How to use art as the starting point for designing a room

How to use art as the starting point for designing a room

BetterWall is proud to partner with Sustainable Home Furnishings! We invited Co-founder Barb Dornbush to share her expertise on designing around art, and think you will find her advice very helpful.


By Barb Dornbush

Art is a great place to start when designing a room. This blog will cover why, and it will provide four, easy-to-follow steps (with examples) so you can design your own rooms!

Why is Art a Great Place to Start?
Art is a great place to start designing a room because it provides a focal point and a color scheme.

The Focal Point
One of the basic principles of design is to have one point of emphasis known as a focal point. A room without any emphasis is boring; a room with too many items competing for attention is unsettling. Art makes a natural focal point, especially when it is a large piece such as an art museum banner.

The Color Scheme
Art also provides a built-in color scheme. If your art contains lots of colors, I highly recommend using the “squint test” to determine which colors to work with. If you squint at your art from a distance which colors do you see? I suggest selecting up to three colors and their various shades.

For example, if I squint at the banners entitled “Color” from an exhibit at The Museum of Contemporary Art, I see oranges, reds and blues. (I tend to ignore neutrals such as black, white, gray and brown, though they come in handy later in the design process.)

So, in designing a dining room around these banners, I chose to work with the oranges and reds. Blue tends to be an appetite suppressant and people tend to linger longer in red rooms. As such, it’s a great choice for dining rooms. More color psychology tips are in my helpful hints page.

Four Steps
After you’ve selected your color scheme, the first step is to select your flooring.

1 - Flooring
When possible, I like to have a rug under a dining table to help define the space. The same goes for living rooms and bedrooms. You can always have a rug made from carpet. My favorite carpet is undyed wool with no added chemicals such as flame retardants (wool is naturally flame retardant). For this project, I selected this organic wool and silk rug made with natural dyes.






2 - Walls
With walls you can go with neutrals or colors. Keep in mind you can also use a more or less intense shade of your colors. In this case, however, I’d use a white (such as Sugar Dust in Matte) to make the lettering on the banner really pop. My favorite paints are used at the Louvre but are made in the US, contain no harmful chemicals, and can be delivered to your door in any color!

3 - Furniture
In the design world there are two categories of furniture: Upholstered Furniture and Case Goods. The latter are basically anything that is not upholstered. If you’re using upholstered furniture you can go with your colors, their various shades and/or your neutrals. With case goods, I usually stick with one type of wood. In this case, I selected maple because it is a warm color that harmonizes with the oranges and reds nicely.

I selected this sustainable maple table with matching benches because its curvy lines work well with the curves in the “Color” banners.








4 - Lighting
Last, but not least, is lighting. Here I also wanted curves and a warm finish (I chose a soft gold). In addition, it’s important to make sure the lighting is not any larger than the surface it is on or over. I chose this chandelier which is made in the US of recycled materials.








In sum, if you start with a great piece of art as your focal point, a color scheme naturally follows. Then it’s easy to select the flooring, wall color, furniture and lighting!

Barb Dornbush

Eco Rooms co-founder and Interior Designer, Barb Dornbush focuses on sustainable residential interiors because, although she loves creating beautiful spaces, she is concerned about the impact of the home furnishings industry on the planet and those who live on it. She won the first ASID Design Excellence Award for Sustainable Design in Georgia, has published in several magazines, has given talks to groups, such as Georgia Organics and the Art Institute of Atlanta, and served on the program committee of the IFDA’s national conference to bring information about sustainability to more designers. Barb is a Green Accredited Professional (Green AP) having taken the first GREENleaders course in 2009 and maintained it with continuing education.

Eco Rooms makes creating a stylish and sustainable home easy. Using their 15 years of experience they recommend their favorite vendors, offering eco-friendly home furnishings for Do-It-Yourselfers. For trade professionals, they also offer a 2020 resource list.
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