a shade of something, rather than relying strictly on white. The National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.,  now features walls of wasabi green, yellow ochre, dusky rose and Caribbean blue. Every wall has been carefully chosen to bring out the colors of the artwork. In a room filled with oils from the artist Thomas Winer Dewing, (seen below) the Museum chose walls of a dusky rose which successfully bring out the greens in Dewing’s paintings.

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One of the most fabulous apartments we’ve seen belongs to a New York art collector whose walls are hung with the likes of Cy Twombly, Jean Michel-Basquiat, Cindy Sherman, Gilbert & George, Richard Serra, etc.  The collector chose a soft gray mauve which perfectly unified the diverse collection while staying strictly in the background and letting the artwork take full stage.

Below a purple room in a Paris apartment only seems to enhance a series of drawings and a decorative screen. A green wall serves as a backdrop to an extensive salon-style art hanging. A gray wall is the perfect subtle background to a dramatic black and white painting.

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Some quick tips on making it work:

Choose complementary colors for your wall. If it works for the National Portrait Gallery it will work for you. A complementary color (if a painting has tones of green and blue, look for red or orange tones) will work to highlight the color in the painting without fighting it.

Opt for a color that can act as a neutral. Grays, browns, shades of green are good choices for making artwork of diverse colors and tones work together.

If you choose white, don’t feel it has to be stark white. A softer white with undertones of green, yellow or red can work better than a “white” white. Softer whites can be used to enhance paintings by using the same complementary concept. If you have a painting of mostly red, you can choose a white with undertones of green to make your artwork stand out.

Images:;, the style

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