She opened the door, threw her arms in the air, and said, "Here it is, don't make me put anything on the walls. I hate art!".
It was a funny beginning, but as we started to talk I realized that her objections were to classic paintings; formal pieces that were carefully chosen to be a very deliberate, status statement - one's that she remembered as not being very cheerful to be around and could be unreasonably expensive to boot.
After the appointment, I started to think about what art meant to me, and I have to say that my interpretation is so loose that I am sure I would be kicked out of most academic discussions. In my mind, there is art everywhere we look. From where I am typing right now, I am surrounded by art - the endless shapes and colors of the fallen leaves, the jagged silhouette of the trees against the blue sky, and the worn-down coloring pencils crookedly sitting in my favorite cup. They are all small pieces of art because they are beautiful to me. So, when we're decorating a home, I always think the lines were meant to be blurred, and anything we consider beautiful can (and should) be considered art.
My theory has always been, if I love it, and I can hang it on the wall, then it is art. From an old wooden air-vent to a child's stick-figure drawing, as long as it gives us joy, we can decorate with it. It's like if you want something above a sofa, why do you have to search high and low for the perfect painting that "goes"? Why can't you take your baby daughter's hand-print, enlarge it to ridiculous proportions, and have it matted and framed in a simple, yet gorgeous black frame?
Of course, if you find the perfect painting it's a wonderful thing, but if you don't, then why not change what your definition of art is, and put that on the wall instead.
But, all of this belated, romantic theorizing didn't help my client when we met for that first appointment. The truth was, that she said she hated art, and she just didn't want any of it on her wall. She had invited me over because the room felt cold and unwelcoming. Still living with the white that the contractor had chosen, we talked about how she wanted the room to feel, and what she needed for it to be comfortable. Labelling herself as a minimalist, I could see that she wasn't going to let me put a single nail in the wall, but we had to cozy up the room somehow.
As we settled into our second cup of coffee, she surprised me by bringing out a scrapbook of decorating ideas. She wanted me to see what she liked, rather than just what was there in front of me in her home. You could have knocked me down with a feather. The rooms she showed me were rich with color, filled with a dark, moody elegance that in no way reflected my client or the room that we were sitting in.
I cannot tell you the excitement that started to build as she turned each of the pages. With each turn, she started to talk more and more about what we were looking at, and why she had pulled the pictures. She spoke for a good half hour while I stayed quite silent (which, for those who know me is not quite normal).
When we had finished, I just looked at her and said, "Let's paint the walls dark purple!". The purple would be the warm background, and the shapes and color of her furniture would become the art. It was so obvious what we needed to, and she didn't hesitate. Within a week, the painter had arrived, and her room was complete.
It was the perfect compromise. The room could remain minimal and clutter free, but it gave her a very elegant and cozy, designed space. Now, almost a year later, she still writes me emails telling me how much she loves her art.
p.s. The photograph above isn't her home, but it is the color that we used. We used Shadow (2117-30) by Benjamin Moore.
Ideas for decorating with a very dark color.
Have large, open windows. A dark colored room needs plenty of natural light.
Keep drapes and curtains light and breezy. Avoid heavy fabrics.
Brighten up the floor with something colorful and cheerful. Don't match the colors to your walls.
Make it modern. It can be tempting to go a bit Gothic with the rest of your colors and design, but be careful not to go too dark and moody. Add modern accessories and clean, fresh shapes and colors to bring balance to the space.